“Short Walks from Bogota” – A Book Review

So first, the positives. “Short Walks from Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia” is pretty well written, a relatively easy read. Parts of it were informative and certainly the author traveled around the country, if missing most of what he saw out there.

Now the problems, which are too myriad to count so I’m just gonna focus on a few. The first problem starts with the title. This book is not about “the New Colombia” – it is a regurgitation of the old one. There are two Colombias really; one pre-Uribe, and one post. This book is about pre-Uribe; before the country entered what history will probably consider its golden period, thanks to the policies of ‘democratic security’ that Tom Feiling so derides. The issue really with Feiling’s travels and perceptions is that they are so fantastically one-sided as to be risible. I am not going to go through the book to pick out all the cases when he lambasted the government (specifically the Uribe administration; he seems to be ok with Santos though Santos was far more part of the ‘olgarquia’ that he blames for all of Colombia’s problems than Uribe ever was), because that would require rereading parts of it and it was bad enough once. But here are some gems: “The Colombian government has never objected to terrorism per se; what they object to are the ‘enemies of the state’ who sometimes, but far from always, take up arms against it.” He goes on to call Colombia a ‘genocidal democracy’ (what could that even mean??). As for the FARC? “…the FARC’s military offensive doesn’t help…”  Doesn’t help? 60 years of abducting children, terrorizing villages, destroying livelihoods, kidnapping businessmen – no, Tom, that certainly ‘doesn’t help’.

Sigh. The main problem with this naïve narrative is that it basically follows the same line of all socialists; that the main problem with the FARC was their (defensible but unfortunate) use of violence to achieve their aims. There is no understanding that those aims are so brutal and horrible as to make the total war waged against them not only legitimate but necessary. Oh, don’t take my word for it – go to Venezuela today, where the FARC’s “guy in Caracas” did win a vote. Venezuela is now the worst country in the world – with perhaps the dubious exception of North Korea. Four or five million have fled; 300,000 have been murdered for any reason you want to imagine; trillions of $$ have been stolen or are missing; it is the biggest drug transit country; thousands of people are systematically tortured in prison; and they are on the verge of (or perhaps already well into) the first famine in modern Latin American history (with the exception perhaps of the Periodo Especial in Cuba, another FARC wet dream).

I’m not gonna try and be baited into the “well, but what about the AUC and the ‘paras’”, etc. Of course the war was horrible; of course the paras and extra-judicial kills are terrible. We will not engage in logical fallacies people use to pretend that when I criticize the FARC I’m actually a fascist (incidentally called a ‘tu quoque’ fallacy). Our own American civil war was terrible and, ya, General Sherman in today’s terms might be considered a war criminal. But we had to do what we had to do to free the slaves. If we listened to the French socialists bemoaning the poor south against the might of an oppressive north, we’d still have slaves today. These foreign pedantic apologists for those who would do tremendous evil, if only they had the chance (a chance they have had in Caracas), need to consider – they are part of the reason Colombia cannot put an end to its nasty entrenched wars. Books like “Short Walks from Bogota” do more harm than they do good.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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