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Editorial 23

Written by January 10 2022 0

Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero claimed in a shocking interview for the January 8 edition of Colombia’s leading weekly Semana news-magazine that Medellin’s leading businesses are in fact run by mafia gangsters who supposedly are out to “get” him.

Facing a recall petition for mismanaging the city, for publicly slandering its most successful and civic-minded companies, for potentially wrecking public utility EPM’s finances via demagogic claims that undercut and threatened more than US$1 billion in Hidroituango insurance claims, and for stuffing city agencies and commissions with political hacks -- including many family members -- Quintero has now decided to strike back with claims strikingly similar to the hysterical narratives pushed by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

In the Semana interview, Quintero not only accuses Medellin’s top “Grupo Empresarial Antioquia” (GEA) companies --Grupo Argos, Grupo Sura and Grupo Nutresa -- of being mafiosos, but he also attacks other non-GEA companies including the principal contractors of the US$5 billion Hidroituango hydroelectric dam, former Medellin Mayor and current Colombian presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo, and all supporters of former Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, the founder of the centrist Centro Democratico Party.

Semana editor Vicky Davila was so shocked by Quintero’s allegations that she asked Quintero if he actually realized what he was saying.

“Forgive me, but you are talking about the GEA, Uribismo, Fajardismo, you are not talking about a gang of drug traffickers, nor of a cartel. They are businessmen and politicians. Why do you take them to the point of being mafias?” Davila asked.

To which Quintero responded: “They are associated to achieve their objectives and many are not honest objectives. Tell me how can it be considered honest that those responsible for Hidroituango did not pay? These companies and these politicians came together to make this happen. So they behave like cartels and you have to tell the cartels what they are exactly.

“Here are what they are, some cartels, some mafias, where the GEA, Uribismo, Fajardismo were together, and they all had an agreement to [work together] and then someone independent arrived [that is, Mayor Quintero], put his finger on the problem and that has hurt them a lot.”

Grupo Argos Public Response

In response to Mayor Quintero’s accusations, Grupo Argos issued the following press release:

“January 9, 2022
“Position of Grupo Argos regarding the statements of Daniel Quintero.
“In relation to the statements of Daniel Quintero, Mayor of Medellin, published in Semana magazine on January 8, 2022, Grupo Argos states the following:

“1. We reject the claims that Grupo Argos or its subsidiaries are mafia organizations, comparing them with Pablo Escobar and drug trafficking.

“2. We reject the assertion that suggests that Grupo Argos' shareholding structure is irregular and prohibited in Colombia, which is totally false.

“3. Our organizations [including GEA companies] have never had control of EPM as indicated by Daniel Quintero. EPM is a public-capital company of the municipality of Medellin and no official of Grupo Argos or of its subsidiaries is or has been a member of its Board of Directors.

“4. The statements of Daniel Quintero given to Semana magazine in the course of a takeover bid for shares of Grupo Sura and Grupo Nutresa [by Semana owner Jaime Gilinski and Gilinski's JGDB Holding SAS investment group], which have their shares listed in the public stock market, may negatively affect the perception of national and international investors, being false and misleading.

“5. The company [Grupo Argos] will analyze legal actions for insult, slander, economic panic and any other that may arise.

“Grupo Argos and its more than 13,000 collaborators carry out their business activity within an ethical and transparent framework of action, oriented by the higher purpose of positively transforming people's lives through their investments,” the Argos press release concludes.

Proantioquia Response

Meanwhile, Antioquia’s leading public-private-academic-social-welfare civic-promotion organization Proantioquia issued the following press release in response to Quintero’s allegations:

“January 9, 2022.
“A single truth will not be built from a thousand lies. Proantioquia's pronouncement on the declarations of Mayor Daniel Quintero.

“Medellin and Antioquia have reached important levels of development, well-being and progress due to the joint historical work between government, business, academia and the social sector. Respect for differences has been based on argumentation, constructive dialogue, respect and seeking truth.

“Spreading a narrative with falsehoods and deceptions with the sole purpose of benefiting one's own agenda and not for the common good is very dangerous because it destroys social capital and fractures the necessary trust in which progress, democracy and the entire society lose.

“Antioquian companies have worked with commitment for the region and the country, concerned about solving social challenges, promoting entrepreneurship, and supporting youth, culture and peace. [Grupo Empresarial Antioquia companies] today generate more than 100,000 direct jobs and hundreds of thousands more indirect jobs, which translate into opportunities and progress for Antioquian and Colombian families. Comparing these companies to a mafia cartel shows lack of respect to their employees, shareholders, suppliers and clients, in addition to lacking any purpose.

“This lie hurts the city, the dignity of Medellin, ignores the historic horrors we suffered and what we managed to overcome through the sum of efforts, capabilities, leadership, resources, kindness and solidarity. With teamwork, with respect and trust, we managed to overcome the uncertain and fearful episodes of the violent past. This has been due to the commitment of the institutions, the business community, the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and the public that we have recovered from adversity and we continue to move forward.

“We still face immense challenges to restore and build the splendor of Medellin and Antioquia, but these challenges must be faced with dignity, recognizing our progress and working to continue advancing.

“Citizens must have a critical attitude about what they hear, understand reality based on facts, figures, actions and look closely at the history of the city. Accomplishments speak for themselves. We must avoid the contagion of a narrative using disqualifying phrases and straying far from the truth. Many times those who designate themselves as saviors are really destroyers of democracy and public trust.

“Companies such as Grupo Sura, Grupo Nutresa and Grupo Argos have the highest business, environmental, social, labor and cultural standards. Antioquia is proud of them and of many others who contribute, day by day, to achieve what we are, and who will also be the foundations of the future.

“We join the voices of those who raise the urgent need to rescue trust, to appeal to the civic spirit and the collective construction of social capital. A single truth cannot be built from a thousand lies."

[Signed]
Miguel Escobar Penagos, Vice President of the Board of Directors, Proantiquia
Maria Bibiana Botero Carrera, Executive President, Proantioquia

Grupo Sura Response

In a similar vein, Grupo Sura issued the following response to Quintero’s attacks:

“Grupo Sura press release
“09 January 2022

“Faced with the statements given by the Mayor of Medellin, Daniel Quintero Calle, to Semana magazine on January 8, 2022, Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana (Grupo Sura) expresses its position:

“1. We categorically reject the declarations of the Mayor of Medellin by means of which he attacks in an unscrupulous, tendentious and false manner the companies related to Grupo Sura and especially its investors, shareholders, clients, suppliers, advisers and collaborators.

“2. The statements of Daniel Quintero, in which he equates our company and the companies with which we share philosophical and patrimonial ties with ‘mafia practices,’ in addition to being lies, are irresponsible with all the investors and in particular with the citizens of Medellin, and with the thousands of employees of these companies, throughout the nation and the Latin American territory.

“3. The so-called ‘Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño’ or ‘GEA’ as referred to by Mayor Quintero is not a business group as that term is defined in Article 28 of the 1995 law. The ownership structure of Grupo Sura and others companies referred to by Mayor Quintero is perfectly legal. The Mayor's accusations -- according to which the shareholding model of said companies are [supposedly] irregular or prohibited -- are false.

“4. It is extremely serious that a public official uses his position to lie and attack without any basis people and entities that by constitutional mandate he must protect, with dishonorable charges and the false claim of incurring in illegalities, aggravated by in this case the person who holds the position of Mayor. Systematically, the Mayor has been false, disorienting public opinion and has affected democratic institutions by deepening mistrust in public administration with accusations that have no basis in reality.

“5. Grupo Sura reiterates that it has never had institutional representation on the EPM board of directors or in any other public entity. Those who have participated there in the past have done so exclusively as private persons.

“6. Grupo Sura is respectful of the democratic institutions for which it has always maintained total independence: We have never had our own candidates, much less have acted as a political party, nor have we hindered the work of any Mayor of the city. Grupo Sura has not promoted or promoted the recall of the Mayor as he claims. Transparency and adherence to the principles of Grupo Sura have been evident in the actions and historical commitment to the development of Medellin and Colombia.

“7. The Mayor's statements lead to a dangerous distortion in the confidence of the public securities market and the perceptions of national and foreign investors, all of which causes not only concern but also damage to the company. However, despite the attack suffered at the request of the Mayor of Medellin, Grupo Sura insists on continuing to respect and defend democratic principles.”

Grupo Nutresa Response

One day later, food-and-nutrition giant Grupo Nutresa issued its own response to Mayor Quintero's allegations.  Here is their full press release:

"Gropo Nutresa Press Release
"10 January 2022

"Faced with the statements of the Mayor of Medellin Daniel Quintero Calle, an interview published by Semana on January 8, 2022, Grupo Nutresa SA has the following response:

"1. Grupo Nutresa categorically rejects the lying and irresponsible allegations that is a mafioso and dishonest organization. These statements, totally false, are an offense to our investors, employees, suppliers and clients, and they ignore the enormous effort, for more than 100 years, to do business and generate development in all the regions where we operate.

"2. Grupo Nutresa's ownership structure is completely legal. Suggesting otherwise is ignoring the truth.

"3. Grupo Nutresa has never taken-over or controlled Empresas Publicas de Medellin [EPM]. We do not receive any type of income from EPM; no person of ours has participated in representation of Grupo Nutresa on the EPM board of directors, and no EPM employee has obtained any position there at the request of Grupo Nutresa. Grupo Nutresa's relationship with EPM is solely that of the customer-supplier type. EPM provides electric energy, natural gas, water and sewerage services.

"4. The statements of Mayor Quintero are missing the truth. The statements constitute a malicious attack that could deteriorate the reputation and trust not only of this organization and its investments, but also of the Colombian stock market, a fact that could generate serious economic impacts.

"5. We respect democracy and believe in the importance of preserving and strengthening the institutions for the progress of the country. We see participation in the construction of the public welfare as a responsibility with criteria of transparency, efficiency and always seeking the common good. We have not led or financed the revocation process underway against the Mayor of Medellin.

"Solutions to the biggest problems of the city and the country do not begin with the destruction of social capital and the attack on business activity. The challenges are great and require everyone's input.

"Every day more than 45,000 Grupo Nutresa employees work with integrity to make the organization's purpose come true: to build a better world where development is for everyone," the statement concludes.

Written by May 30 2021 0

The latest, just-released EcoAnalytica/Guarumo national poll of voting-age Colombians shows that people here are overwhelmingly fed-up with the month-long series of strikes, road blockades, violence, arson attacks, attempted (and actual) murders and attacks on police, and economic devastation seemingly ignored or in some cases even promoted by some members of the “Comite del Paro” group.

The “Comite del Paro” leaders and supporters include certain left-wing politicians, some left-wing labor unions, some student groups and huge numbers of unemployed people – all motivated by the inevitable economic and social problems arising from 15 continuing months of the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than by a proposed tax-reform bill since withdrawn.

In total, 67% of those polled this month by EcoAnalytica/Guarumo said they are totally opposed to road blockades that have included violent attacks on drivers of trucks, buses, ambulances, oxygen-and-medical-supplies transports, police vehicles and private cars, resulting in untold numbers of deaths and suffering from delayed or cancelled deliveries of critical supplies at hospitals, clinics and distribution centers.

Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of farm animals along with hundreds of thousands of tons of produce have perished because of the blockades, while hundreds of thousands of businesses likewise have shut their doors and laid-off millions of people because of the blockades, arson attacks and violent protests. Tax revenues that support Colombia's massive subsidies to the poor and working-class populations hit by economic devastation caused by Covid-19 also have plummeted during the strikes.

Another 56% of those polled said the strikes should stop NOW, even while 71% suspect that the national government and the “Comite del Paro” inevitably will sign some sort of deal that would end the month-long chaos and violence.

While 58% oppose the use of the Colombian Army to control the violence and vandalism, fully 67% oppose the dismantling of Colombia’s “ESMAD” riot police responsible for breaking-up violent demonstrations, according to the poll.

One-third of those polled suspect that foreign agents hostile to Colombia’s democracy (such as the narco-communist government of Venezuela) are partly to blame for promoting violence, while 25% see violent criminal groups involved and another 15% see local guerrilla infiltrations into otherwise peaceful protest marches.

Among those polled, youth unemployment is the most-cited reason for the protest marches, as unemployment has soared during the Covid-19 crisis – ironically exacerbated by the road blockades, vandalism, violent marches and burning of private and public buildings and vehicles during the protests.

No Candidate Stands Out for 2022 Elections

While the survey shows that Colombia President Ivan Duque has seen his popularity dip to just 29% during the recent rioting and strikes, one of the key promoters of the strikes and chaos – perennial left-wing demagogue and failed presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, now a Colombian senator – won only 20.8% of those polled who would vote for him in the 2022 presidential elections. In other words, 80% of Colombians DO NOT favor Petro and his demagogic populist/socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, Petro’s chief campaign spokesperson María Antonia Pardo last week provoked even more national disgust with the former guerrilla by claiming that violent protesters who blocked ambulance transport of a mother and her critically ill baby to a hospital in Bogota weren’t responsible for ensuring the baby’s death. The baby “would have died anyway” from prenatal complications, according to the public statement given by Petro’s campaign aide.

In contrast to the feeble support for Petro, fully 36% of those polled haven’t declared in favor of any presidential candidate so far, while those that won at least some favorability in the poll – former Medellin Mayors Sergio Fajardo and Federico Gutierrez – together nabbed a collective 18% preference among those polled.

Meanwhile, according to Colombian Defense Ministry statistics analyzing the riots and demonstrations since the start on April 28 to May 24, a total of 2,426 blockades had been erected on Colombian highways, accompanied by 1,897 protest marches.

Seventeen civilians have died during the protests and 1,062 have reported injuries, according to the Ministry. Meanwhile, two Colombian policemen have died at the hands of violent protesters, while 1,083 police have suffered injuries (or were nearly killed) by protester bullets, bombs, Molotov cocktails, bricks, rocks, pipes and other armaments, according to the Ministry.

Written by April 19 2021 0

Grupo Argos President Jorge Mario Velásquez and Grupo Nutresa President Carlos Ignacio Gallego Palacio on April 19 both issued extraordinary public statements contradicting Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero’s latest unproven assertions claiming that Medellin’s leading industrialists have been trying to manipulate the naming of the EPM general manager and supposedly rob EPM.

Hours later, Grupo Sura President Gonzalo Perez added his public voice to a growing chorus of business leaders, all denouncing Mayor Quintero's political fabrications.

Quintero repeated these baseless claims against Medellin's business sector in the April 17, 2021 edition of Semana magazine, in an interview with Semana editor Vicky Davila.

“Misinformation and lies affect trust, and without trust it is not possible to establish relationships and cooperate,” Nutresa President Gallego stated in reaction to Quintero’s unproven statements in the Semana interview.

Just as he did during his 2019 campaign for Mayor and subsequently in 2020 and 2021, Mayor Quintero has been issuing President-Trump-like conspiracy theories alleging that the local business sector has acted like a “deep state” in robbing, manipulating and mismanaging city-owned EPM.

Ironically, in an historic first, Mayor Quintero this month named no-less-than his fourth EPM general manager of EPM in just 16 months as Mayor -- having first hired and then fired (with no explanation) prior GM Álvaro Guillermo Rendón, in February 2021.

That unexplained firing subsequently led to Quintero’s ad-hoc appointment of EPM engineer Monica Ruiz Arbelaez as “acting GM” for just two months, followed by Quintero’s naming of Alejandro Calderón Chatet as “official” GM earlier this month – an appointment that lasted all of 10 days, until Calderón Chatet resigned following a public scandal over falsifying his resume.

Then last week (April 13), Quintero announced the naming of his fourth EPM GM in 16 months -- EPM board member Jorge Andrés Carrillo – which raised new questions about the legality of any current EPM board member resigning to become an EPM general manager, as certain Colombian laws seem to prohibit.

No Mayor in Medellin history has ever hired and fired four EPM general managers inside 16 months. But Quintero’s seemingly bizarre hiring-and-firing behavior comes on top of his even more troubling management of legal matters surrounding city-owned EPM, which generates more than 20% of Medellin’s annual revenues.

For example: Wall Street bond rater Fitch last year cut EPM’s bond rating when Quintero prompted EPM’s entire board of directors to resign en-masse, following Quintero’s failure to consult with them on his high-risk, multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against the Hidroituango hydroelectric project contractors– a lawsuit that some top legal experts contend amounts to EPM suing itself.

And now, Quintero is spreading new stories about how Argos, Nutresa and other major Medellin industrial companies -- the so-called Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño (GEA) group – supposedly plotted to pressure Quintero to name a “GEA-connected” official as EPM general manager.

In response, Argos Group President Jorge Mario Velásquez issued the following public statement, reproduced here (below) in full:

Grupo Argos Bulletin
Medellín, April 19, 2021

Dear [Argos employee] collaborators,

Faced with the statements made by the mayor of Medellín in different media in which he makes false allegations against Grupo Argos, I want to report the following:

On November 7, 2019, a meeting was held with the elected mayor of Medellín [Daniel Quintero] at the request of an invitation that businessman Fernando Corchuelo extended to his residence. We attended this meeting in the company of David Bojanini, former president of Grupo Sura and Carlos Ignacio Gallego, president of Grupo Nutresa.

In this space they talked about the city, the role of Proantioquia, the history of collaborative and virtuous construction of the university-company-state triad, the educational, health and cultural institutions of Medellín, among others.

Within the framework of this meeting, the mayor apologized for the treatment he had had towards businessmen during the electoral campaign and also asked us that since he had been absent from Medellín for a long time, he was grateful for us to share possible names of people who we consider could accompany him in his administration.

Subsequently, on December 12, 2019, we held a new meeting at the home of Mayor Quintero. David Bojanini, former president of Grupo Sura, Carlos Ignacio Gallego, president of Grupo Nutresa and myself attended this space.

We told him that in response to the request that he had made us to propose names for the EPM management, some ideas could be considered: the first, which embraced his campaign approach of wanting stable leaderships and with a long-term vision in the company, could be the to give continuity to the team led by [former EPM GM] Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta.

We also stated that a person such as Luis Fernando Rico, who had just been president of Isagen, would have all the managerial, technical and human capacities for this purpose.

Finally, we suggested that in any case, hiring a headhunting firm would be ideal for the purpose of finding the ideal candidate and with the required skills to lead [EPM,] the second largest company in the country.

With this clarity of the facts, and describing what really happened, I would like to categorically reject the false statements of the mayor, who affirms that these businessmen went there to name the management of Empresas Públicas de Medellín, insinuating that we have dark interests in it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our sole and genuine purpose was to help him, at the express request of Mayor Quintero himself.

As we have stated on several occasions, Grupo Argos does not have, nor has it had any participation in the governing bodies of EPM.

It is no secret to anyone that as entrepreneurs we have maintained a harmonious and respectful relationship with city administrations for decades, always ensuring that the symbiosis and collaborative public-private fabric are preserved, which has allowed Medellín to be the flagship city that it is today and an example where the different actors converse and unite in a transparent way around common purposes of building a better society.

I also reiterate that Grupo Argos, the company in which I am immensely proud to work and preside, has stood out for being an organization recognized worldwide for its evident contribution to the progress and economic and social development of the countries where we are present.

Our higher purpose transcends the generation of economic value and is based on a genuine commitment to simultaneously contribute to building better conditions for all stakeholders, including our fellow citizens.

In the particular case of Medellín, we are proud to have contributed more than COP$12 billion [US$3.3 million] to provide 100 Intensive Care Units to various hospitals in the city, among many other actions carried out during this pandemic, and that you are all aware-of.

Grupo Argos is an organization with 87 years of history. Since its birth in Medellín it has expanded to 17 countries on the continent; always generating decent and quality employment, accompanying the growth of communities, clients and suppliers, and participating in the solution of social problems, through which it has been linked with generous philanthropy actions to support the most vulnerable in the countries where it operates.

These actions have been carried out under the vision of social-conscious capitalism and with the conviction that modern business action balances economic benefit with the development and well-being of its collaborators, suppliers, clients, citizens and the environment in a harmonious and respectful way.

Finally, I would like to invite you [Mayor Quintero] to exercise inspiring, truthful and credible leadership, which is not built on the basis of grievances, and which avoid polarization so that our city can resume the path of growth.

Sincerely,
Jorge Mario Velásquez
President, Argos Group

Written by January 30 2021 0

The latest Invamer poll of voting-age residents here (see: https://www.scribd.com/document/492368867/Informe-INVAMER-Poll-140#from_embed\) finds that Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero’s favorability rating has plunged from 84% at the start of his term in 2020 to just 55% today, with unfavorability rising to 42%, from just 12% initially.

What’s more, 56% of Medellin residents now say that their situation is getting worse under Mayor Quintero, while only 34% see their situation improving, the poll shows.

According to Invamer, the January 2021 telephone/cell-phone survey of 1,200 voting-age residents nationally has a 95% confidence margin.

While Quintero had won admiration for some management initiatives during the initial stages of the Covid-19 crisis last year, subsequent economic and social problems arising from Covid-19 shutdowns, along with mishandling of EPM’s prior board of directors -- tied to his potentially catastrophic decision to sue the construction contractors at EPM’s “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project -- have damaged his public image.

The relatively weak favorability ranking for Quintero today contrasts sharply with that of his immediate predecessor, Federico Gutiérrez, whose favorability rankings during his four-year term hovered between 80% to 84% and unfavorability never rose above 18%, the Invamer poll shows.

One possible reason: Gutierrez, unlike Quintero, never stooped to attacking Medellin’s popular business sector with unproven, Trump-like allegations including baseless conspiracy theories claiming that Grupo Empresarial Antioqueño (GEA) essentially resembled a “deep state” supposedly looting city-owned EPM, Medellin’s single-biggest financial supporter.

No such wild allegations have been brought or proven in court -- and dozens of local and national business trade associations, civic groups and trade unions have since publicly denounced these Quintero claims as shameful and unfounded.

Other notable findings from the latest Invamer poll:

1. While Colombia President Ivan Duque has seen his popularity fall because of the economic and social fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, Duque has gained praise -- compared to his predecessors -- for rapid advancement in Colombia’s crucial highway construction projects, expanded access to health services and accelerated construction of subsidized housing for low-income populations, even in the face of the Covid crisis, the poll shows.

2. Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria has seen his favorability ranking improve from 58% at start of his term last year to 67% currently -- even despite facing new allegations of “corruption” tied to an obscure bridge-building contract 16 years ago, during Gaviria’s first term as Governor.

3. Perennial left-wing demagogue, former guerrilla and presidential pretender Senator Gustavo Petro continues to have a poor public image nationally, at 55% unfavorable versus 35% favorable.

4. Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez has a relatively weak 31% favorable ranking and 39% unfavorable.

5. Former Colombia Vice President German Vargas Lleras, another possible presidential contender, has a 50% unfavorable ranking and just 30% favorable nationally.

6. Left-wing presidential hopeful Senator Jorge Robledo has a 24% unfavorable ranking with just 21% favorable.

7. Centro Democratico posible presidential candidate Senator Paloma Valencia has a 29% unfavorable ranking and just 16% favorable.

8. Possible presidential candidate Senator Roy Barreras – a fiery critic of former President Alvaro Uribe -- has a 42% unfavorable ranking and only 12% favorable.

9. Possible Centro Democratico presidential candidate Rafael Nieto has a 10% favorable ranking and 10% unfavorable, with most having no opinion.

10. U.S. President Joe Biden enjoys a 60% favorable ranking among Colombian voters, with only 11% unfavorable.

11. Colombia’s business class has a 47% favorable ranking nationally, with 44% unfavorable.

12. Colombia’s mainstream news media currently has a 53% unfavorable ranking with 43% favorable. But during former President Alvaro Uribe’s second term – coincident with Uribe’s full-scale war against the narco-communist FARC terrorists -- the mainstream media enjoyed an 80% favorable ranking, reflecting the Colombian population’s absolute disgust with the FARC and its overwhelming approval for Uribe’s war on narco-terrorism.

13. The special “peace” court (JEP, Jurisdiction Especial para la Paz) that has generally granted immunity to FARC terrorists has a 50% unfavorability ranking, but 42% nevertheless are "favorable," willing to accept such immunity for the sake of a tenuous “peace.”

14. Colombia’s Supreme Court -- which has consistently ruled against former President Uribe in legal disputes and has been involved in numerous corruption scandals -- has a 65% unfavorable ranking, with 28% favorable.

15. Colombia’s Congress has a 78% unfavorable ranking, with 16% favorable.

16. Despite having signed a “peace” deal, the FARC still has an 85% unfavorable ranking, while the similar ELN narco-communist group has a 92% unfavorable ranking. Another 65% in the poll agree that the FARC is NOT complying with terms of the “peace” deal.

17. A notable 60% of Colombians continue to favor foreign investment and multinationals here, with only 37% unfavorable. Similarly, 60% favor free-trade agreements, while 35% oppose.

18. As for the idea of legalizing dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin in Colombia, 73% are against, with 25% in favor.

19. Asked about getting a Covid-19 vaccination whenever it becomes available here, 58% said they would, while 39% said no.

Written by December 07 2020 0

“Colombia El Pais de los Extremos” (Colombia the Nation of Extremes) is Ecuadorian diplomat-scholar Eduardo Durán-Cousín’s new, 783-pages-long history and analysis of more than 500 years of Colombia’s cultural, social, economic and political triumphs and tragedies.

For any foreigner sufficiently fluent in Spanish and trying to understand why Colombia in several key ways is more like -- but simultaneously also more un-like -- the United States than any other Latin American country, “Colombia El Pais de los Extremos” (La Carreta Editores, published in Medellin, September 2020) can be useful, as it’s the most recent scholarly work here -- widely reviewed in the Colombia mainstream media (and now, here, in Medellin Herald).

The book’s early chapters recount the European-biased observations of Spanish explorers, priests and conquerors about the existing and highly diverse aboriginal peoples here -- some of them relatively peaceful, pastoral, even submissive tribes, others (especially in Antioquia) more interested in trade and commerce, while still other tribes – and later-on, through their inter-mingled Spanish/native descendants -- practicing unimaginable savagery, conquests and even cannibalism.

The book’s most controversial (and racist) speculations about Colombia’s pre-and-post-Spanish-conquest-peoples include sections positing the notion that DNA and customs of the most savage tribes here later infected and subconsciously provoked incredibly bloody savagery by many current and past guerrillas, political armies and gangster groups here. One can only wonder what was in the pipe, smoking, when these paragraphs were written, given the horrific history of the entire human race (Nazis and Auschwitz, for example?)

But leaving aside dubious speculations about the origins of Colombian savagery, more important and more revealing is Durán-Cousín’s recounting of the central importance of the people of Medellin and Antioquia for dominating national (and even international) industry and commerce, even with the physical shifting or duplication of some local, foundational factories and some national administrative offices from Medellin to demographically bigger Bogota in recent decades.

As Durán-Cousín writes in the book’s first words about Antioquia, “the proverbial entrepreneurial spirt of Colombians, facilitated by the chronic absence of a strong central government, began in Antioquia and from there, by example and by migration of Antioquian people, irradiated throughout the country” -- a phenomenon especially apparent in the second half of the 20th Century.

Even more remarkably, in the latter part of the 19th Century, Medellin not only became the most important industrial city in Colombia, but also the most important manufacturing center in all of northern South America, Durán-Cousín points out, citing numerous sources.

Citing (for example) noted Colombian economic historian Salomon Kalmanovitz, Durán-Cousín recounts several crucial factors explaining why the “paisas” (the people of Antioquia) have dominated Colombian commerce and industry.

First came profitable gold mining here, then banking, then coffee exporting, then the rise of supporting industries (textiles, foundries, manufactures) --all crucially undergirded by the entrepreneurial, industrious customs of a particular sub-group of mainly Spanish descendants, many of them with Jewish cultural roots (although most forcibly converted to Catholicism during and after the mass expulsions and persecutions by the Spanish Inquisition starting 500 years ago and continuing for centuries afterward).

Notable also is that such historic discrimination and persecution continued in Colombia even right up until the early 19th Century in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena -- distant from the relatively safe, remote mountains of Antioquia, where if one so desired, one’s past could be more easily hidden, ignored, downplayed, low-keyed or forgotten, which helped to open doors to new freedom and opportunity (as some of Colombia’s greatest novelists likewise have illustrated).

What’s more, a peculiar flavor of Catholicism --mainly practiced here in Antioquia-- is much more inclined to accept financial success as not inconsistent with spiritual salvation, Durán-Cousín notes.

As such, one can see parallels to the North American historical experience -- where countless industrious people escaping European persecutions and prejudices likewise found freedom, opportunity and prosperity in the New World.

However, Antioquia -- with few exceptions -- mostly avoided the poisonous, debilitating, dehumanizing and lethargy-inspiring crime of African slavery that has scarred, wrecked and ruined so much of an otherwise “freedom-loving” USA – even right up to today. A shameful history linked to a hypocritical kind of “Christian” prosperity where even slavery got trumped-up Biblical excuses and exemptions.

In contrast, the growth of a huge middle class of Antioquian entrepreneurs here – NOT employing slavery – came via the coffee boom of the 19th and 20th centuries, starting in Antioquia and expanding to neighboring departments.

This self-sufficient, entrepreneurial idiosyncrasy is at the core of what makes a “paisa,” Durán-Cousín notes – and this resonates among vast portions of the North American population as well.

But while one can find correlations between many paisas and many North Americans, contradictions also exist, although some of these have been overcome through time, the book shows.

For example: U.S.-Colombian relations were strained with the secession more than 100 years ago of the former Panama province from the nation of Colombia. But the book notes that Panamanians overwhelmingly favored that separation, for both economic and political reasons, starting with the historical negligence of Colombia’s central government toward outlying provinces.

But ever since the Colombia Congress in 1923 ratified the Urrutia-Thompson Treaty that required the U.S. government to compensate Colombia for the Panamanian secession, Colombia has maintained particularly strong political, economic and military-aid ties with the U.S., much to the consternation of pro-Soviet, pro-communist and other left-wing politicians.

However, despite these cold-war and post-cold-war era political conflicts, as well as the “La Violencia” civil war of 1948 to 1958 and the subsequent FARC, ELN and M-19 guerrilla terrorism, Colombia’s other, prior, centuries-long political struggles – triggering frequent, bloody civil wars --weren’t fought along class lines (peasant versus landlord, worker versus capitalist), Durán-Cousín notes.

Rather, these wars were mainly between the “elites-dominated” Conservative and Liberal Parties -- conflicts that came to an end following the brief military government of General Rojas Pinilla at the end of the “La Violencia” conflict of the 1950s, the book notes.

Then, in 1991, Colombia enacted a new, modernized, liberal Constitution, which triggered the decline of the old Liberal and Conservative Parties and gave rise to a multiplicity of new parties of various ideological stripes and of “charismatic” leaders.

In some respects, today’s non-violent political battles in Colombia are similar to the non-violent political battles between Democrat and Republican Parties in the U.S., at least following the end of the U.S. Civil War of 1860-1865.

Unfortunately, like so many other Latin American historic and sociological treatises, Durán-Cousín’s “Colombia El Pais de los Extremos” book falls into a familiar trap of lamenting the absence here of a strong, unified, class-based social-democratic “left” party that would compete for votes with a more traditional, capitalist-oriented conservative party.

Supposedly, a strong social-democrat party here arguably would have provided an alternative to the violent communist guerrilla movements, which (falsely) were claimed to have arisen because of “oppression” and “lack of democracy” in Colombia. In fact, Colombia’s democracy is more than 200 years old, and left-wing currents (and several coalition governments) have long been a part of the Liberal Party, although centrist and rightist factions frequently dominated among the Liberals. Social-democrat factions also have existed in the Conservative Party and in its various coalition governments, the book shows.

On the other hand, Durán-Cousín correctly observes that Colombia’s relatively violent political history has mainly been a competition between some well-off elites, supported by the majority of poorer populations, with the poor used as cannon-fodder in the many civil wars.

Yet history shows that the same cynicism is just as true of the FARC and other communist, extreme leftist, narco-communist and paramilitary gangsters here, all of whom have sought to overthrow or manipulate the existing capitalist elites and replace them or sabotage them with crypto-capitalists -- communist and narco-gangster dictatorial power -- rather than bring about any real “social justice.”

In his proposed recipes for reform, Durán-Cousín also unfortunately repeats the old canard that what Colombia really needs is “land reform” that supposedly would end the injustice of relatively few big landholders “misusing” their landholdings and preventing poor peasants from getting a bigger piece of the land pie.

First problem with this argument: agricultural producers need profitable products from land, not just bigger areas of land.

Second problem: Splitting up big haciendas into smaller parcels -- supposedly to benefit hundreds of thousands or millions of mainly rural residents – wouldn’t automatically yield profits from that land -- and may do the opposite, by imposing smallholder inefficiencies.

Which is why coca and cocaine have conquered vast acreages among Colombia’s small farmers (not the big haciendas), as “white powder” is far more profitable than “land reform.” And which explains why thousands of FARC militants since have abandoned the 2015 “peace treaty” and gone back to cocaine trafficking, murder and extorsion -- as these are more profitable than conventional subsistence farming or the fantastical idea of “land reform.”

Correctly, Durán-Cousín laments the historic fragmentation of Colombia -- caused by weak central government, a mountainous, isolated terrain and very poor roads compared to its neighbors -- which helps explain the historic rise of warlord guerrilla armies and violent political competitions.

But he gets the solution wrong, by proposing the elevation of a stronger, unified left-wing party to counter the power of the existing conservative “elites” and thus supposedly expanding social justice, peacefully.

Ironically, the one Colombian President who did more than all others in the entire history of the country to boost social progress, economic progress, reduce isolation and diminish narco-terrorist violence wasn’t a “left” or “right” President.

Just the opposite.

Instead, this uniting President was Alvaro Uribe Velez, a thoroughly centrist politician -- a rather steelier version of incoming centrist U.S. President Joe Biden -- who won the hearts and minds of a huge majority of all Colombian social classes and regions, twice.

The only Colombian President in history who spent his weekends during his two terms traveling to every small town and village in every corner of the country, listening to ordinary people (not elites), promoting and elevating Colombia as one nation, one people, one democracy, seeking greater economic, political and social progress. And suffering numerous assassination attempts in the process.

The only President who virtually destroyed the FARC militarily and potentially paved the way for a future “peace” agreement that some day might actually achieve real, laudable goals, rather than the current “peace” mess that hasn’t stopped guerrilla violence, corruption or massive narco-trafficking.

Likewise, the only President who without fear welcomes face-to-face debate with Colombia’s leftist extremists -- including angry students and demagogic politicians.

The one politician who put country above class or ideology, at the risk of his own life. But also the one that Durán-Cousín terms in the book as a “clientelist” politician, like something in the mode of a “caudillo.”

Erroneous again.

Uribe -- unlike typical banana-republic strongmen, or hate-spewing, demagogic, reactionary hucksters like outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump – is a through-and-through democrat, unafraid of losing any election and unflinching in the face of continuing persecutions by corrupt judges, ideological extremists and jealous political rivals of various stripes.

Which is exactly what Colombia has always needed -- not “land reform,” or demagogues, or a “stronger left-wing party” as Durán-Cousín suggests. Instead, what Colombia needs is more centrists, more moderates, more unifiers, more reformers, more investors, more middle-class people, more kind, decent and ethical people, more educated people, more entrepreneurial people and more democrats (with a small “d”).

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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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