Congratulations to Colombia on Joining the OECD
The newest member of the “club of mostly rich countries” is a nation that suffered decades of civil war and saw millions of its citizens turned into refugees. Yet, Colombia is also a place of great beauty and kind manners.
What a welcome bit of good news for these sad times. Colombia has become the 37th member of what is sometimes called the “club of mostly rich countries.” It is the second member nation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from South America. Chile joined in 2010. Mexico was the first Latin American country in the OECD, entering the group in 1994.
Clearly, the OECD designation does not mean all is well in Colombia. A “staggering” number of activists were killed in Colombia in 2019, at least 107, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced in January. Another 13 deaths were under review as suspected murders at that time.
“This terrible trend is showing no let-up in 2020, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January,” Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the OHCHR, said.
Still joining the OECD is basically a sign that a nation at least somewhat has its act together. Colombia continued its work toward the goal of gaining OECD membership even through changes in leadership. In announcing Colombia’s membership, the OECD cited improved policies regarding criminal justice, corporate governance of state-owned enterprises and waste management.
“Given its recent history, Colombia can be rightly proud of what is truly an exceptional achievement,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría in a statement.
Few people in the United States know much about Colombia’s tragedies, beyond maybe a vague understanding of the government fighting with the rebel group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Nick Miroff of the Washington Post summarized Colombia’s troubles well in a 2016 article.
“The peace deal to end Colombia’s half-century battle with FARC guerrillas promises to wrap up a conflict that many outside the country probably forgot about a long time ago,” Miroff wrote. “But Colombians know this war all too well. It’s a common refrain that there isn’t a single family that hasn’t been scarred by it.”
Five decades of fighting within Colombia left more than 220,000 people dead and about 7 million were driven from their homes, Miroff noted in 2016. As of 2018, Colombia was second to only to Syria in a UN ranking of nations with large refugee populations. About 13 million Syrians had been driven from their home, including what the UN calls 6,184,000 “internally
displaced people.”The UN’s refugee agency estimated that about 8 million Colombians should be considered “forcibly displaced,” with most of them (98 per cent) scattered within their own country.
I highly recommend the 2010 film, The Colors of the Mountain, for anyone who wants to understand how the battles among Colombian left-wing and right-wing groups affected people’s lives. I recommend it as well to any film buffs. The characters will draw you in quickly to the story, and the scenery in the film is gorgeous.
Land of Beauty
Colombia is a nation blessed with mountains and beaches and gorgeous old cities. I’ve visited it twice. The first time was in 2009 when Colombia was still trying to calm the fears that potential tourists might have. The nation promoted itself with the slogan of “the only risk is wanting to stay.” Colombia’s efforts to attract visitors appear to have paid off, as seen in the World Bank data below.
I’ve visited more than 50 countries in my life. Colombia stands with Egypt, Ireland and Georgia in my top ranks for nations with friendly people. But those other three cannot compete with Colombia when it comes to beaches. Below are shots of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona on Colombia’s northern coast.
My husband and I were nervous when we first arrived in Colombia in 2009, not knowing what to expect. Within minutes of walking into the airport in Bogotá, we saw a young soldier who had what appeared to be a police dog with him. We weren’t quite sure about the status of this dog, a yellow Lab. The soldier had taken off the leash off the dog. The yellow Lab was sprawled on his back to let children pet his belly. In another town, a young soldier spotted us as tourists and went out his way to greet us and make sure we could find our bus station.
People in Colombia in general are very kind and friendly. We enjoyed spending time in Cartagena and smaller cities such as Barichara, shown below.
And Bogotá was an unexpected delight. We’d had an initial rough start in Colombia’s capital city, as can happen when you arrive in anywhere late on a Sunday night. A nervous taxi driver warned us repeatedly about the dangers of the old Candelaria district of Bogotá, where we were staying. There were few people around, and it did look a little scary.
But we awoke to find the streets busy with students and government workers. The Candelaria has a great mix of old colonial homes, churches and Art Deco buildings, as well as universities and federal offices.
We were impressed by the city’s dedicated bike lanes. Our hometown, Washington, D.C., had very few of these in 2009. If we had had more time in Bogotá , we would have rented bikes, especially on a Sunday when many of the city’s main streets were closed.
On the last night of that trip, we went for a sunset drink at Monserrate, which overlooks Bogotá.
It turned out that Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá was playing its holiday concert inside the church atop Monserrate that night. The concert organizers thoughtfully had set up a screen and sound system outside of the church for people who couldn’t get seats inside. My husband and I watched the show on the screen and listened to the concert as the green hills around us disappeared into the night. At intermission, we got seats inside the church, a lovely building with soaring ceiling and arches, all done up for Christmas. The orchestra played carols at end of the show and then there was a boom. Silver confetti shot out from a high balcony, showering the church for several minutes.
On our ride down from Monserrate in a cable car we saw the fireworks show. By the end of our ride, we could look up and see that the Christmas lights had been turned on. It was the best send-off we’ve had from any city.
The next day, we got up early to get in a last look around the city’s main plaza and one more breakfast of chocolate santafereno style at an old cafe called La Puerta Falsa. The waiter there told us the trick for enjoying a traditional Bogotá breakfast. Rip the block of mild rich cheese served with your breakfast into little pieces and sink them into the cup of rich chocolate. Then, with the spoon, eat the curd that forms. It may sound weird, but it was a good combination of sweet and rich and chewy
At the airport in Bogotá , a young woman who screened carry-on luggage paused when she came across a Gabriel García Márquez novel in my backpack. I now joke it would take me 100 years of solitude to finish that book because I have so many other things I’d rather read. But that book was a good companion on my first trip to Colombia, reading García Márquez in his home country.
The airport screener flipped through the pages of the book with her hands, covered by plastic gloves. She noticed my many pencil marks in the book. She gave me a quick thumbs-up before sending me on my way.
The photos and descriptions of my trip earlier appeared in my first blog, Looking Around a Bit. That blog is now housed on my dooleyyoung.com site.