On Leave In Bogotá

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I am back in Bogotá for the first time in two years. And once again, I must admit the city has changed for the best.

Before, when I left twenty or so years ago, it was a small, gray and cold city, in addition to dirty and a tiny bit on the boring side. Bogota-bgndToday the story is totally different. One could even say, without going overboard, that nowadays Bogotá is much more cosmopolitan and is perhaps one of the Latin American cities where the quality of life has improved in the last 5 to 10 years. Bogotanos however like to complain. And they are probably right. But perhaps is just a question of dimensions and proportions. The two main complaints one gets from friends and family relate to traffic and security…

On both, I usually bring up my own experiences during my travels in over 60 countries and quite a few of them in the region. Transmilenio in Bogotá Sure, traffic in Bogotá is heavy but then quite light in comparison to Caracas, Sao Paulo or México City to cite a few. Here, traffic flows much more than in those other cities. Although Bogotá still lacks a subway system, the deployment of the so-called Transmilenio (a network of buses with dedicated lanes, http://www.transmilenio.gov.co/transmilenio/home_english.htm) has changed the city. Expansion of the bus system is now in the works – although plans for a subway system have been shelved for the time being.

Colombia is certainly not known for being safe, not at all. On the contrary. But Bogotá is perhaps the safest place in all the country and again relatively safer than many other Latin American Capitals.

Too bad we cannot say the same about the whole country. Actually, the rural side is still pretty unsafe although the situation seems more stable than a few years ago. In the end, the Paramilitares gained control of vast amounts of land. And the number of desplazados internos (internally displaced persons, or people who lost their land in the war between guerrillas and paras, http://www.acnur.org/index.php?id_pag=565) has increased substantially in the last 3 to 5 years.

For estimates on the number of displaced people see http://indh.pnud.org.co/boletin_hechos/index.plx?boletin=1;articulo=1;tema=1

As expected, there is some controversy on the accuracy of these numbers.

Los Desplazados have no option but to migrate to the main cities of the country looking for ways to survive. Guadalupe in the BGThis has an impact on both poverty and social exclusion and some Bogotanos blame the city´s insecurity on the constant flow of displaced persons to the city. It is not uncommon to find desplazados in most part of the city, as one walks enyoing the constant Spring-like weather in downtown, La Candelaria or la 82, “la zona rosa”.