Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Outside Colombia's peaceful cities, a country at war (IHT)

BOGOTÁ: A much-heralded renaissance is under way in Colombia's largest cities, and few places capture it better than the Parque de la 93, a verdant, tranquil island of sidewalk cafés where Bogotanos listen to jazz, sample microbrewed beer or dine on Cantabrian prawns. So you can imagine the surprise a few weeks ago when 300 people displaced by fighting in the countryside tried to occupy the park, demanding greater benefits.
The protesting refugees, including about 30 children, served as a reminder that if Colombia's capital city is looking to a bright future, much of the countryside surrounding it is not. There, in the hamlets and jungles, Colombia remains at war, as it has been for generations.
The placid ambience underscores not so much a bright future for Colombia but rather the disconnect between the nation's ascendant cities - Bogotá and Medellín in particular - and its rural areas, mired in horrors.

The cities seem to be in a different country from the rural areas that are the domain of a dizzying array of private armies, including leftist guerrillas like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and resurgent right-wing paramilitary groups with names like New Generation and Black Eagles. Colombians explain the contrast with another expression, "ausencia del estado."
"This 'absence of the state' allows for Colombia to be a country of lords - the drug lord, the warlord, the landlord," said Silvana Paternostro, who wrote "My Colombian War" about her family's urban and rural life during the conflict. "Everything rural has been looked down upon, snubbed, and what was happening was a long list of horrors. It happened out in the open, under everyone's noses, but the capital was too busy getting the new facelift."
Among large Latin American countries, Colombia may trail only Brazil in the degree of economic inequality, said Michael LaRosa, a Colombia specialist at Rhodes College in Memphis. And it is in the rural areas where poverty is most severe, helping set the stage for warlords to fight for control of the coca fields.


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