For decades, Colombia was the ‘narcostate’. Now travel to Colombia and South America is on the rise, and it’s seen as one of the rising stars of the global economy. Where does the truth lie?
Writer and journalist Tom Feiling, author of the acclaimed study of cocaine The Candy Machine, has journeyed throughout Colombia, down roads that were until recently too dangerous to travel, to paint a fresh picture of one of the world’s most notorious and least-understood countries. He talks to former guerrilla fighters and their ex-captives; women whose sons were ‘disappeared’ by paramilitaries; the nomadic tribe who once thought they were the only people on earth and now charge $10 for a photo; the Japanese ’emerald cowboy’ who made a fortune from mining; and revels in the stories that countless ordinary Colombians tell.
How did a land likened to paradise by the first conquistadores become a byword for hell on earth? Why is one of the world’s most unequal nations also one of its happiest? How is it rebuilding itself after decades of violence, and how successful has the process been so far? Vital, shocking, often funny and never simplistic, Short Walks from Bogota unpicks the tangled fabric of Colombia, to create a stunning work of reportage, history and travel writing.
Feiling points out that Colombia is the worst place in the world to be a trade unionist, and that its army is one of the worst human rights abusers in the western hemisphere. Yet it is Washington’s closest ally in Latin America and the biggest recipient of US military aid. Bizarrely, one of the world’s most unequal countries is also one of its happiest.
With a book on the cocaine trade and a documentary about Colombia already under his belt, Feiling is well placed to unpick the country’s complexities. He finds Colombia trying hard to transform itself after decades of violence and being at the heart of the drugs trade.
Now what was once dubbed a “narco-state” is one of the region’s fastest-growing economies and a darling of foreign investors. Although it hasn’t quite segued from “terrorism to tourism”, as claimed by hardline former president Álvaro Uribe, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.
By walking in urban and rural areas once closed off by the violence, talking with Colombians, and maintaining an unflinching eye, Feiling is able to offer us a deft and enlightening introduction to this vibrant country.