If Colombia's Poverty Is Not In The Data, It's On The Streets

Last month's optimistic reports of declining poverty rates in Colombia are a world away from reality.

Shantytown houses in Medellin, Colombia
Shantytown houses in Medellin, Colombia
Fernando Alberto Carrillo Virguez


BOGOTA — The world's richest man could perfectly be described as poor. If he were poor in spirit, kindness, values, piety and affection, his would certainly be a life of misery.

This is an interesting subject, which I would discuss if I had the time and space. Instead, regarding the difficulty of emerging from poverty, I don't see it as "almost impossible," as El Espectador recently suggested in an editorial.

The reason why millions fail to emerge from poverty is, as they say, "rather simple."

Often one's degraded self-esteem sticks, resiliently if not stubbornly, to the state of poverty. I know of many who have extricated themselves from miserable conditions with effort and will, and with a constancy and discipline that both complement and counter our increasingly precarious work conditions and a grueling national reality (to which this newspaper seems oblivious, either out of cynicism or a deplorable naivety).

But the legal paths in Colombia to rise up out of poverty are clearly restricted, and the government offers little to help this population our of their dire predicaments. In that sense, I argue against the cited editorial's propositions on the complexity and "multi-dimensional" nature of poverty.

The peddlers on Bogota's Transmilenio buses, unchecked criminal activity in the form of muggings on streets and buses, thefts outside banks and in homes, child prostitution, extortion, and palpable poverty, all make a mockery of this government's boastful and noisy statistics on reducing poverty.

Permit me to be extremely skeptical of the official eloquence and veracity of its figures. Poverty is visible in Colombia: Every day it can be touched, felt, smelled, breathed in.

The government's superfluous, enticing figures on a nationwide decline in poverty figures are worth, well, not much, and deserve a muted response, not the media's cringing applause.

What is the basis for so much official satisfaction when the misery of the lowest classes is becoming more dense and penetrating every day? The fever is down, they say. Sure, it's gone right down to the gonads, threatening to turn the entire body barren and lifeless.

If only Dante could descend from his celestial abode to walk through the reality of modern poverty. He would relate with "real figures," the scope and painful grind of paupers' lives. He would surely observe the "limbo" between those socio-economic classes, and hopefully describe them in disinterested detail.

He would shed light on the stifling, infernal circles through which the desperate mass of the "socially mobile" seek to emerge. Pushing and shoving lest they fall into the lowest abyss, with its seething coal fires so far removed from paradise. Poor in spirit, and so much more.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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