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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.
Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.
Julián de Zubiría Samper

What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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Photo of a family of Migrants from Venezuela crossing the Rio Grande between Mexico and the U.S. to surrender to the border patrol with the intention of requesting humanitarian asylum​
Migrant Lives
Julio Borges

What's Driving More Venezuelans To Migrate To The U.S.

With dimmed hopes of a transition from the economic crisis and repressive regime of Nicolas Maduro, many Venezuelans increasingly see the United States, rather than Latin America, as the place to rebuild a life..


Migration has too many elements to count. Beyond the matter of leaving your homeland, the process creates a gaping emptiness inside the migrant — and outside, in their lives. If forced upon someone, it can cause psychological and anthropological harm, as it involves the destruction of roots. That's in fact the case of millions of Venezuelans who have left their country without plans for the future or pleasurable intentions.

Their experience is comparable to paddling desperately in shark-infested waters. As many Mexicans will concur, it is one thing to take a plane, and another to pay a coyote to smuggle you to some place 'safe.'

Venezuela's mass emigration of recent years has evolved in time. Initially, it was the middle and upper classes and especially their youth, migrating to escape the socialist regime's socio-political and economic policies. Evidently, they sought countries with better work, study and business opportunities like the United States, Panama or Spain. The process intensified after 2017 when the regime's erosion of democratic structures and unrelenting economic vandalism were harming all Venezuelans.

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In A World Of Hunger And Greed, Knowledge For Its Own Sake Is More Vital Than Ever
Reinaldo Spitaletta

In A World Of Hunger And Greed, Knowledge For Its Own Sake Is More Vital Than Ever

Students are now paying customers and the world revolves around capital and commerce. But reading and education are our best forms of both pleasure and resistance. Reminders from assassinated Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.


BOGOTÁ — In 1931, when inaugurating the public library of his hometown of Fuente Vaqueros in southern Spain, the poet Federico García Lorca gave a speech about hunger. He spoke of a hunger for learning and its baser variety, inside the belly, denouncing those who speak of economic demands without ever mentioning the cultural needs "for which peoples have cried out."

It was fitting that all should eat, he said, "but let all men know."

And yet in certain places, of course, they neither eat nor know — minds and bodies starved in equal measure.

The dictatorship of money

García Lorca — who would be assassinated near the start of the Spanish civil war in 1936 — told his townsfolk he felt more sorry for those unable to learn than the physically famished. If he were hungry and destitute on the street, he said, "I wouldn't ask for a piece of bread but a book."

Cited as Spain's most accessible poet, García Lorca was sought out, according to documents, and shot for being a "socialist, mason and homosexual." He said in 1936 that social revolutions must be carried out with books and knowledge, and declared the French Revolution to be the result of the books of thinkers like Rousseau and the 18th century Encyclopédie. Likewise, the social struggle of his time, he said, derived from one book, Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

Youngsters are being told to study courses that lead to work and money.

In our time of buoyant imperialism and neoliberalism, and untold miseries for millions worldwide, learning is as precious, and spurned, as in the 1930s. It's all about capital gains and currency curves today, and keeping the poor in their place — firmly on the sidelines. It's a matter of utility, and ignorance is far more useful here than books and philosophy. Ignorance makes people submissive and soft and malleable. Mincemeat. Even that dandy Oscar Wilde said it — art is entirely useless.

So, stop your Democritus and Aristotle, and your Kant and co., not to mention taking risks in life, for they will "yield" nothing. The dictatorship of money cannot allow anything so silly as literature at university to impede the march of profits.

Federico García Lorca at family's summer residence Huerta de San Vicente, in Granada, in 1932


Contempt for education

The philosopher Nuccio Ordine observes on the uselessness of all "unprofitable" learning in his book L'utilità dell'inutile, which explains the dwindling budget for humanities at universities.

Youngsters are being told to study courses that lead to work and money. That precludes the arts, literature and philosophy that may prompt some big ideas and questions about the state of the world. Ordine recently told an online review, Ethic, that rankings were corrupting universities.

Contempt for learning and education is the norm now.

A chemistry professor at New York University was dismissed after students complained their examinations were too hard, and the university justified it, saying students must be treated well — as paying customers. That, Ordine said, was tantamount to students buying degrees.

Contempt for learning and education for its own sake is the norm now, in a world of banks and multinational businesses. What's the use of history, you'll hear time and again? The world's tormentors need a smooth ride on people's backs.

The reading public is a truculent lot, constantly reflecting on their rights and who's free or not. As Ordine states in his interview, Machiavelli already knew that an informed man was free and the ignorant one, inevitably a slave.

