EL ESPECTADOR
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
photo of Betancourt pointing at the camera
Geopolitics
Felipe García Altamar

Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

Although Betancourt is best known for surviving six years as a hostage of the Colombian terror group FARC, and is considered a centrist politician, her unlikely new campaign for president will be centered on gender issues.

-Analysis-

BOGOTA — Exactly 20 years after she was kidnapped by the FARC terror group in the middle of her campaign for Colombian president, Íngrid Betancourt is launching a new campaign to lead her nation. She will do so on behalf of her party, Verde Oxígeno, becoming the only female candidate from the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), which for months received a barrage of criticism for grouping only male candidacies and traditional politicians.

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The Madrid Neighborhood Where The Spanish Literary Giants Live On
food / travel
Héctor Abad Faciolince

The Madrid Neighborhood Where The Spanish Literary Giants Live On

There is a charming little sector of central Madrid where towering figures of Spanish literature lived, loved, wrote ... and mocked each other.

-Essay-

MADRID — Many people think that in contrast with politics (where it's all daggers drawn, spite and calumny), the denizens of the Republic of Letters — novelists, intellectuals and poets — get on very well. If they were ever to quarrel, they would do it with elegance and arguments devoid of envy or calculations.

In fact, the opposite has long been the case, at least since the Greek playwright Aristophanes mocked Socrates, possibly contributing to his execution by the city of Athens. Envy, hate, backbiting and rivalries are commonplace in the Republic of Letters. It is, literally, a republic of missives, as its luminaries exchanged letters wherein they condemned certain peers and praised others. Alliances were made in those letters, and groups and currents founded in opposition to other schools or literary cliques.

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Colombian former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt
Geopolitics
Gonzalo Mallarino Flórez

Betancourt Is Back, Again! Former Hostage Can Set Colombian Politics Free

With a personal history of suffering and a humane discourse, the liberal Ingrid Betancourt's return to Colombian politics, even if not a presidential candidate next year, may prompt voters to shun the extremes.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — I am glad Ingrid Betancourt — once a disruptor of political corruption in Colombia who aspired to be president in 2002, only to end up for six years a hostage in the jungle — has returned to politics ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.

When I think of her, I see the image many have seen, which show her despondent and emaciated after years of unjust confinement at the hands of the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But the famous image also reveals her enduring resolve.

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Biden's Democracy Summit: The Sad Truth About The Invitation List
Ideas
Marcos Peckel

Biden's Democracy Summit: The Sad Truth About The Invitation List

Can the countries the United States have invited to an exclusive summit on democracy safeguard and spread a system that is inherently flawed and fragile?

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Don't expect much from the Summit for Democracy, summoned by the U.S. President Joe Biden.

Slated later this week, it follows other initiatives to defend and promote democracy worldwide, and will convene by video remote the representatives of 110 invited countries, which the U.S. State Department considers democracies.

Its three stated objectives are: defense against authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights.

The first controversy around the gathering emerged from the guest list, which includes some of the United States' chief regional allies.

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Colombian Gen Z Wins Battle For The Right To Have Blue Hair At Graduation
Society
Alidad Vassigh

Colombian Gen Z Wins Battle For The Right To Have Blue Hair At Graduation

A determined student's victory for freedom of hair in conservative Colombia.

BUCARAMANGA — It may not be remembered alongside same-sex marriage or racial justice, but count it as another small (and shiny) victory in the battle for civil rights: an 18-year-old Colombian student whose hair is dyed a neon shade of blue has secured the right to participate in her high school graduation, despite the school's attempt to ban her from the ceremony because of the color of her hair.

Leidy Cacua, an aspiring model in the northeastern town of Bucaramanga, launched a public battle for her right to graduate with her classmates after the school said her hair violated its social and communal norms, the Bogota-based daily El Espectador reported.

