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Colombia, Once Consumed by Violence, Became a Tourist Destination (cntraveler.com)
143 points by baristaGeek 65 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

My dad had a business in Colombia and had worked between Colombia and other South and Central American countries all his life. In the mid 90's they killed his business partner while he was out of the country. When he went back for the funeral an attempt was made on his life. He was approached and gun point on the ports had to jump into the water and dive understand the docks to escape gun fire.

My dad fled the country and left his business and all his assets never to return. My mom told his it wasn't worth his life, which it wasn't. My dads business partner's wife was at the time was trying to install herself into the day to day operations and have more of a role in the business. He thought she was simply greedy and harmless. My dad now feels different about that because she was the only one that knew my dads schedule and where he was going to be that day. She was also the only one that knew that her husband was going to be without his body guards that time of day.

My dad has lots of stories of Colombia and it's violence in the 90's, most of which was drug influenced. It wasn't the media blowing anything up and exaggerating.

My parents loved Colombia and it's people though. It would be great now that it's safer so he can maybe visit the place he loved and worked most of his life.

How much money we're talking about in your dad's business?

Couple of hundred dollars to a teenage sicario in Escobar's time and you're gone.


I remember of this story that was posted on HN, a few months ago.

tl;dr woman becomes a paramilitary assassin killing political opponents, later she just becomes a contract killer

My dad tried his best to keep his distance from the "narcos". Of course that would have been near impossible at the time in Colombia.

He remembers training a young man who was eager to learn the trade of a company my dad worked with. This must have been the 1980's. My dad thought he was genuinely interested in it. Soon after my dad left that company to start working on his own interests. A few years later the guy meets my dad somewhere and tells him how successful he is now all thanks to my dad taking a chance on him, not seeing him as a complete waste of time like others have and training him. He invited my dad to his ranch and my dad took him up on the offer. It turned out he was now working for one of the cartels and making obscene amounts of money doing it. My dad did not maintain contact with this guy after, needless to say.

I am now speculating here now but I think my dad partner's wife wanted the business for nefarious purposes. Her husband had businesses in other Central American and North Caribbean countries and to someone trying to move contraband the nature of these businesses would have been extremely valuable.

I was just in Medellín for JSConf Colombia a week ago. It was my first time in Colombia and I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

I was blown away by how friendly and engaged the developers I met were. I can say unequivocally I have never had the audience burst out in spontaneous cheering and applause at the end of a technical talk with such enthusiasm as they did in Medellín.

The conference venue was a beautiful, modern building next to the botanical gardens. The coffee was both delicious and strong. But most of all, the people were whip-smart and hungry to make their dent in the world. I can’t say enough positive things about Colombia.

> I can’t say enough positive things about Colombia.

You can't say enough positive things about the small, elite privileged slice of Colombia that you interacted with. It's a bit disturbing that you appear to have no notion of how different the reality for the masses is in comparison to your own thin slice of experience. I'd be very careful before extrapolating.

Hmm, your comment is actually kind of funny because the cool looking Ruta N building he mentions, in which the conference has held, is located right in the center of a slum, where it was intentionally built (like most big public works in Medellin) to actually make the city more inclusive by mixing people from different backgrounds in these spaces. It's a bit disturbing that you speak with such property when you have no notion of what you are taking about. I'd be very careful before extrapolating.

Building view for reference: http://static.iris.net.co/dinero/upload/images/2015/6/18/209...

The building (part of the Ruta-N complex) was designed by http://alejandroecheverri-valencia.co It was the first LEED Gold-certified public building in Columbia (in 2016) so it's cutting edge rather than typical.

It's worth noting that Alejandro Echeverri also teaches (edit: has taught) at Syracuse University.

It sounds like you experienced the lives of the privileged, mobile elite of Colombia. That's valid, as far as it goes, but any boosterism should be tempered with at least a mention of the countries massive inequality (sadly not that atypical for Latin America).

Wealth inequality in Colombia is high, but actually lower than wealth inequality in the US by most measures.

If someone posted about a positive experience at a tech conference in New York, I wouldn't expect to see a follow up reminding us about poor people in Tennessee.

> Wealth inequality in Colombia is high, but actually lower than wealth inequality in the US by most measures.


CIA Gini coefficients: US 47.0 (2014), Colombia 53.5 (2012)

Ratio of the average income of the top 10% to the bottom 10%: US 18.5, Colombia 60.4


Granted, this is income not wealth inequality. And there are many ways of measuring it. I would like to know your source.

http://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/ (the relevant list is at the end of the article)

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_distribut... for wealth ginis.

