Magazine article Geographical

Short Walks from Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia

Magazine article Geographical

Short Walks from Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia

Article excerpt

SHORT WALKS FROM BOGOTA: Journeys in the New Colombia by Tom Feiling Allen Lane, hb, 20 [pounds sterling]


Ten years ago, Colombia was considered a no-go nation. Only those rich enough to hire a security detail or reckless enough not to care would travel to the country, much less explore its remoter corners. However, a hard-line approach towards the guerilla groups that terrorised the country has reaped rewards, and in recent years, Colombia has slid gently down the scale of the world's most dangerous nations.

With the advent of stability, Tom Feiling, a Londoner who previously lived in Colombia, has taken the opportunity to write a book about its history. He sets out full of enthusiasm, expecting to find a newly harmonious nation ready to take advantage of its vast natural resources and the international business opportunities now available to it. What he finds makes depressing but engrossing reading.

Since the 1950s, Colombia has been engaged in civil war. At first, it was waged between the liberal wing of politics and the conservative elite. It was the peasant classes who suffered most, and many later joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist group founded in 1964.

Other guerilla groups with different agendas were then born out of the ensuing violence, which led to heavily armed vigilante gangs, known as paramilitaries, being formed to combat them. As the cocaine trade flourished, those trafficking the drug became involved on all sides, inflaming the problems with weapons and cash.

The discredited FARC now appears cornered and the paramilitary groups theoretically demobilised. However, while the kidnap and murder rate is down, Feiling finds that violence remains endemic, poverty is as entrenched as ever and political corruption is rife. Although the government has declared the dawn of a new era, there's little attempt to come to terms with the past or to seek justice. 'The formal face of Colombia is like a doll's house--a pristine replica of a much larger building that has long been abandoned to the elements,' writes Feiling of a flacid 1990s constitutional document that was supposed to herald peace.

He's an engaging writer who makes Colombia's bafflingly, bloody history as palatable as possible without avoiding the facts. …

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