Magazine

Hail Colombia


Our May 28 Cover Story, "Extreme Investing: Inside Colombia," turned out to be both timely and, to many readers, counterintuitive. Some 20 Colombian lawmakers and businessmen had just been arrested for their alleged links to paramilitaries who murdered hundreds of citizens, including labor-union activists. President Alvaro Uribe strongly denied accusations that he was involved in the affair. Meanwhile, the nation's police chief and head of police intelligence were ousted amid suspicions that they had illegally wiretapped opposition politicians and journalists. This was the Colombia that most people knew: violent, corrupt, unstable. Our story shed light on the awkward first steps of the journey toward a new Colombia—a free-market bastion on an increasingly leftist continent, an emerging market swept up by a surge of foreign investment unleashed in large part by Uribe's passionate embrace of global trade. As our story made its way to the Internet portals, it stood out starkly amid the dozens of intensely negative headlines.

We didn't expect the deluge of feedback we received, so heavy it took our online team several days to read through the first batch of responses before posting them, sometimes translating from Spanish. The story aroused two basic feelings: gratitude and revulsion. The gratitude came mostly from Colombians and Colombian expats moved by our surprisingly upbeat portrait of their war-torn homeland. The revulsion came mostly from outsiders who thought we were glossing over Colombia's many problems. The polarization seems entirely fitting, for Colombia is a nation of ever starker contradictions.

Here are some edited excerpts:

I am one of millions of Colombians who fled the country to find a better future. Today I live in Chile. I just wanted to thank you, as I am sure many Colombians would, for showing the rest of the world that our country is not only about drugs and guerrillas but also offers increasing opportunities for investment. Soon I will be going back. Articles like yours reinforce my idea of working for my country. Thank you!

Ana Carolina Duque F.

Thank you so much for giving my nation a name that can be seen as respectful, not shameful. In all honesty, listening to your online commentary and then watching the slide show made tears run down my face. Viva Colombia!

Oscar J. Diaz

As a Colombian, I have a lot of hope about our future. For this reason, my wife and I are planning to move back to Colombia in a couple of years, even though there are great opportunities in the U.S. We have received the best education in the world, but we feel that we can make a better contribution in Colombia.

Carlos A. Arboleda

The company I work for in Minnesota has been investing in Colombia for the past two years. Doing business there is the best-kept secret in the industry. Everybody else goes to China, but we have a closer source and ally with excellent products and human values in Colombia.

Screen name: Erick*

I have lived in Colombia for almost all my life and have seen the damage that drug production and consumption have done to our country. At the same time, I see the unbelievable change and dramatic improvement this country has made in security, investment, social issues, economic growth, confidence, mobility, and so on. It will take time to solve the problems. But with the help of journalists like you, the world will recognize Colombia as a fantastic place to visit and invest.

Carlos Enrique Moreno M.

This past January I went back to Colombia with some American friends. Just like you, they were all victims of the Colombian bug. This is the idea that soon after you step out of the airplane, you begin to fall in love with the warmth of the people and the spirit of a struggling nation. Then you realize that every stereotype is no longer valid. You are correct: The people of Colombia are very proud. Their pride and their spirit have given them the energy, willpower, and patience to be the only nation in the world to survive what many have called a 50-year civil war.

Jorge M. Montoya II

You underestimate and underdescribe this spectacular country. Go to the llanos, the coffee zone, the coast. It is through people like you that we can help to change the negative perception of Colombia. We have only one problem: drug consumption. If the rest of the world works on educating potential users against consumption, we will solve a huge global problem that has its most negative impact on countries like ours. Too many Colombians are good people for so few bad, money-hungry people to continue damaging our country.

Screen name: Roberto

This article is obviously trying to paint a pretty picture of a grim reality. Anyone who thinks things are turning around is delusional. Just visit any of the millions of people who live in the slums, and they'll tell you about the economic "turnaround." Colombia's peace is artificially kept by the U.S.'s helping economic arm. If the aid were to stop, say goodbye to peace and prosperity.

Screen name: YJ

I am married to a Colombian, and my in-laws suggest that while Colombia is safer than it used to be, it is not particularly safe. The murder and kidnapping rates are still quite high. I have been warned that because my appearance is clearly non-Colombian, kidnapping is a concern. I hope the problems continue to diminish to the point one can feel comfortable going there. I'd love to return and be able to walk around without always looking over my shoulder.

Screen name: OLC

The article is full of warnings, yet omits to mention three Americans—Marc Golsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell—who have been held by Marxist rebels since 2003. The irony there was that a BW editor appeared on ABC's America This Morning (May 21) to discuss the article, and right after, the newscast switched to the report of the three MIAs. Had to make any investor this side of Evel Knievel think twice.

Steve Cohn

Media Industry Newsletter (May 25)

When will the world and the U.S. drug users understand that their cocaine and other drug "highs" mean misery, death, and corruption for the Colombian people? The country's natural resources such as the Amazon jungle and its once lush forests have been cleared to grow poppy and other plants used to manufacture illegal drugs. Also, efforts to eradicate such plantations have made it necessary to use powerful chemicals that might result in even more harm to the environment. Rivers are being contaminated as well. As long as there are consumers, there will be producers and the people of Colombia will continue to suffer from the resulting tragic and unfair consequences.

Screen name: Julia Brociner

Thank you for your sincere effort to keep at bay damaging preconceptions and stereotypes about Colombia. I wish the reality of the country were such that, apart from reporting on the success of the new twentysomething yuppies, you could have written also about less inequality and corruption at all levels.

Screen name: Luixxav

* All comments signed by screen names are from BusinessWeek.com.


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