I'm sure there are lots of different measures that give lots of different results. My point was just that the US and Colombia aren't radically different in terms of economic inequality.

The US is not a high bar for comparison of wealth inequality. In fact wealth in equality in the US is a problem, and by any measures Columbia is either about the same or much worse.

The goal is places like Denmark.

South America in general has serious inequality problems.

>My point was just that the US and Colombia aren't radically different in terms of economic inequality.

What if you take into account the non-linear value of money, though? This seems to be missing in most accounts of inequality.

> Wealth inequality in Colombia is high, but actually lower than wealth inequality in the US by most measures

When everyone's at the bottom, there's little wealth inequality

Sure, but that's not the situation in Colombia. Colombia has a high level of wealth inequality.

If somebody tried to make a sweeping generalized comment about the country as a whole based upon that one experience I would expect exactly that.

There should be that reminder here too

"but any boosterism should be tempered"

You say that as though boosterism has a negative effect on the non-mobile-elite of Columbia when I would think that any economic activity would be a boost for the whole economy there.

>You say that as though boosterism has a negative effect on the non-mobile-elite of Columbia when I would think that any economic activity would be a boost for the whole economy there.

This is not always the case, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickle-down_economics

I'm British and my wife is Colombian. I've lived in Bogotá and travelled around the country a fair bit. It's an absolute paradise.

The nature and landscapes are just incredible. You have rolling lush green hills with forests and lakes, snowy mountains, canyons and desert plains, the coffee regions, tropical forests and beaches.. You can even drive for just a few hours and see a few of these in a single day. It is truly wonderful and can't really be described, you just have to go there and see it for yourself.

The food in particular is really great. For instance, the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables on offer that I didn't even know existed before I went to Colombia is remarkable!

If you are considering going to Colombia, don't give it a second thought, just book your flights! I promise you will have an amazing time, and will be telling your friends the same when you get back :-)

I've been saying the same to friends and strangers for over a decade. Colombia is an awesome place. As the article says, they have this seemingly gimmicky tourism phrase "the risk is that you'll want to stay" (only it's true).

Speaking of fruits, one of the problems there has to do with papayas. There's a Colombian phrase "no dar papaya" (do not give papaya) and it means that you shouldn't act foolishly because someone will "take your papaya", if you do. In fact, the second unwritten rule regarding papayas (aside from "don't give them") is that if someone offers it to you, you must accept. Essentially, it comes down to "take whatever opportunity will place you in an advantageous position". This is obviously bad on a societal level, in many ways.

That being said, it's still an undeniably beautiful place/people/culture/cuisine.

I agree with you, I'm Colombian and I think that the "No dar papaya"saying and mindset is terrible on so many levels. That mindset incentivizes distrust, cheating and exploitation of unfair advantages. I've personally thought about starting a movement called "Si dar papaya". I just haven't had much time to start it and no idea of where/how to begin.

"Papaya" apart from being a delicious fruit is also slang for "pussy" - not the cute furry kind - in many Spanish-speaking countries.

So if a voluptuous Colombian woman offers you some papayas, then yes, "you must accept".

A lot of places are safer than you've been led to believe, since popular culture and 'the media' feed off sensationalism and fear mongering.

Colombia is indeed wonderful, and to anyone wishing to travel there I suggest you get away from the big cities and check out the countryside. Some spots in Boyacá worth visiting are Paipa, Laguna de Tota, Duitama, and Villa de Leyva.

Medellín and Bogotá are great but I encourage all to make the trip to the north of the country: I live in Barranquilla, sandwiched between Cartagena and the Sierra Nevada and we have a healthy group of people who contribute to Open Source Software on a regular basis. We have the caribbean beaches right here all year long without leaving the DC/NY/Boston timezone.

Where are this OSS contributors in Barranquilla? I haven't heard of them before. Is there any kind of OSS meetup here?

There is Guillermo Iguarán who contributes to Rails. I personally have contributed to several large geospatial projects like GeoNode / GeoServer and Inasafe and bits to other projects like Django/GeoDjango in the past.

In retrospect I should have used a different term to differentiate people that are sharing smaller projects with liberal licenses from people who regularly write patches for the linux kernel.

Side note: Barranquilla hosts an awesome Carnaval that I got to see this year. It was my first impression of Colombia. Literally my 2nd day in the country for the first time. That's what got my hooked.

I’m curious how they pulled it off. Did the drug war work? What about the re-intensification of hostilities with FARC? Was Colombia’s drop in violence just the flip side of Mexico’s explosion in it?

