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A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

We shouldn't pin our hopes on words like love or even "so much" of it, but on the actions that prove it. If my wife leaves me a fortnight after I lose my job and break my hip, I then have sufficient grounds to doubt her love.

Degradation of democracy

In politics, we all know of the abyss that separates politicians' words from the reality of their actions once in office. Bolsonaro, the 'tropical Trump,' and the original Donald, presented themselves as defenders of democracy and vowed to make their countries great again. Their words became a different reality: a degradation of democracy and of public confidence in the future of the two richest countries of North and South America.

That kind of greatness is nothing short of a riot!

Both leaders provoked two of the gravest crises in their countries through terror-style rioting on the Washington capitol and in Brasilia (which were but a translation into deeds of their utterances).

Words like "greatness," when stated by them, really meant their own greatness. I'll have my greatness, and if "they steal it from me" through "fraudulent" elections, my followers will win it back by all means necessary. That kind of greatness is nothing short of a riot!

Image of an indigenous woman walking in a makeshift camp in Bogota, Colombia on May 9, 2022.

Embera indigenous communities start leaving the makeshift camp in Bogota, Cundinamarca, Colombia on May 9, 2022.

Chepa Beltran/ZUMA

Back to reality

The abuse of big, emphatic words, and epic comments on Twitter that generate waves of "likes," is inevitably confusing and ultimately disappointing. The promise to "Stop Now" the killings of community leaders in Colombia sounds great, but we have had 66 more killed just since the current government, led by Gustavo Petro, took office.

The next morning, we're back to our usual nightmare.

Obviously, the government didn't do it but while intentions matter, words have no magic power and do not automatically become action. Nobody has the perfect formula for turning a desire (stated verbally) into reality. "I'll write the best novel in this country." Watch out for any writer saying that, only to do what they always do — churn out another novel. I'm the president and I said no child should go hungry: so I demand to know why children are still dying of malnutrition!

In rhetorical terms, expressions (prized by our ambitious president here in Colombia) such as "total peace," making our country a "global power for life," making "prisoners work instead of rotting in jail," "plain-talking" politicians, "clean and renewable energy for all" can fuel magnificent, futuristic dreams.

But the next morning, we're back to our usual nightmare: with sinking roads, trucks spewing their filth into the air, and mobsters from Gang A gang murdering those from Gang B. The government may have vowed many thing, but let's just see what it does.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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