Friday, 26 August 2016

Colombia's Chamberlain-esque peace?

On the face of it, it seems like a no-brainer. On October 2nd Colombians are going to be asked to vote either 'yes' or 'no' for peace. That is to say, to give their backing to a deal finally reached between the government and the leftist-styled Farc rebels to end a bloody internal conflict that has troubled the country for over 50 years. Apart from the sadistic amongst us, who wouldn't vote in the affirmative?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the peace president ...
President Santos' peace, but not for all Colombians?
Of course, it's just not that simple, even if, perhaps, it should be. You see, there is a belief that what has been brokered by the negotiators in Cuba in many ways doesn't reflect the reality on the ground in Colombia. A political agreement that looks fine and dandy on paper and allows the 'warring' leaders come together in brotherly love (it has pretty much been male-dominated), but a deal practically not worth the paper it's written on in 'normal Colombia', the very place it's meant to bring about real, positive change. That's a view you won't have to search hard to find among the masses.

We've written plenty here before about the problems inherent in this process, one of those being the idea that the Farc leaders who negotiated this deal do not speak for the majority under their control (if ‘control’ is the right word to use here at all). Indeed, with political positions in the offing for the few Farc dealmakers of Havana, their lives might just be about to become a whole lot easier. The same cannot be said for the 'foot soldiers'.

This is one source of scepticism towards the whole process for Colombians; it's especially to be found among the lower classes and away from the big cities (as we mentioned in a previous post). The idea is that those who may fly under the Farc banner today will just continue on in criminality post this peace deal being ratified, if that should happen. Plus, you have those who were never Farc members, be they fellow 'leftists' or from the right, who have made a tidy living from both controlling and living in what you could call a separate state from the elected one headed by Juan Manuel Santos. Colombia's black market can be quite profitable.

What's more, there are those, headed vociferously by former president, the hawkish Álvaro Uribe, who view this as Santos' peace, not one that truly represents Colombia at large (el pueblo Colombiano). With Santos' approval rating low, a protest 'no' vote is a distinct possibility to add to the other genuine causes for concern that Colombians have about the process.

Most people know that true peace is not going to come with the simple signing of an agreement and a ceasefire. There are a host of deeper obstacles to arriving at a situation where peace and stability can thrive in Colombia. At the heart of those is the vast inequality that exists in the country, something that, it appears, no government has been willing or able to pay proper attention to.

That aside, that some of Colombia's men of violence have decided to give peace a chance has to be seen as a positive development, better than the status quo. Yes, officialdom was duped before, but a Neville Chamberlain returning from Nazi-run Germany in 1938 with a 'peace for our time' type of agreement this is not. This particular deal has some substance to it. 

For sure, it's far from perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. The hope must be that it is a modicum of peace to achieve more peace.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ignoring is bliss

As the old saying goes, 'Ignorance is bliss.' While there may be times when this is not the case, more often than not it holds true. You can't really get upset, worry, whatever, about something you are completely unaware of.

Yet these days, with information available at the touch of a button or the slide of a screen for many of us, it is difficult, in theory, to be ignorant. Fair enough, the information we get might not be truthful, but the fact remains that it can be rather easily found on pretty much any subject, at any time.
Ignoring some players in the best strategy ...
It's not worth it lad! (Image from
Thus, in this information 'rich' age, the adage could be tweaked a little to, 'Ignoring is bliss.' From a news point of view, what we're getting at here is not complete ignoring per se (although, at times, this could be a good tactic), it's to be more questioning of what you read and hear. Don't take things as 'gospel' just because they come from an approved source. We've plenty of recent examples that underscore the value of such an approach.

In another sphere, ignoring isn't just a good option, it's the only option. What we're referring to here is when you're trying to move on from what has proven to be a failed relationship. In the past, time and/or distance was probably enough for you to more or less permanently close a chapter of your life with someone with whom things just didn't work out. 'Out of sight, out of mind', so to put it.

However, the problem today is, in the absence of taking the step to delete every social media contact you have for the person in question — a measure some of us are too, um, proud to do — putting someone you once had some feelings for completely out of (virtual) sight and, as a result, mind is very difficult to do.

Indeed this becomes nigh on impossible when that other person makes contact every now and again, engages for a while, then disappears. (So even if you have deleted her contacts across all platforms, she can still molest you.) It's similar to, you could say, the old prank of ringing somebody's doorbell and then running away. It's a trait that, from personal experience and anecdotal evidence, a significant number of Colombianas display.

One can only assume they get some sort of odd enjoyment out of it, like the doorbell-ringing young children. Immature it certainly is in any case — and a lot of the time we're talking about university-educated, professionals here (then again, that doesn't necessarily mean much; some behaviours run deep in the blood).