This is a very rich country agriculturally speaking. Biodiversity is extraordinary, only rivalled by Brazil.

Imagine you have lots of taxes, travel is restricted, and you have enough people with good work ethic that adapt to those conditions.

When those taxes disappear (plain extortion by paramilitary and guerrillas) and travel between cities is possible again (again roadblocks by paramilitary and guerrillas), then the good work ethic goes a long way.

Right now the paramilitary is no more, FARC is becoming a political party, we are getting immigrants from neighborhood countries and we are fixing more issues than we did before.

Now, there's something that bothers me and it is the science budget was cut by this government. No immediate repercussions, but very bad for long term development.

There are 2 parts to it. Firstly, the guerrillas and narcos were heavily combated, thanks in part to Plan Colombia which was a collaboration with the US government to fight the criminal/drug dealing structures. This led to the narcos migrating to other regions and changing strategies (raw cocaine output wasn't reduced though) and to the guerrilla being weakened since most if it's long time leaders where killed, which in turn led them to peace negotiations and finally a very strange peace agreement (which the country voted against). All in all, we were very lucky to have two very successful executive administrations in a row. Secondly, the underlying problems leading to social conflict which are extreme rural poverty and inequality, have significantly diminished since 2002, with a close to 75% reduction in extreme poverty, thanks to economic growth. So as they say: growth solves nearly anything.

Is crack still a big business, the way it was e.g. in the 90s? Cocaine and its derivatives were never especially common in my region, but all of the news, and reports I've heard from friends in law enforcement seem to center on opiods, meth, and synthetic drugs like bath salts in recent years.

I took the bus to centro medellin yesterday with my dad and we saw 3 people smoking crack in the open.. If you are really poor and can't afford crack you are going to be sniffing glue all day. most tourist places you can buy low quality coke from nearly anyone for about 5 dollars a gram or so.

It is easily the most widely available drug in most big cities. I mean to say that there is almost always a large open air drug market particularly for crack.

The article attributes it partially to the force against FARC used during Uribe’s presidency which was backed by US money (Plan Colombia) and labelled as the war on drugs. So I’d say it had some effect.

Unrelated but I thought I'd mention the great Colombian Gabriel García Márquez – one of Latin America's most famous authors.

I like his Nobel Prize speech: La soledad de América Latina (The Solitude of Latin America) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzHWZKZXZwI (audio starts after a while, and captions are in available in English):

> Several themes Márquez addresses in his speech mirror those of his short stories and novels. Márquez touches on European colonialism, colonial legacies, deterritorialization of the Latin American culture, and he specifically addresses Latin American countries that have been affected negatively by foreign policy.

I wish I knew Spanish well enough to fully appreciate his literary style (currently struggling with "Vivir para contarla", his autobiography, looking up every 10th word!).

This is something that is incredibly sad for me. I've considered learning other languages simply to appreciate literary works better, but life seems to get in the way (more likely: I'm just not that motivated). Being bilingual, I've seen just how much can be lost in translation... I can only imagine the things I miss when I read, e.g. Les Misérables in English .... :(

Aw don't be sad about it. The little nuggets of hispanic culture that I have picked up have enriched my life immensely. I take what I can and enjoy it. I've probably misinterpreted or missed loads. That's fine...

Anyway, there is a huge amount of excellent and diverse literature in my own language; other languages are a bonus.

I was in Colombia for a month 10 years ago, traveling through on my trip to Buenos Aires. Santa Marta, Cartagena, Medellin, Armenia, Bogota. It was safe then. I’ve been back a couple of times. Most recently in March. The tourism has really picked up.

I was just in Colombia last month. Spent several weeks in Medellín and traveled to a few other cities.

There were a lot of tourists in Medellín. I do have to agree, people were very nice.

Highlight, I went to checkout an organic coffee farm outside of the city. One of the cowboys from the farm took my horseback riding through the hills. Very cool experience.

Definitely recommend Colombia for a unique vacation.

Coincidentally, I just wrote about my trip to Medellin.

“The remarkable, inspiring story of Medellin” https://medium.com/@martinweigert/the-remarkable-inspiring-s...

I got the feeling in Medellin that its "renaissance" was in a large part due to it being a center of the drug war. It brought a lot of violence but it also brought a tremendous amount of wealth into the city, which put it in good stead once the war ended.

Indeed. It's impossible to analyze Colombia's macroeconomics without having into account drug dealing. At some point, I know that this activity represented 3% of the GDP.


