What doesn’t make the headlines

April 21, 2008

Colombia is often misunderstood and misspelt.
Here is a list of things about Colombia (the good and bad) that I believe don’t get the media attention they deserve and may even surprise you.

Colombia is home to the second largest internally displaced population in the world, after Sudan. There are about 4 million displaced people in Colombia, the majority who live in slums and abject poverty to the indifference of the Colombian government, society and media.

Today, 62 Colombian lawmakers are being investigated by the country’s attorney general and supreme court. They are accused of conspiring with illegal right-wing paramilitary groups and receiving funds from the militias during election campaigns.

Probably the biggest problem facing Colombia today is rampant and widespread corruption fuelled by the drug trade. No state institution is immune.

Medellin, the country’s second city, boasts the world’s only mass urban transport system that uses cable cars.

Every Sunday morning, the main streets of Bogota are closed to traffic and taken over by cyclists, roller bladders and joggers.

The only positive consequence of a 43-year-old conflict is that Colombia’s national parks and rainforests remain largely unspoilt and unexploited.

One of the main environmental problems facing Colombia in the future will be the lack of water and droughts.

Relatively few foreign tourists visit Colombia but there is a growing sex tourism industry in Cartagena, the country’s top tourist destination.

Despite billions of dollars of US aid to stop coca production over the past decades, Colombia still produces about 70% of the world’s cocaine.

The Norte de Valle drug cartel is the most powerful drug organization in Colombia today. Recently, several of its kingpins have been killed and arrested but the cartel remains the most feared in Colombia. A former boss alias Chupeta(lollipop) is in prison in Brazil. This month his belongings went on auction, including his Hello Kitty boxer shorts.

There are no passenger railways in Colombia due to a lack of investment and security concerns.

Colombia is littered with landmines.

The Farc forcibly recruits children. It is estimated that roughly 40% of its soldiers are under 18, and a large proportion are girls.

Property and lands belonging to drug barons that have been confiscated by Colombian authorities are rarely distributed to those in need.

About 3,000 people are being held captive by various armed groups, mostly by the Farc. Some policemen have been held hostage for 10 years. Ingrid Betancourt, who is being held hostage by the Farc, has tried to escape at least three times.

Colombia is a major emerald producer. Blood emeralds would be an apt description of this industry.

Despite what Hollywood films would lead you to believe, Bogota is not hot or tropical. It is Latin America’s third highest city, so it can get cold and hail storms are not uncommon.

The UK is a major donor of foreign aid to Colombia and British intelligence services train Colombian troops in counter-insurgency operations.

Many of the flowers on sale on UK supermarket shelves come from Colombia.