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Beyond a cartel: Colombia focuses on humanitarian work

by Breonnah Colón - Lifestyles Editor
Tue, Apr 10th 2018 12:00 pm

Despite Latin America being so close to the United States, many Americans aren’t very familiar with the ongoings of the countries that make up our sister continent. 

Beyond a distant neighbor or childhood friend, the cultures and heritages dispersed throughout different South American countries are typically diluted through stereotypes and social stigmas, in the eyes of North Americans. According to distancebetween2.com, approximately 5,000 miles separate North and South America. However, a whole world of different languages, customs and practices exist within that relatively small distance. One country that rings a bell in the heads of many Americans is Colombia, notoriously known for drug trafficking. 

In the 1970s, the U.S. was in a state of crisis dealing with the smuggling and distribution of cocaine through the black market. The head of the operation: Pablo Escobar. Beginning as a smuggler himself, Escobar rose in the ranks of the drug trade, partially through strategic planning and partially through brute force. He manipulated the drug trade so expertly, he was once ranked among the top 10 wealthiest people in the world by Forbes Magazine. Bringing in roughly $70 billion per day, it was no surprise this title was granted to him. 

Escobar was more than just a cartel leader, though. He was also known for killing thousands of Colombians, including local authorities and government officials. Adding to his tumultuous image, he also invested thousands of dollars toward creating schools and housing for Colombians struggling in poverty. In the year 1993, Escobar was shot and killed by Colombian authorities, putting an end to his reign and ultimately, the cartel he ran. His life inspired the creation of the popular Netflix original “Narcos.”

Despite the controversy surrounding his lifestyle and his actions, his legacy remains. To this very day, Colombia is viewed as a country known for supplying the world with cocaine. 

Decades have passed and times have changed. Although drug trafficking is still an issue, Colombia has recently been making headlines for much different reasons. Of the many issues facing the country, one of the most prevalent is the increased number of migrants from Venezuela seeking refuge from the crises taking place there. According to a report by Al Jazeera, the Colombian government is currently working on registering all undocumented Venezuelans who entered the country. 

Working to silence the qualms many Venezuelans have about being documented, authorities have assured refugees the system is not aimed at deporting anyone, but rather to design policies to assist their needs better. This promise holds the wellbeing of between 600,000 and 800,000 Venezuelans attempting to escape the economic collapse and food shortage facing their motherland, explained the Miami Herald.

In addition to dealing with an increase on the presence of their international brethren, Colombia is also attempting to deal with an internal issue: the presence of landmines. According to NPR, the country is riddled with landmines as a result of a 50-year long war between its government and the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — an armed rebel group that goes against the current governmental system. Over the course of those years, thousands of Colombians have either been killed or horribly maimed as a result of coming into contact with a landmine. The government pushed for work toward removing all mines from the country by 2021. 

According to the Colombia Reports, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos emphasized that the country “had the second highest number of landmine victims after war-torn Afghanistan when he took office in 2010.” 

While the news may be daunting, it is reassuring to know authorities are putting in effort to protect its citizens. As of today, 225 of the total 673 municipalities make up the areas where mines have been cleared.

Colombia is a rich country, with much more to offer the world than just drugs and murder. With acceptance of one another and working to better protect its own citizens, we can learn a lot from its people, especially in regard to how we treat those seeking refuge.

 It doesn’t hurt to learn more about others; you don’t have to look across the whole world. So much is happening right by us, in the other America.

 

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