Why should someone from the United States (or the U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany, etc.) care at all about Colombia? Good question. It’s a question that I hope this site and my book try to answer. In short, Colombia is a bustling country of 47 million people, rich in history, culture, music, art, food, and natural beauty — and still has a clouded reputation abroad. Knowing more about Colombia widens our view of the amazing world we live in. Besides that Colombia is a fascinating place, there are some practical reasons you might want to explore this nation, especially for U.S. Americans.
Here are eight reasons:
- Colombia is very good at soccer. Colombia is headed to the 2014 World Cup; if you are from the United States, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, or other countries that are also headed to Brazil summer 2014, you best know that Colombia is ranked 5th in the world. So if you think your team is playing well, you might want to learn a bit about your future opponents. Hint: they’re the ones wearing bright yellow jerseys. And their fans are the ones wearing straw vallenato hats.
- They are becoming a major travel destination. Believe it or not, the secret that visiting Colombia is safe and a top tourist destination has come out. Colombia has fantastic beaches, cities, nightlife, rainforests, national parks, and more that is drawing tourists from all over the world. The country is expected to have just under 2 million tourists in 2013. I can personally attest it is a fantastic place to visit (and of course if you can’t get there yourself, my book on Colombia will provide a little armchair traveling: colonial cities, Caribbean beaches, expansive deserts, the Amazon, mountain retreats…the list goes on and on. Check out some of photographs from Colombia to start your armchair journey.)
- Your tax money. The U.S. government has given over $8 billion to the Colombian government since the 1990s, mostly part of an agreement known as Plan Colombia. Most of that money, used to fight the drug trade and guerrillas, was militarized, making Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt.
- Roses. 78% of the cut roses sold in the U.S. are imported, the majority from Colombia. Read a great article from Smithsonian Magazine exploring Colombia’s flower industry here. Unfortunately those beautiful flowers not only had to travel thousands of miles and were grown with harmful chemicals, but the working conditions of Colombian flower workers are poor. Consider buying fair trade or organic roses.
- The human cost of armed conflict. Like past and present tragedies in Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, the Congo, and Syria, our humanity binds us to the tragedies that happen in Colombia whether we like it or not. Since 1958, 220,000 people have lost their lives in the political and drug-related conflicts and a further 5.7 million Colombians forcibly displaced. Read more at this recent report summarizing some of the disheartening results of Colombia’s conflict.
- Free trade agreements. It might sound a little dry (’cause it is a bit), but in 2011, the United States and Colombia signed a free trade agreement, facilitating the exchange of goods between the two countries. The U.S. is Colombia’s leading partner in trade, and 39% of Colombia’s exports went to the U.S. (besides cut flowers, lots of petroleum, gold, and agricultural products). Conversely, the U.S. is now able to send even more products over to Colombia. This mostly benefits U.S. companies and businesses by expanding their markets — and the trade agreement did meet with stiff opposition in parts of Colombia..
- Colombians in the U.S. There are over 900,000 Colombians in the U.S. They are our neighbors and co-workers, and might even be someone you watch on TV. There is actress Sofía Vergara, singer Juanes (who makes his home in Miami), and baseball player (and 2010 World Series MVP) Edgar Rentaría to name a just a few of the more famous Colombians in the United States.
- You’ll seem smarter. Surprise someone who only know of the Colombia portrayed in Clear and Present Danger. You don’t need to be an expert in history, international relations, or theories of civil conflict to be ahead of the game of adding to the broader – and more accurate – view of Colombia outside of the FARC and drug trafficking. Spelling it Colombia, not Columbia, is a good place to start.
There are many reasons why no matter where you live in the world, it is becoming important to know about rapidly-changing and reinvented Colombia.
Maybe you just like travel, maybe you want to learn more about your world, maybe you went to a great Colombian restaurant and then realized you couldn’t place Colombia on the map. I am also hoping you are looking for some entertaining literature on a place you might not know much about.
Why do you want to read about Colombia? Feel free to reply with your own ideas!