There have been several attempts over the past few years to provide websites with only good news on Colombia. All have failed, because no-one believes or reads a website that is actively trying to hide the (sometimes ugly) truth.
I understand where these initiatives come from. Those who are slightly familiar with Colombia, especially those born or living here, are bored sick with the questions about Pablo Escobar, kidnappings, murders, the FARC, etc. It seems that the image of Colombia 20 or 10 years ago keeps haunting the country and is impeding its move forward.
As a result, this false and one-sided image is keeping investors and tourists away and is hurting the country’s well-needed development and economic growth. Moreover, it is an insult to what Colombia really is; a gorgeous country with spectacular people, an amazing ecosystem and sometimes bad food.
However, if you think that we can balance the negative image that has carefully been built over the past 50 years by imposing a new image of this passionate country where the only risk is that you want to stay, you are not just wrong, you’re being stupid. The only way to counter ignorance is by providing correct and full information, not by feeding lies.
Only fools think that this 50-year-old image can be undone in five years by amateur government promotion agencies and a few barely read blogs that only preach to the choir, especially when the things that have created this image are still very much alive and must be acted upon. Colombia is still the world’s #1 coca producer, the FARC and groups that used to be part of the AUC are alive and well and still murdering a lot of people.
We need to take the perception of our country seriously. We cannot act defensively when people mention the ailments of our society or deny the existence of evils in this country when they still regularly rear their ugly heads.
Instead, we need to make relative what is taken as absolute and we need to specify when people are generalizing. Only when we admit the problems we have, people are willing to listen to the beautiful things we also have. And to combat the generalization of problems we have, we must specify, not deny them. We need to put things in the right context.
Most importantly, we need to put the things that are in the past in the past. This is done by actively seeking closure and archiving them.
We need to build a Pablo Escobar museum and a paramilitary memorial, just like the Netherlands have their Anne Frank museum and Cambodia has its Killing Fields museum. This allows us to recognize and embrace the ugly parts of the past, give them a place in our collective memory and move forward.
We need to fix impunity and throw the criminals of our country in jail, demand our politicians to clean up their corrupt act and come up with a policy that aims towards an actual end of the conflict with these outdated leftist guerrilla groups, so that when the FARC and ELN finally dissolve we can also build a museum about them.
Once we are able to accept the existence of evils in our society and show willingness to improve or even solve them, people will believe in our sincerity and will believe us when we speak of the beauty of the parks in Bucaramanga, the mountains of Antioquia, the beaches of Santa Marta, the dances from Uraba and the million festivals of our country.
And the great thing is that we would not only be improving the image of Colombia, we would actually be improving Colombia.