Sep 06

Guest Post: Peace in Colombia? How the Image of Colombia Has Changed Since I Arrived

Guest posts at  the Colombia Travel Blog do not necessarily represent the opinion of our team. In fact, they are often chosen specifically because they offer an alternative perspective and can give rise to interesting debate. Guest authors neither pay nor receive any sort of compensation for their participation. Illustrations and captions are provided by The Colombia Travel Blog unless indicated otherwise.
 

Kevin Howlett runs the excellent Colombia Politics blog, an independent site dedicated to analysing Colombia’s politics and economics. Here he discusses coming to Colombia, how since his first trip here the perceptions and reality of the country have changed, and ideas of safety in Colombia, up to and including the upcoming peace negotiations that are due to take place between President Santos and the FARC. Over to you, Kevin…

Preparing for a trip...
Preparing for a trip…

When I finished university (over) ten years ago and I packed my bags to set off to travel the Spanish speaking world, my father told me that under no circumstances was I allowed to go to Colombia. In the mind of dad, Colombia was synonymous with the FARC, with guerrillas groups and with – the nightmare scenario for my poor old man – kidnappings.

Eight years after my first six month trip to South America I finally made it to Colombia, and you know what? I fell in love with it and I haven’t been able to leave since.

Ten years ago the risk in coming here might well have been something altogether grizzlier, but as the tourist board says; now the real risk is that you’ll want to stay.

The only risk is wanting to stay…

I write on politics and I see the development of Colombia through the political decisions taken by the top brass running the country. When I first started travelling, President Uribe had not yet entered power and the infamous peace talks of the Pastrana era were about to collapse in ignominy; the FARC had a presence in around 50% of the country and there were barrios full of those sympathetic to the Marxist revolution in even the capital, Bogota.

Uribe came to power in 2002 and for eight years he used the aid money secured as part of the Plan Colombia agreement signed with the US to take the fight to the FARC. Uribe’s so-called Democratic Security strategy pushed back the FARC, took out key leaders and turned Colombia into a destination for foreign investments and for tourists. Over the years the economy doubled in size and the visitors began to stream through the doors.

Cocora Valley, Salento
Cocora Valley, Salento

Colombia’s image abroad was changing.

This process has continued during the Santos years (the president took office in August 2010) and the country is now more popular than ever for backpackers and luxury tourists alike. This website is testament to the allure of this mystical and magical place. The government expects 4 million yearly visitors by 2014, at which point it will become $4 billion industry.  This was unthinkable as little as a decade ago when I was fresh out of university.

President Santos is fond of saying that Colombia ‘va por un buen camino’, that it’s heading in the right direction.

With the announcement this week that the government will sit down for peace talks with the FARC in October, many of us here are beginning to dream that Colombia’s almost five decade long war could be over within the year.

Colombian president Santos will engage in peace talks
Colombian president Santos will engage in peace talks

We know that Colombia is a tourist paradise. But we also know that during the 90s and the early years of this century, tourists were understandably scared away by FARC, and the violence of drug cartels. If President Santos can secure peace there will be no reason for the fathers of future travellers to warn their kids against travelling to Colombia.

The peace process will be complicated, the road bumpy and arduous. On my website I’ll be covering the talks from all angles, so please visit, join in the debate, and keep up to date with Colombia’s politics. I look forward to seeing you there.

Kevin Howlett on Caracol TV
Kevin Howlett on Caracol TV

If you’re interested in finding out more about Colombia’s politics, please join www.facebook.com/ColombiaPolitics.

Kevin Howlett is owner of Colombia-Politics.com and is a political consultant from the UK.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Peace in Colombia? How the Image of Colombia Has Changed Since I Arrived

    Kevin Howlett on

    Gareth,

    The human rights abuses, the falsos positivos haven´t been included here because I am talking about the peace process and the image of Colombia in respect of the FARC.

    I am sorry you feel you need to attack this article, and my integrity. I always appreciate debate, and you are more than entitled to challenge the view that I have expressed. I personally believe it to be true and it is what I have uncovered in my research.

    This article was written to provide a very brief overview, and to put the peace process in context.

    I think we can both agree that the FARC have negatively affected the image of the country and we all hope that they demobalise.

    As I say happy to debate but I invite you to respect my work as an opinion writer, you might not agree with me, but…

    All the best,

    Kevin

    Reply

    Gareth on

    Hi Paul,
    the “response” you post from the author (someone you advance as a “political consultant”) is hard to take as a serious answer. There is not a single reference here – for example, take the sentence “some serious political figures […] a view expressed by many”. This is beyond self-parody. Anonymous “serious political figures”?? Name them. Or are they perhaps the figments of the imagination of an author who can’t be arsed to do any serious research. “A view expressed by many”, but not worthy of a reference. My first year students wouldn’t have got away with this sort of lazy opinionising.

    The author you have published has demonstrated his moral myopia by failing to even mention, never mind contextualise, the human rights abuses committed by the Colombian state. When challenged on this on Twitter, he resorts to ad hominen attacks, labelling critics “trolls” and “FARC sympathisers”. In the light of this, I really think you should reconsider the sort of content you put up on your otherwise excellent blog.

    Reply

      Paul on

      Hi Gareth and thanks for your comment.

      As we say in our introductory paragraph, ‘we try to select different authors because ‘they offer an alternative perspective and can give rise to interesting debate’.

      We didn’t ask Kevin to write a heavy, in-depth political analysis since this is a travel blog. The idea was merely to write something that reflected how he, as a man involved in politics, had settled into the country and how he saw hopes for the future. We are all united, I’m sure, in our hope that it will be peaceful.

      Any issues with the article itself I’ll leave to Kevin to answer.

      Once again, thanks for your comment, we appreciate the input.

      Paul

      Reply

    Paula on

    I’m sorry but I find it very dissapointing to find this line in your post: “[…] the FARC had a presence in around 50% of the country and there were barrios full of those sympathetic to the Marxist revolution in even the capital, Bogota.” The reason I’m saying this is that I just find it so unlikely to be true (especially the ‘barrios full of people sympathetic to the FARC’)(!). Maybe you could provide more information as to how you got this piece of “data”? Otherwise you are just disinforming people about Colombia.

    Reply

      Paul on

      Hi Paula, sorry you find it disappointing. This is a guest post, so I’m going to try and get the author to respond as quickly as possible to verify the section you have questioned. Stay tuned!

      Reply

      Paul on

      Ok Paula, here’s what Kevin has replied:

      According to the Associated Press, at their height, the FARC controlled around 50% of the countryside. The point I’m making is that the guerrillas had a ‘presence’ in around 50% of the country (ie not that they occupied with great force or indeed that they controlled this amount of territory).

      Equally, the information I had from some serious political figures here is that there were Marxist sympathisers in many of the neighbourhoods even in Bogota. It is a view expressed by many.

      Thanks for your comment and, like you, I am dedicated to communicating the real story of Colombia. I set up my website because there is so little information an analysis in English on the politics of the country.

      Hope this clears things up. Feel free to post any more questions you have!

      Paul

      Reply

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