Ordine reminds those urging us not to waste an otherwise productive time reading Don Quixote or Les Misérables that the classics are not read to get a degree, but to learn to live. But that's enough daydreaming for today!

I wonder if anyone delights at the sight of a library these days, like García Lorca, assuming any new public libraries are still being opened.

Photo of a man walking past destroyed buildings in ​Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on Feb. 15
Héctor Abad Faciolince

Earthquake Warnings And Risky Buildings, From Turkey To Colombia's Ring Of Fire

Colombia has a history of earthquakes, yet many of its buildings are not designed to withstand even moderate tremors. As Turkey and Syria reel from disaster, will other countries around the world learn any lessons?


BOGOTÁ — As someone here in Colombia said last week, cutting your pinky finger is more painful than 100 people dying in an earthquake quake in Turkey. I imagine the Turkish people in the region of Antakya, which was hit by a devastating earthquake, likewise care more about a bleeding finger than any deaths in faraway quake-prone regions of Colombia — even if they have such quaintly Asiatic names as Armenia or Antioquia.

Indeed, Antakya and Antioquia both recall the ancient city of Antioch and, distance aside, people everywhere on the planet tend to be self-involved and oblivious to the plight of others.

Perhaps because my finger was feeling fine, I was sickened by the news of 20,000 or more people dying in the quakes in Turkey and Syria. But as we only truly are moved to sympathize when we are drawn close, a Colombian must see last week's event in terms of the Armero (volcano) disaster, which killed 23,000, or the 1999 quake that killed almost 2,000 people, around the Colombian city of Armenia.

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Time To End The Western Witch Hunt Around Food
Julián López de Mesa Samudio

Time To End The Western Witch Hunt Around Food

Social media hype and the "obsessive-compulsive" tendencies of younger generations are demonizing some basic foods, like bread, that have fed humanity for some 8,000 years.


BOGOTÁ — We largely owe our triumph as a species to gluten (a composite protein found in cereals like wheat). The domestication of the big, gluten-filled, cereals, paved the way for the rise of ancient civilizations, from Mesopotamia to Iran and the Mediterranean cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Wheat, barley and rye made large-scale agriculture possible, which fueled steady population growth through better nutrition. The rise of complex agricultural systems in turn led to the division of labor, consolidation of political systems and the state concept itself. So for more than 8,000 years, a great part of humanity has grown with the help of foods that contain gluten.

Yet today, these foods have become unspeakable villains to a growing number of 'foodies,' health enthusiasts and devotees of gastro-political and spiritual causes.

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

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?


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.

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Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)
Mauricio Rubio

Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power

Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, is one of the country's chief power brokers and a consummate wheeler-dealer who, with the help of relatives, runs a voracious enterprise dubbed the Flower Shop.


One of the clearest signs of tyranny in Venezuela has to be the pervasive nepotism and behind-the-scenes power enjoyed by President Nicolás Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores de Maduro.

In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place," with one commentator observing that she is constantly "surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators" — including relatives, with whom she has forged a clique often dubbed the floristería, or the "Flower Shop," which is thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics.

She is certainly Venezuela's most powerful woman.

From modest origins, Flores is 68 years old and a lawyer by training. She began her ascent as defense attorney for the then lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez, who was jailed after his failed attempt at a coup d'état in 1992. She offered him her services and obtained his release, which won her his unstinting support for the rest of his life.

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Photo of women in traditional clothes at a market in Cartagena, Colombia
Vanessa Rosales

"Splendid" Colonialism? Time To Change How We Talk About Fashion And Culture

A lavish book to celebrate Cartagena, Colombia's most prized travel destination, will perpetuate clichéd views of a city inextricably linked with European exploitation.


BOGOTÁ — The Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz is celebrating the historic port of Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, in a new book, Cartagena Grace, published by Assouline. The European publisher specializes in luxury art and travel books, or those weighty, costly coffee table books filled with dreamy pictures. If you never opened the book, you could still admire it as a beautiful object in a lobby or on a center table.

Ortiz produced the book in collaboration with Lauren Santo Domingo, an American model (née Davis, in Connecticut) who married into one of Colombia's wealthiest families. Assouline is promoting it as a celebration of the city's "colonial splendor, Caribbean soul and unfaltering pride," while the Bogotá weekly Semana has welcomed an international publisher's focus on one of the country's emblematic cities and tourist spots.

And yet, use of terms like colonial "splendor" is not just inappropriate, but unacceptable.

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