Poverty, the true face of "progress" in Colombia

By Carlos Tobar, Huila Daily (Diario del Huila), Neiva Edition, January 11, 2011


(Translated by Steve Fake, a CSN volunteer translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN volunteer editor.)


If anyone doubted the social reality of Colombia, the harsh winter rains that have ravaged the country have laid bare the grinding poverty in which most people struggle to live. Those on foot, from the countryside and the city, suffer not only the ravages of nature, but the inefficiencies and woes of bad governments that, for decades, we Colombians have endured and tolerated.


Because it's not just that we are poor – that 60% or more of the inhabitants are living in poverty, or that between 15 and 20 percent are in destitution, without employment or decent work, without adequate housing, without education, malnourished and sick – but that in the end we are not only abandoned "by the hand of God" but also by the hand of man, or rather, of governments.


The portrait of shame that the disaster of the winter presents is a disgrace to the current administration and all of the previous administrations: 2,200,000 flood victims, 280 dead, 278 wounded, 61 missing, more than 3,000 homes destroyed, some 250,000 houses damaged, dozens of roads blocked by collapsing embankments, falling bridges and landslides, thousands of hectares inundated with heavy losses in livestock and agriculture, etc. A true national disaster.


But what is drowning is not only the people and their meager belongings, it is also the “regime,” as Alvaro Gomez Hurtado called it. A legal and political system designed to serve and genuflect before foreign and domestic financial capital. In this country, legislation and economic policies, as always, but especially since the Constitution of 1991, have been issued in favor of big capital. Oil, mining, banking, commerce, industry, services, including public utilities, transport, construction, housing and infrastructure, agro-industry – these are the biggest beneficiaries of the country’s resources and legislation. The governments of Colombia decided that the country would grow economically in the exclusive hands of the monopolies that it protects and favors. To them, everything is given, with boundless generosity, because according to the ideologues of neo-liberalism, "if they prosper, we all prosper."


However, life is so obstinate that it is exposing the fallacy of the model, the lies of the regime. Outside of a very small percentage of persons with direct or indirect connections to these monopolies and who receive a small part of the wealth, the inhabitants of the country are on the margins of "progress." All of us must skimp and fight tooth and nail, working from sunrise to sunset – so say the small business owners, urban and rural, as well as the workers and the peasants. They leave us a few crumbs – through programs like “Families In Action” (a social welfare program), or by permitting us to undertake odd jobs in the informal economy – to alleviate hunger, thirst and other needs.


This contradiction of the two Colombias is what has emerged this winter. The unrelenting reality – undeniable, tangible, and permanent – still looms painfully, reminding us in the coming summers, or winters, or economic crises, that the current state of Colombian society is unsustainable and unacceptable.


This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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