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On the road in Colombia - Day 1

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Robin Lustig | 22:35 UK time, Sunday, 3 October 2010

I've arrived in Colombia to look at whether its success in reducing drugs-related and para-military violence from the terrifying levels of 20 years ago holds any lessons for Mexico and/or Afghanistan.


Former Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo Valderrama

This morning I was shown around the city of Medellin by former mayor Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, a man who is proud of how what was once described as the most violent city in the world is now - relatively - peaceful.

According to government statistics, the country as a whole has seen a 50 per cent drop in the murder rate over the past decade, and a 90 per cent drop in the number of kidnaps.

How did they do it? Sergio Fajardo took me to see a strikingly modernistic school and a cultural centre in one of Medellin's poorest neighbourhoods, high in the hills above the city centre.


School overlooking Medellin


"This is the secret," he said. "You have to ask why young men choose to go through the door that's opened for them by the drugs cartels and the para-militaries -- a door that leads only to violence and death - and you have to offer them another door, a door to education and opportunity."

Medellin cultural centre

It's all very well killing or capturing the drugs lords, he says, but it won't do any good if they can immediately be replaced.

Not that Colombia's problems are over. The murder rate here in Medellin is climbing again; unemployment levels are as high as they were a decade ago, and income inequality is still greater than almost anywhere else in Latin America.

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said recently that Mexico is looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago. Sergio Fajardo is a regular visitor to Mexico, where he tells them not to copy Colombia's example but to learn from it.

My reports from here will be on air later in the week - I hope you'll be able to tune in, either on air or online.

Comments

  • 1. At 7:00pm on 04 Oct 2010, dceilar wrote:

    Robin: I've arrived in Colombia to look at whether its success in reducing drugs-related and para-military violence from the terrifying levels of 20 years ago holds any lessons for Mexico and/or Afghanistan.

    Here's how: Surrender all notions of sovereignty and became a full blown client state of the USA. Fulfil your master's orders to the full and they will give you all the weapons and training you need to 'stabilize' the region. Simple. The drug lords will then move to another country and then that nation will bow down to the master and so on.

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  • 2. At 8:41pm on 04 Oct 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Good idea to skip the Commonwealth Games. Not sure what Mexico or Afghanistan can learn, but the weather looks nicer than in the UK. Columbia had a one man show and they, with the assistance of the US DEA, killed him and many of his cohorts. Not sure that will work in the other countries. Would think at some time it will all become legal and authorities can deal with behaviors like they do with alcohol. Seems a 50 year war on drugs has not done much but add to the violence. Don't think there are less drugs available as a result of what happened in Columbia.

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  • 3. At 11:11am on 09 Oct 2010, smartsceptic wrote:

    Hillary Clinton's observation that Mexico is looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, raised the following question in my mind. Why is it that Colombia has suffered from drugs and drug violence for so many decades while its Andean neighbors Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador have had very little of the same horrific experience? It is true that though Bolivia has suffered from some of the same drug scarred history as Colombia, it has been much less than what Colombia has had. After all the large indigenous populations of all of these countries are known to have cultivated and used the cocaine plant for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Yet uniquely Colombia is host to the huge US military effort to stop cocaine drug export along with the anti-FARC counter-guerilla insurgency warfare of the past 20 years. While you are in Colombia, Robin, it may be of interest to pose this question to some of the officials you meet.

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  • 4. At 11:24pm on 09 Oct 2010, Robin Lustig wrote:

    #3 smartsceptic: it's a good question ... I think you'll find the answer is that Colombia, unlike its neighbours, has a vast cocaine processing capability, as well as coca cultivation. It's the processing and selling that generates the huge profits, hence the violence as rival cartels battle to dominate the market.

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