The best piece on Colombia I have read

All these facts highlight the need to understand why some behaviors that, although found in other countries, are more common in Colombia. During the last several years, Colombian scholars have begun to explore why Colombian society imposes few, if any, controls on individual behavior…Indeed, every Colombian has a high degree of freedom to establish his or her own norms.  Because of this freedom, Colombians show great individual creativity and various degrees of social discipline.  The lack of social controls produces individuals with remarkable behaviors: anybody who respects the law and the rights of others does so because of individual convictions, as do those who break the laws.  Success in Colombia is individual, not social or collective.  Loyalty normally extends only to people close to oneself because without their help it is impossible to survive in the midst of a hostile environment.  "The net result is an abundance of anti-social behaviors: individual rationality predominates over collective rationality"…

Geography has been a main reason for differences between Colombia and other Latin American countries.  Since colonial times Colombia has been a collection of diverse regions with little communication and trade among them.  Physical barriers have been (and are) so great that many regions remained very isolated and self-sufficient.  Because of geography, until the early 20th century Colombia was the Latin American country with the lowest exports per capita and total international trade in the region.  Only the development of coffee in the 1920s changed this.  Furthermore, the growth of exports led to the development of an export-oriented infrastructure that established communications and transport facilities between the producing region and the ports, but did little to integrate the country.  Geography also made tax collection very expensive.  Not surprisingly, tax collection was frequently auctioned to the private sector and became a source of private wealth.  Until the mid 20th century, international trade taxes were the main central government tax source. A very poor central state was a corollary of the country’s regional diversity.  Because of its geography, Colombia had a great need to spend on infrastructure in order to integrate the country and to generate a national identity and a feeling of belonging, but it had few resources.  Further, other financial restrictions and the pressures of the urban populations concentrated government expenditures in a few cities, and the state never established a significant presence or controlled most of its territory.  It may be argued that these problems were similar to those of other Latin American countries.  The difference was that the population in Colombia was spread out in the country while in most other countries it was concentrated in one or two cities and some rural areas. Thus, the lack of control of the territory had greater implications in Colombia than in the rest of the region because it also implied lack of control over a large proportion of the population…

While in many Latin American countries the armed forces have been a source of national pride, the Colombian armed forces traditionally have been weak.  They have not been capable of overthrowing governments as has been common in other countries.  For example, the military coup of 1953 was more "an opinion coup" promoted by the traditional parties in response to societal clamors to end violence.  They have never controlled the territory and have not had a significant presence along the national border.

If you read only one piece on Colombia in your lifetime, it should be this one.


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