Colombia in the Mirror

Colombia itself was in focus last night at the Hay Festival Cartagena: across two panels, talks centred around politics and peace, land and narco-trafficking. 

Antonio Caballero and Enrique Santos Calderón, moderated by María Jimena Duzán, tackled what the situation in the country right now. The panel comes at a key turning point for Colombia, in the wake of a car bomb in Bogota last month which killed 22.

The attack, for which guerrilla group ELN are held responsible, has effectively called a halt to peace talks between the group and the government. Tensions are high and many are worried about a return to violence in the country; some are worried that the peace accord reached with the FARC force last year will also be affected.

Calderón and Caballero disagreed about whether President Duque sees violence as the answer: Calderón said that Duque’s was a response to a terrorist and criminal act, while Caballero predicted a return to the heavy handed and violent tactics of former President Uribe: “His path is the same as Uribe – ‘democratic security’ is the return of war”.

What they agreed on, however, was the source of the issues: failure to fairly redistribute land in the country, and narco-trafficking. “Colombia’s problems are born in the countryside, and produced in cities”, Caballero said.

The USA remains the biggest consumer of cocaine, and President Trump is applying growing pressure on Colombia to take old strategies which have already been tried and already failed, including indiscriminate fumigation and burning, which proved catastrophic both environmentally and socially in the last century.

The USA’s ‘War on Drugs’ was the most costly failure in modern history, and prohibition remains an impossible and dangerous policy, Caballero said. “Narco-trafficking is the fuel for all the violence in Colombia,” agreed Calderón.

When asked about the politics of the future, Calderón said simply, “The pendulum of history comes, and it goes.”

The eye of the next panel was on the past: how it is understood and how a shared history can be reached. Francisco de Roux, who has worked in both conflict mediation and the Truth Commission, started by thanking the audience:

“Your presence here is a show of desire to overcome our painful history, as well as of our hope.”

The current moment calls for deep questioning and reflection as a nation, he said, to listen and recognise victims of violence and reach an understanding. 

“Memory is not truth – it is erratic, subjective – but it’s the starting point to reach truth."

Patricia Lara, journalist and author, agreed that there are responsibilities for everyone in society, not least the media themselves, who must report in a balanced and fair way.

“We must rescue each other as fellow human beings, even against our instincts for vengeance”, de Roux said.

Listen to Antonio Caballero and Enrique Santos Calderón in conversation with Maria Jimena Duzán on the Hay Player

Listen to Patricia Lara and Francisco de Roux in conversation with Juan Carlos Pérez on the Hay Player