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Why Ghosts Of Hitler Keep Appearing In Colombia
Geopolitics
Reinaldo Spitaletta

Why Ghosts Of Hitler Keep Appearing In Colombia

Colombia's police chiefs must be dismally ignorant if they think it was "instructive" to expose young cadets bereft of historical education to Nazi symbols.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Adolf Hitler was seen in 1954, wandering around the chilly town of Tunja, northeast of the Colombian capital. The führer was, they said, all cloaked up like a peasant — they even took a picture of him. Later, he was spotted nearby at the baths in the spa town of Paipa, no doubt there for his fragile health.

A former president and notorious arch-conservative of 20th century Colombian politics, Laureano Gómez used to pay him homage. A fascist at heart, Gómez had to submit to the United States as the victor of World War II. He wasn't the only fascist sympathizer in Colombia then. Other conservatives, writers and intellectuals were fascinated by Nazism.

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photo of an Orthodox family checking in to Dubai Airlines at Tel Aviv airport
Geopolitics
Marcos Peckel

Abraham Accords Unleashed: The Middle East Will Never Be The Same

The peace accords signed between conservative Arab states and Israel are the start of an inevitable opening for the Middle East, and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan means a new post-American, post-oil future.

-Editorial-

BOGOTÁ — Days ago, passing through the Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, I could see prominent signs announcing direct flights between Israel and Casablanca in Morocco, and with Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Manama the capital of Bahrain, and Cairo. These were in addition to the dozen daily flights linking Tel Aviv and Istanbul, which have been operating for some years.

And to think on top of that, we now see the opening of Saudi airspace to flights to Israel, which would have been unthinkable just a few years back.

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​Screenshot from a video posted on Twitter showing a hold-up in Medellín.
Society
Reinaldo Spitaletta

Not Safe For Netflix, Medellín Is Back To Its Bad Old Ways

A dramatic, cinematic-like bid to rob a gold depot in the iconic Colombian city associated with Colombia's most violent drug cartels is just the latest sign that the city is back to its its old system of crime and no punishment.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — The footage looks like a crime series filmed on location in Medellín, yet it was anything but fiction. Earlier this month, around 30 armed and hooded criminals tried to mount an assault on a gold foundry in the Colombian city's El Poblado district. Their masks, motorbikes and dump truck were all indications of how dangerous Medellín has become — and reminiscent of how unsafe it used to be.

Bystanders were brazenly filming it all, shouting admiration or surprise. Unbothered by the background noise of gunfire, their reactions were proof of how commonplace such incidents have become. Their attitudes also showed the tendency to see a potential tragedy as a joke. Meme creators and online improvisers were quick to respond with cheeky humor and mischievous concoctions.

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The Hispanic World: United By Spanish, Divided By Spanish
Society
Ricardo Bada

The Hispanic World: United By Spanish, Divided By Spanish

Latin Americans are proud to be part of a "brotherly" region united by its Hispanic heritage, until they suffer hearing each other's "Spanish."

BOGOTÁ — In February this year, my friend and fellow columnist Juan David Zuloaga expounded on the reality of a historic, cultural and linguistic community known as Spanish or Hispanic America. It includes Spain and the nations that were once a part of its American empire. I won't dismiss the idea, but I do question it.

Days ago, I read the most interesting article by Itziar Hernández Rodilla, in Vasos Comunicantes, a translators' journal, which began, "I read these words in Claudia Piñeiro's Catedrales: "The way we name plants, flowers, fruits, while still using the same language reveals our origins as much as any tune, if not more. That is where we are from, the place where every word blooms or gives fruit."

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Photo of drugs being guarded by a soldier after a major bust at the border between Colombia and Panama
Society

Capture Of Drug Kingpin Otoniel, What It Means For Colombia

The capture of Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker shows that in spite of the cartels' resilience, the state can and will fight crime at the highest levels, writes top Bogotá daily El Espectador.

-Editorial-

BOGOTÁ — The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

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photo of a police car at night
Society
Alidad Vassigh

Sunday Murders, Morning Bike Thefts: The Data On When Crimes Occur

In Colombia, killings happen more often on Sundays. Most big city crimes in the U.S. happen during the day, though violence is a night-time thing. Weekends account for more than half of illegal acts in Cape Town, South Africa. A global glimpse at the "when" of crime.

