Colombia. Cocaine and conflict are perhaps your first thoughts when considering this South American country. But things are starting to change after the 2016 peace deal. In this fascinating one-hour programme, BBC presenter Simon Reeve investigates what Colombia is like now and whether the outlook is positive for its people. I found it an informative and amazing portrait of the country, with an ultimately optimistic tone. Here are some highlights:
- The city of Cartagena is where the peace deal was signed. Although the deal was rejected in a referendum, a revised deal was later agreed. People are enjoying the lovely beach and rolling waves. A city guide, Lina, explains how the image of the place is changing. She used to be involved with the guerillas, FARC, but when she and her boyfriend tried to leave the group, he vanished and she will never know what happened to him.
- A group of cheerful refugee ladies in the capital of Bogotá are singing their way around the streets, asking for clothing donations for their families. One of them, Luz, tells Simon how the guerillas forced her family off the land. Her story is horrific and heartbreaking. ‘I believe in hope,’ she says, wanting there to be peace between the government and the group that has caused her so much suffering.
- Simon journeys for twelve hours to a FARC jungle camp. He’s uneasy in the presence of the gun-toting men and women. These are people who have committed terrible crimes. A senior leader is evasive about his own actions and seems to think he has behaved reasonably. He then departs by helicopter for secret peace talks. He might one day be part of the government. Back in camp, the guerillas are being prepared for peacetime and are discussing their need for farming land.
- Colombia is well-known for cocaine growing and trade. Various groups are involved. Simon travels around the port of Buenaventura with armed police, where right-wing paramilitary groups have pushed out the left-wingers. It is noted that the paramilitaries, funded by multiple sources, have killed more people than FARC.
- Simon goes with the Army to destroy an illegal goldmine in the remote rugged countryside. They blow up the mining equipment and our presenter narrowly avoids being hit with an exploded piece of digger. Around 80% of gold production in Colombia is illegal. Mines are controlled by armed groups. Moreover, the mining is damaging to the environment.
- Medellín has been transformed from a notoriously violent city to a vibrant and happier place. Former mayor Sergio Fajado was on a mission to empower the poorer people. One of his projects was a cable car network which connects the poor neighbourhoods to the facilities and jobs in the city centre.
- Many farmers grow coca (the plant which cocaine is produced from) because it has frequent harvests, grows well here and is profitable. Simon meets a farmer, Denio, who wanted to grow something that didn’t harm people – cocoa. The government has pledged to help farmers switch to cocoa and other crops. Improved infrastructure is needed for this to work.
- At a lively demo, coca farmers are imploring the government to deliver on their promises, instead of merely destroying the coca crops. Simon gives his opinion that the rights of rural people must be addressed if peace is going to reign in Colombia – after all, FARC has origins in poorer people and farmers from rural regions.
Two months after this programme was first broadcast, FARC was reported to have officially disbanded and to have handed its weapons to the United Nations. The group reformed as a political party. There are still dissidents active, whom the Colombian military are trying to combat.
If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for a few months.
Note: Information in this blog post was sourced from this programme and online news sources at the time of writing.