Lots of colombian corporate giants where founded in the '40s in Medellín. Today, out of the 10 most valuable colombian companies, 6 are headquartered in Medellín. These companies (not in order) are Éxito (retail), Argos (concrete), EEPM (utilities), Sura (insurance), Nutresa (food) and Isa (utilities).

In conclusion the city was heavily industrialized before the cartel, but the drug war did indeed bring some money that got managed for good in later decades.

In the meantime Acapulco, once hugely popular with tourists is now engulfed in gang land slaying, vendetta and gun violence in general.

Mexico is a totally different animal.

Acapulco in particular has grown immensely since its heyday in the 1950s. Its population within the city proper was 49k in 1960. Now it has grown to 708k. Wages are low; think $8/day in a hotel where guests pay $150/night. Moreover, foreign tourism is dwindling.

I had a great time in Colombia a few years back (Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, Baranquilla and Cartegena, be prepared to sweat buckets with the last two though!). I would say you do still need to take basic precautions to avoid trouble (like taking taxis home after a night out instead of trying to walk home) but I felt safe, I heard more stories about Mexico than Colombia at the time, the drug war seems to be a bigger issue in Mexico these days, and I felt safe in Mexico too. Honestly, if I hadn't run out of money whilst I was travelling, I could have quite happily moved to Central or South America.

Colombia is also home to the world's scariest drug. Ten cuidado!

> I woke up many hours later not knowing where I was. I stayed in bed, without pillows or blankets, feeling queasy and resting for a half-hour, trying to figure out what happened. At that point, I didn’t remember the lady, but I soon realized that I was at home, even though it hardly resembled my apartment — because it was empty. Everything was gone: my com­puter, my guitar, my clothing, my jewelry, about $5,000 in pesos I had hidden under my mattress, even my shampoo. There was only the bare bed and a table.

> I went downstairs to the lobby. ‘‘What happened to my stuff?’’ I asked the doorman.

> ‘Your mom came with a man and took your things away,’’ he said. I told him that was impossible because my mom was hundreds of miles away in Barranquilla, my hometown. ‘‘Let’s look at the surveillance video,’’ he said, explaining that I brought the woman by the day before. I had recently told the doorman of my plans to move, so he assumed she was my mother helping me out.

> ‘That’s not your mom?’ he asked, standing at the video monitor and pointing to her, sounding alarmed. I still didn’t remember anything about the old woman, but then, after watching the video some more, it started to come back to me. I saw her haul my stuff out with the help of a middle-aged man, who had waited in the lobby. She was wearing one of my coats as well as an expensive pair of shoes (mine) made by a Colombian designer.

> Watching the video, I saw myself come in with the woman, smiling as if everything were normal, and then I did not appear again. A doctor who checked me out later said I was given a drug nicknamed burundanga, popularly used by criminals in Colombia. He said it could have been administered through the paper the lady handed me, or perhaps some kind of aerosol. Even though my memory was wiped clean, on the video I appeared to be my everyday self.



Not even remotely unique to Colombia or originated here. I seems even the Greek and Roman used it in their Bacchanalia.

Just Google "devil's breath" or "Angel's Trumpet".




True and fair enough. The reason why I posted it was in the hopes that someone visiting Colombia would at least be aware of the possibility of this unique type of criminal attack. It is totally out of comprehension for most people from other parts of the world, being as is we are numb to armed attacks.

Some of the most striking things about the show Narcos, are the amazing visuals of Colombian cities and country. It's extremely beautiful. Which is also one of the reasons why I found the depiction of the cartels and their ruthlessness in the show to be pretty tragic.

If what this article claims about Colombia today is true, then I'm very happy for the country and it's people.

If you'd like something with less amazing, but more striking visuals then give Orozco el embalsamador a try (NSFW).


It's on youtube, but it doesn't have subtitles


I currently have a developer working for me in Colombia and am thinking about making a trip there soon.. I've talked to some really smart people online from there about topics like machine learning, it seems to be an up and coming place for tech.

How is the hour rate of Colombian developers usually?

I visited Bogota earlier in the year and I fell in love. I seriously considered moving there! I'm going back later this year to spend New Year's in Medellin. The Colombians were unbelievably friendly.

I visited Bogota in 2009 and scheduled only two days in the city. I regretted that as it's a spectacular city, and quite cheap (taxis are everywhere and really cheap). Food and coffee are excellent, and there are lots of interesting museums to visit (Gold Museum and the Botero collection alone were worth the visit). Only downsides were that service is usually very slow and traffic is awful. And the Bogota accent is delicious if you speak spanish.

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