BOGOTÁ — They call it the "criminal clock." The Colombian NGO Excellence in Justice Corporation (Corporación excelencia en la justicia, CEJ) recently published a study of or the hours of the day and days of the week when different types of crimes happen.

Some of the findings might not surprise: murder is an evening crime, though it occurs disproportionately on Sunday. Meanwhile, Colombian thieves are busiest in the mornings. Elsewhere in the world, we also see patterns that both meet and defy expectations.

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Like Afghan War, The U.S. War On Drugs Must End
Geopolitics
Daniel García-Peña

Like Afghan War, The U.S. War On Drugs Must End

The United States has long dictated policy regarding narcotics, and Colombia, in particular, has paid a heavy price. The current presidential race is an opportunity to shift course and prioritize the welfare of everyday people.

-OpEd-

More than 20 years ago, I read a headline in the satirical U.S. newspaper The Onion declaring "Drugs Win Drug War." It would be an appropriate headline for this item too, but not as a joke. As the years have shown, it's an accurate description of reality.

U.S. anti-narcotic laws date from the prohibition period that produced the 1919 constitutional amendment banning the production and consumption of alcohol, which later included marijuana, cocaine and opium. The amendment was repealed in 1933 as alcohol consumption increased and criminal gangs flourished, but the ban on other substances remained in force.

After World War II, the United States pushed for a ban on such drugs internationally, which led the UN to adopt the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Ten years later, the then president of the United States Richard Nixon coined the term "war on drugs," as part of his policy at home against youth movements protesting racism and the Vietnam war.

In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan raised the issue to foreign-policy level, publicly declaring illicit drugs to be a matter of national security. And in 1986, he signed the Directive 221 wherein he instructed the armed forces to treat drug trafficking as a threat to the nation.

With the end of the Cold War, the anti-narcotics logic replaced anti-communism as a crucial foreign policy axis with several countries.

In Colombia's case, all governments have since then stated their intention to "denarcotize" relations with the United States, some even promoting the idea of shared responsibility over drugs. Nevertheless, narcotics continue to dominate the bilateral agenda. This has cost us thousands of lives, corrupted the state, and gravely harmed social values.

Workers take care of cannabis plants in the nursery of the Clever Leaves company in Colombia — Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda/EFE/ZUMA

Fifty years since Nixon declared the war on drugs, the only thing we can see is failure. In 2020, an independent, bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress admitted there had been a collective failure to rein in consumption and trafficking. The drug industry, they acknowledged, was always a step ahead of authorities.

Others would concur, including the former Colombian foreign minister María Emma Mejía, an extract of whose memoirs was published in this paper. Likewise, researcher Juan Gabriel Tokatlian noted that the U.S. military debacle in Afghanistan was also a failure in the war on drugs.

Ironically, the country that once championed prohibition is now going in a different direction. Recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, while its medicinal use is legalized in another 16 states. The state of Oregon recently legislated to partly allow hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Today, worldwide, the hard line on drugs is led by Arab and African states, Russia and China, which executes drug traffickers.

The sad reality is that Colombia has never had a national drugs policy. In practice it restricts itself to the slavish implementation of U.S. directives on militarization, extradition and fumigation. Isolated signs of independence, like the Constitutional Court decriminalizing possession of a "personal dose" of marijuana or parliament legalizing its medicinal use, are significant, but unrelated. Point Four of the 2016 Peace Accord, urging a rethink of anti-narcotics policies, has yet to be enacted.

Now, some presidential candidates are bringing up the narcotics issue as well. While any change to the international regime in this respect is complex and would take time, Colombia has the moral authority to lead debates on the effects of interdiction, precisely because of the costs it has borne.

Above all, the presidential race currently underway here is a great opportunity to define a national policy that would envisage alternatives such as legalization and decriminalization, and differentiate between levels of involvement. It would offer developmental solutions for coca farmers, and treat drug consumption as a public health issue. It must be a policy that defends, first and foremost, the needs and interests of all Colombians.

*García-Peña is a professor in Colombia's National University.