Hell Can Be Beautiful

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Cartagena, Colombia, January 2011

Once shunned by travelers because of a war that left over 250,000 dead and displaced millions, Colombia is now a popular destination. For decades the US State Department advised caution in visiting, but now JetBlue has flights to three Colombian cities. The country’s jungles, red deserts, snow-capped mountains, and rivers are a must-see for ecotourists. The Audubon Society recently described Colombia as the best place in the world for bird-watching. While the world crumbles—Europe is “on the ropes,” Africa is “mired in poverty,” the Middle East “ablaze”—writes Santiago Gamboa in his recent satirical novel Return to the Dark Valley, “Colombia is on the crest of a wave.”

The country’s era of peace and prosperity—“the light at the end of the tunnel”—began in earnest after the Marxist guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to demobilize. In September 2016, after almost six decades of fighting and almost six years of painstaking negotiations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader Timochenko signed a peace treaty in front of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and other dignitaries, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Spanish King Juan Carlos.

The treaty won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize but it remains controversial in Colombia, where many reject it and believe that Santos’s government handed the country over to Communist narco-terrorists. They are convinced that Colombia could soon become another Venezuela. This is one of the main reasons that Colombians voted for Iván Duque as the successor to Santos on June 17. He was the candidate who most strongly opposed the negotiations. Humberto de la Calle, the candidate who ran on the platform of continuing the peace treaty—he was one of its main negotiators—was only able to capture 2.06 percent of the votes in the first round.

Even if unpopular, the peace treaty is a huge accomplishment. Today, for the first time since 1964, Colombia is not fighting a war. In an interview, Daniel Coronell, a leading columnist and investigative journalist, defended the treaty with fervor as “the most important political event since the declaration of independence” from Spain in 1810. Fourteen months after it was signed, El Tiempo, Colombia’s leading newspaper, published a study showing that conflict-related deaths had gone from three thousand in 2002 to zero. Young women are no longer being abducted, raped, and enslaved. FARC atrocities have ended.

Under the deal, the guerrillas gave up their guns and became a political party. Although they kept their acronym, it now stands for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force of Colombia, and the rifle in their logo was turned into a red rose. Regardless of their efforts to change their image and attract voters, in their first parliamentary election in March 2018, the FARC received just 53,000 votes out of the 18 million cast, a mere 0.36 percent. Soon after, Timochenko…


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