Colombia, The Island Mentality Of A Mountainous Nation

Some of the world's most insular places are cut off by land, not water.

Mountains in Quimbaya, Quindio, Colombia
Mountains in Quimbaya, Quindio, Colombia
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — I had an opportunity in recent weeks to spend time on not just one, but two islands.

The first was La Palma, the westernmost island of the Canaries — the one that's closest to the Americas, in other words. The Spanish spoken there sounds more Venezuelan than Castillian, while the vegetation (bananas, sugar cane and bougainvilleas) seems more Caribbean than anything you'd find in Spain.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the island is the presence of one of the world's most important observatories. The facility, built at 2,400 meters above sea level atop a dormant volcano formed 20 million years ago, the Roque de los Muchachos, holds the world's biggest telescope, the Gran Telescopio Canarias.

What isolate us most thoroughly, rather, are mountains.

To perceive the very few photons or light particles reaching us from the past (that is the rays of remote explosions that happened thousands of millions of years ago, when the sun and the earth were not yet formed), one needs the stillest, most transparent atmosphere and considerable darkness. For that reason public lighting in La Palma is dimmed to the point of elimination, and the night really does appear as it should. The greater the darkness, the more nocturnal the night.

In La Palma, it occurred to me for the first time that islands are not, in fact, insular. What isolate us most thoroughly, rather, are mountains. Christopher Columbus, we were taught, left Huelva, Spain on Aug. 3, 1492. Considering it more carefully, he abandoned Spanish territory definitively on Sept. 6, specifically from another of the Canary islands, La Gomera. That was the last supply point where he loaded water and food and mended the helm and sails of his ship, La Pinta.

La Palma, Spain — Photo: Hilthart Pedersen

No, neither the sea nor rivers isolate as mountains do. There is trade on islands. People of different races and cultures dock at ports, and islands have sent fleets to conquer the world. And if that was the case for the Canaries, it has been even more so for the other island I visited of late, Great Britain.

These green isles created the last great empire that merits the name. And it is for an absurd nostalgia for that imperial past that the United Kingdom now wants to leave Europe. They mistakenly think that if they go back to being an island, their greatness will return. The idea is stated with ridiculous Trumpian grandiloquence when Prime Minister Boris Johnson vows to "make the UK great again!"

Great Britain is the clearest example of how an island is anything but isolated. If there's one thing that's truly global — something that's gone viral worldwide — it is England's language and culture. English is the most widely disseminated first language, and as a second language practically all of us have a jab at it! Cuba, Crete, Japan and Indonesia are other examples of how islands integrate with the territory around them, or conquer, influence and dominate it.

Great Britain is the clearest example of how an island is anything but isolated.

Spending time on islands that either communicate with (La Palma) or come to dominate the world (Great Britain), I realized that the people who are truly isolated are those of living in mountains. Tibet is an isolated land. So is Bolivia, Switzerland and Paraguay.

One of our presidents, Alfonso López Michelsen, rightly described Colombia as "the Tibet of South America." It is a parochial country, closed to immigration, trade and ideas, with a capital clinging to the Andes and so far from everything it appears distant from itself.

If only "water surrounded us on all sides," as the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura said of his island. Our only obstacle, in that case, would be the sea, and wouldn't be limited by the little enclosure of our minds and the idiocy of extreme self-regard.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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