The best, nay only, defence strategy in such a silly game, therefore, is our refusal to engage — regardless of how superficially beautiful the one we're (not) dealing with is. That is to say, 'to ignore'. Not to do so means we're only on to a frustrating loser.

*For a related article, see Defenders of the unfaithful.
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Thursday, 4 August 2016

Lomalinda: Colombia's lost community

Most visitors to Colombia have at least heard of, if not visited, Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City. Tucked away high up in the Caribbean coast's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, you could call it the Colombian version of Machu Picchu, one that outdates its more famed Peruvian counterpart albeit.

Lomalinda's old school, now left to the forces of nature ...
While much is unknown about its history and those who inhabited it, it's pretty safe to assume that the cause for the city's abandonment was down to the arrival of those 'civilised' types from across the Atlantic Ocean, namely the Spanish.

That exodus from the Lost City, however it transpired, could be seen as a harbinger for events much later in the land of the country we now call Colombia. For flights of fear from ruthless enemies didn't stop with the Spanish conquest nor the coming of the Colombian Republic. In fact, we don't have to go that far back in history to find examples of people uprooted from what they had once called home.

One of those Colombian 'lost communities' is to be found, or not to be found as it is, in the picturesque and now tranquil setting of Lomalinda in the department of Meta, home to Colombia's plains. Now, as mentioned, forced displacements aren't novel here, but the Lomalinda case does stand out from others for a number of reasons.

For starters, Lomalinda wasn't your typical Colombian community or settlement. In fact, it wasn't Colombian at all. Founded in the 1960s, its origins began as a remote outpost for a Christian missionary / indigenous research project originating from the United States. The Summer Institute of Linguistics (Instituto Lingüístico de Verano in Spanish), as it was known, came to Colombia to study and put into writing the languages of the many indigenous tribes to be found here. As the work was going to take considerable time — we're talking decades here — the Colombian government gave the organisation unoccupied land close to the town of Puerto Lleras.

A shot of the old airfield in Lomalinda, Meta, Colombia.
How it used to be: Lomalinda's airfield back in the day ...
It was here, in what the new inhabitants named Lomalinda, which means 'pretty hill' in English, the community grew and indeed flourished. Some people came specifically to work on the project, while others came to aide Lomalinda life itself; there was a need for primary and secondary school teachers for the expat children, for example. So you had a mixture of permanent-to-semi-permanent residents and those on more of a temporary stay.

While the language in the community was English, some Colombians did come to settle nearby and it wasn't completely cut off from what was going on around it.

However, considering the deteriorating security situation that was to come, Lomalinda's residents might have wished they could have lived in a bubble. As the Farc guerrillas gained control around the area in the 80s, it signalled the beginning of the end for what many residents had seen as an idyllic, lake-shore life. How could a small, defenceless Western community, however vibrant it had been, survive with self-proclaimed communists menacingly nearby in what was to became a war zone?

After threats, kidnappings and a number of deaths, the last of the expat Lomalinda residents left in the mid-90s. Following their departure, the Colombian army moved in to secure the area. Thus began a process of degeneration; military personnel stationed in Lomalinda helped themselves, unsurprisingly, to some of the 'goodies' left behind.

The army, for reasons unknown, departed in the late 90s and that left the way open for the Farc, who had control of nearby Puerto Lleras, to continue the destruction of the village. Over a number of weeks the guerillas cleared out everything they could. Houses basically disappeared bar, any brick walls they had and their foundations.
Lomalinda, Meta, Colombia.
Lomalinda certainly has tourism potential ...
As the country's conflict rumbled on, the Farc lost control of the area. Yet, as it has been for many places in rural Colombia, until recently it was still seen as a no-go location. It's not exactly guerrilla nor paramilitary free today, but it's far, far safer than it was.

Something resembling 'normal' life seems to be returning to Lomalinda, minus the English-speaking Westerners as residents that is. In their place, on many of the foundations they built, have come those of a more common hue for these parts. Some of these new arrivals were displaced from elsewhere themselves due to Colombia's conflict. That such rather desperate folk with few opportunities have taken ownership of what was left behind might be of some comfort to the departed expats.

Yet, as the locals are quick to point out, this is still an area where guerrillas and paramilitaries (or paracos as they're also called) linger. Things may not be as dangerous as before, however it's hard to find anyone in favour of the peace deal that the government of President Juan Manuel Santos is pursuing in Havana, Cuba. For the locals here, they envisage no change to the Farc — or whatever those using that name now might call themselves post any 'peace deal' — collecting taxes on the one hand, and paramilitaries controlling their ground on the other.

Whatever the future may hold, what Lomalinda's current residents want now is to carry on with their lives without fear of forced eviction or death hanging over them. Is that too much to ask? Considering what's gone before, they could be forgiven for thinking 'yes'.
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