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April 18, 2016
Despite having the longest-running civil war on the planet and its history of fighting infamous drug barons; Colombia is today a significantly reformed character. If there was ever a test of adversity, Colombia now Latin America’s strongest economy, has shown how to overcome such tests. Nearly a failed state just 25 years ago, the Latin American nation was overrun by drug lords and even today, it is fighting a civil war against the FARC guerrillas. The Colombian government and FARC representatives are currently making the right steps towards signing a peace treaty. All being well, this will bring an end to a 51 year long battle that has caused more than 220,000 deaths and has displaced more than a tenth of the population. Whilst such troubles, high corruption and a significant gap between the rich and poor might have toppled any other country and population into oblivion, this has not been the case in Colombia.
The United Nations ranked Colombia third on a happiness index in 2012. Last year a Gallup Poll put Colombia in the top 10 of countries in which the population like what they do on a daily basis and have supportive relationships. Forbes magazine recently cited it as one of the ‘10 coolest places to visit in 2015’. Although love, happiness and coolness might not be the secret behind Colombia’s revival, a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Centre ranks Colombia as the highest country on a few key character traits. One such important trait is that Colombians believe that getting ahead takes a combination of hard work and education. Perhaps surprising yet more telling is that Colombians rank highly compared to other emerging economies in not believing that success is determined by outside forces.
These resilient characteristics may go some way to explain why the International Crisis Group stated at the beginning of this year that the only good news in 2015 may be an end to Colombia’s long civil war. Beginning in 2012, Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) sat down to work towards a peace treaty. Over the last 3 years the two sides have come to some important agreements but the hardest hurdles are yet to be challenged. Some of these decisions include how to reintegrate militants into society and how to provide reparations for approximately 6 million victims of the war. Even when such key and delicate agreements have been made it may take a few years to reduce the poverty and injustices that caused the outbreak of the first rebellion.
Nevertheless, Colombia is currently enjoying riding the wave of revival despite being at war. No city in Colombia speaks of these recent successes louder than the former drug-ridden city of Medellin. Instead of being home to notorious drug barons such as Pablo Escobar, today the city has one of Latin America’s most impressive displays of infrastructure. A long escalator and various cable cars connect the poor hillside slums to the rich innovative and entrepreneurial city below which has turned into Latin America’s very own Silicon Valley. President Santos recently used Medellin as an example of how adversity helps build the character of change, using it to their advantage and turning it positively into what is now a flourishing city.
Being the region’s first democracy with Bogota once regarded as the Athens of South America, Colombia has long stood out in Latin America. Today as the strongest and fastest-growing economy in Latin America, ranking in size just behind Mexico and Brazil, the future looks extremely bright for Colombia. With help from the United States, Colombia has managed to curb much of its major drug trafficking allowing the government to concentrate on land reform and improving its human rights to uplift its most marginalized people. President Santos seems to be making all the right sounds and at his re-election last year, called for a move from a culture of fear to a culture of fair play, decency and respect towards institutions. In William Shakespeare’s play, ‘As You Like It’, Duke Senior proclaims, “sweet are the uses of adversity”. Colombia has shown the rest of Latin America and the world the true sweetness of what can be achieved by bouncing back from seemingly irreversible hardships and woes.
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