THE BLOG

Colombia: Hope and Despair

17/06/2014 15:52 BST | Updated 17/08/2014 10:59 BST

I have been in Colombia almost three years. It'll be three years in August. I loved it here when I first arrived. The women were beautiful - and available - and almost everything seemed possible.

That is Colombia's charm. And also its curse. Colombians are aware of this. I met a woman on a bus once who asked me if I realized how dangerous Colombia was. I replied, having been here over two years and seen a few things, that none of the recently arrived foreigners had the singlest idea about the dangers of this country.

Everything happens below the surface. Everything happens beyond reach. The elections have just passed here this weekend. The incumbent president, Juan Manual Santos, a scion from an almost royal family here won by five per cent. This man was the great white hope of the country. A tragedy for reasons I will explain.

His opponent was Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the protégé of former hardline president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe was president from 2002 until 2010. He took a hardline against the Farc rebels who have waged civil war in Colombia over the past 50 years. And he had many successes. Military. At the point of a gun.

Uribe claims to be the patriot. But he was named by the CIA as a personal friend of Pablo Escobar, and a drug trafficker as early as 1993. Uribe had a personal gripe against the Farc. They kidnapped and murdered his father in 1983. It seems to have been a personal war ever since. With some unusual ties. For example, the helicopter that collected his father's body belonged to Escobar. Although Uribe denies knowledge of this. As he does of so many things.

Colombia is a complex place. There are those at the bottom who work in near slavery. And those at the top who live a life of luxury. And then there are those who really control and understand the true nature of the forces at work in this country.

Uribe is one of those forces. And - like from a scene from George Orwell's 1984 where people forget out of necessity to survive -Colombians collectively forget his crimes. They forget his association with Pablo Escobar, they forget his naming as a drug trafficker, they forget the erosion of human rights under his presidency and the forget the murder of thousands of men as false positives: Uribe's presidency the armed forces, for killing guerreros, were rewarded with pay and holidays. The reality was they simply kidnapped boys from poor areas, murdered them, dressed them up as guerilla, and claimed the reward.... And this man, who instituted such a sick policy was rewarded by being voted "The great Colombian".

Thankfully his protégé Zuluaga lost in the presidential elections this Sunday. But let's be frank, Zuluaga's contender and winner was Santos, former Minister of Defence under the aforementioned Uribe government. Under Santos, at least the peace talks with Farc which began in Oslo in October 2012, continuing in Havana, Cuba, will continue.

But the success of the talks have been unclear. Objectives have been met but these haven't been been transmitted to Colombian people. And Santos is still inextricably linked with Uribe's government and it's erosion of human rights.

Whatever the future holds, Zuluaga's loss in the elections means hope for peace. But Santos needs to prove himelf a real leader with principles to achieve this. Otherwise he is just another leader taking advantage of his people.

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