Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Colombia decides: Imperfect peace or perpetual war?

In a country with such vast inequality, along with a significant disconnect between officialdom and the masses, to say Colombia's 'vote for peace' is its moment of truth might be overstretching it a little. Nonetheless, in the unlikely event of the Colombian electorate rejecting the October 2nd plebiscite on the agreement reached between the government and Farc rebels, such an outcome would be met with bewilderment by a watching outside world; a people says no to 'peace'. (Although, as written about here previously, it wouldn't be a complete surprise to those who have been following events closely.) It would also signal the need for a change of administration, one that would have to pursue a far tougher line on leftist guerrillas; not virgin, if largely unsuccessful ground that.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shakes hands with Farc leader Timochenko before signing the peace deal in the city of Cartagena ...
Much more peaceful times ahead for Colombia?  (Photo from Facebook.)
The opinion polls, in any case, tell us that the yes side should comfortably win the day, despite a not insignificant no minority that appears to cross class boundaries. From well-to-do business people and professionals to tienda owners and hard-pressed youths in working-class barrios, in my conversations I've encountered more people who are going to vote 'no' than 'yes'. (Odd enough considering the no side is polling about 30 per cent.) I've also spoken with plenty who just won't bother to cast their ballot; a symbol of that disconnect from 'official' Colombia in what, according to the powers that be, is such a momentous decision for the country.

Leaving aside the argument that the referendum question is of a leading type favouring a 'yes', Colombians must ask themselves the following: Is this an agreement that will be a positive game changer for the country, a step in the right direction? Or is it just a coming together of a few elites, unrepresentative of the reality on the ground, and something that will change very little? A 'television peace' as one Colombian farmer put it.

You won't find many, even the most optimistic of yes voters, expecting instant change. Peace won't come overnight. We've seen that before in the likes of Northern Ireland — not that we can draw too many comparisons between the two conflicts.

One argument coming from the no side is that the agreement is overly lenient towards Farc from a financial and political point of view — guaranteed senate seats for the leftist movement is one bugbear in this regard. For a country that has traditionally steered a centre-right/right path in national politics, there seems to be some fear that this deal might mark the start of a drift towards some sort of socialism, a dirty word in these parts considering the situation in neighbouring Venezuela and Colombia's sour relationship with that republic.

Another source of fuel for the 'no' ire comes from El Presidente himself, Juan Manuel Santos. His approval rating has been at an all-time low and it appears some Colombians just can't bear to endorse anything that he is behind. The wrong occasion for a protest vote it might be, but it carries weight.

Other points being made against the agreement include the belief that there are greater problems in the country that need to be sorted out. This may be so, but the counter-argument is that by at least putting the Farc to bed, the other issues can then be tackled with more vigour. As for former Farc members carrying on their criminal ways under a different banner post peace endorsement, only time will tell on that one.

Should, as expected, the yes side win on Sunday, it's not, at the risk of sounding facetious, going to be a case of peace and love from Monday onwards. However, the hope must be that it marks the start of a move to a more positive era in Colombia's story. As Santos himself said, and here's hoping he and his ilk mean it, 'the hard work starts now.' Creating a more equitable Colombia is something that requires much more than a few handshakes and the signing of an agreement. A sceptical Colombian public needs convincing that the times are indeed a-changin' for the better.
Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan - The Blog & IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz".

Friday, 23 September 2016

Go West (if you can afford it)

As a Westerner living and working in a 'developing world' country, earning what is considered locally a decent enough working-class wage, one of the difficulties with this is when you return to your country of origin. The 'living within your means' approach which can successfully be done in the adopted country — in this case Colombia — becomes nigh on impossible.

Creevy, Lisacul, Ireland.
The road back home isn't that straightforward ...
We're talking here about going back for a short-term stay. Obviously if you were returning on a longer-term basis you would have to find employment fairly quickly in order not to either run out of money in no time at all or eat into the 'rainy-day' savings (if you have them that is. Or you might be lucky enough to get the government to 'sponsor' you for a little while in the absence of employment; the joys of welfare states.)

Having just returned from a trip home to Ireland, there appear to be few pull factors to allow for even the consideration of a permanent move back just yet — family and friends excepted of course.

Granted, on this latest return, I didn't stray too much out of the west of Ireland, an important point in this 'state of the nation' revision. This is because, by all accounts, the east-west divide, which has always been a factor in Ireland, is as deep and apparent as it ever has been.

The west of the country might be OK to raise a young family if you're lucky enough to have decent employment in the region. It might also be OK for old-age pensioners to see out their lives in tranquillity, if they have public transport within range (far from a given) and/or if they have helpful family and friends nearby when transport is required.

Yet for young (or relatively young if you like) singletons who may not want to own their own transport, most of the west of Ireland has a low-attraction value. Nice to visit every now and again but not a place to set up shop.

For sure, here in Bogotá it's not quite the pig's back existence (that cameo appearance in Narcos is deceptive*). There are a number of things that need to start showing an improvement for me to start seeing it as a true home for the foreseeable future. However, Bogotá or not, at this remove there are other places on the globe I'd consider before rushing back to Ireland — places that offer better value for money as well. Everything is open to revision, though.

Plus, it all depends on what you're looking for and who you are, of course. If you happen to be a US multinational company looking for a tax haven of sorts and a native government ready to defend vigorously your tax evasion ways (or was it merely tax avoidance?), then Ireland might just be the perfect match. Why help the little people when you can help big business? It's much more glamorous (and profitable).
Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan - The Blog & IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz".