Colombia – Critical Social Issues Part 1

move to Colombia?

If you see commercials on any of the local TV stations, listen to sports on the radio, watch Travel & Living commercials on cable TV, you can easily prepare to move to Colombia despite its well-deserved reputation for violence, kidnapping and drug trafficking. This is not to mention the ongoing civil war between the Colombian government, paramilitary forces like the AUC, and guerrilla military forces like the FARC. Let’s not forget the appalling murder and crime rates.

However, after considering the “20 reasons not to move to Dubai” post on an online ELT forum, I thought I’d try a similarly themed post that deals with various aspects of Colombia. Don’t get me wrong, I have lived in Colombia for the last 12 years teaching English as a foreign language with my Colombian wife. I pay taxes, health insurance and retirement through the Colombian systems. I still live here and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but it is exactly this familiarity engendered by many years of living and working here that empowers me to write about this country.

Here are the first five of my 20-item list and a brief comment:

1. In many areas there are very few or NO government services.

The streets are riddled with potholes and the highways are often a mess, but you can drive.
During peak travel periods, multiple delays, massive traffic jams, and overloaded transportation systems and facilities are common.

2. The climate, although tropical in most areas, can vary to extremes.

The summer months of June through August can be brutally hot in some areas and unusually cold in others. You will need a sweater or jacket in Bogotá and air conditioning in Cali, Cartagena and other cities.

3. There is the constant threat of earthquakes.

Most of Colombia, from the Pacific coast to the central highlands and beyond, has experienced devastating earthquakes that can strike at any time of the day or night. I have survived serious morning tremors that cracked walls and collapsed roofs to late-night earthquakes that left buildings uninhabitable and caused the seemingly otherworldly glow of earthquake lights to appear around the city of Cali.

4. There is the constant threat of volcanic eruptions.

Several of the many volcanoes in Colombia are in an active or semi-active state. The most newsworthy of these is the Galeras Volcano, located next to the city of Pasto, with more than 400,000 inhabitants, in the south of the country. Evacuation warnings and “threats” have become so commonplace that residents barely pay attention until ash and gas gush from the blackened summit. The worst catastrophe in Colombia was the destruction of Armero, an entire town of more than 23,000 inhabitants that practically died in one night, buried under a landslide caused by a volcanic eruption more than forty feet deep. Other Colombian volcanoes are the snow-capped Nevada Ruiz, also with recent eruptions, and the Puracé.

5. Sometimes there are frequent cuts of water or electricity.

We have gone to collect and store rainwater. That way, when the water supply “fails” or is cut off for whatever reason, we still have some water available for washing, bathing, cleaning, and cooking. Blackouts are sometimes announced. Sometimes they are not, catching the unwary off guard. These “no water” periods can last for hours or days, sometimes you never know.

In the second part of this multi-part series, we will continue to examine what I believe to be the 20 most critical issues with Colombia that maintain it as a “third world” country. Your comments, opinions and comments are welcome. Until the next installment.

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