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The Two Colombias

BOGOTÁ – In Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, you can listen to an impressive presentation by the mayor’s office about emerging industrial parks and new technology firms. Then, a glance at your smartphone reveals that guerrillas have kidnapped an army general, and that negotiations to end a decades-long civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s oldest guerrilla group, are at a standstill.

Colombia is the only country in Latin America where you can attend seminars at world-class universities, learn about mushrooming multinationals, and chat with supremely competent policymakers, all the while knowing that citizens are confronting one another with machetes and bazookas just a few dozen miles away. In this sense, Colombia is two countries, which have been at war with each other for far too long.

On the one hand, there is the Colombia of rapid economic growth and booming foreign investment, of refurbished cities and innovative social policies. On the other hand, there is the Colombia of Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who started 17 civil wars – and lost all of them.

The bad news is that the struggle between the two Colombias has taken a tremendous human toll, with many citizens having suffered through poverty, warfare, and human-rights violations for most, if not all, of their lives. The good news is that the modern Colombia, the country of peace and progress, is winning.