A review of a travel guide to Colombia

As I explained in an earlier posting, I’m about to have a holiday in Colombia. Therefore I’ve just read a travel guide titled “Culture Smart! Colombia” by Kate Cathey (2011).

This book proved to be a short but comprehensive guide to the country’s history, politics, economy, customs and traditions. However, the book was published before a landmark peace deal between the government and the main guerilla movement FARC which has reduced the violence and encouraged tourism.

Since Colombia obtained independence from Spain in 1810, this South American nation – which is now a country of approximately 45 million – has had a violent history: no less than eight civil wars in the 19th century, 20 years of bloodshed called “La Violencia” from 1948 onwards, and an undeclared civil war known locally as the armed conflict” which culminated in a peace settlement in 2016. But only once has there been a military coup – in 1953-57 when General Rojas put an end to “La Violencia.

Meanwhile the country has been blighted by the violence and extortion of the huge illegal drug trade (90% of the of the cocaine that crosses into the USA is processed in Colombia).

Although Colombia is a multi-ethnic country, political and economic power has always been held by the European minority and politics has been expressed through two major establishment movements called Liberals and Conservatives and influential families known as “power dynasties”. Income and wealth are spread very unevenly with the country exhibiting some of the worst poverty in the world and class hierarchies and racial inequaity so ingrained that “they are seen as the normal order of things” .

So, why go there?

Cathey – who lives in Bogotá – writes that “This is a magical country, full of spectacular landscapes, exotic wildlife and rare ecosystems, succulent tropical fruits, salsa and cumbia music, and kind, fun-loving people”. The guerilla war is largely over, drug violence is localised, while economic development is transforming cities like Medellin and there are wonderful colonial gems like Cartagena.

Cathey explains that “Colombians say their country is a first-, second-, and third-world country all at the same time” and that “Collectively, Colombians are going through a period of self-discovery”.



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