A Hole In The Drum: The Musicians From Buenaventura



The place smelled like rotten fish when I walked into my house that day, and a fat woman wearing a bandana was screaming – or maybe singing – at the top of her lungs. There were children and kids of every age. The younger ones played a rambunctious game of hide-and-go-seek that ran late into the evening. Every once in awhile you could hear the soft dance of mallets on the marimba or a palm strike a drum. But it sounded for only a moment, and then it faded it away.

Colombia’s Pacific port city Buenaventura is sinking in a human rights crisis. Awhile before the news started to break last week, a group of musicians from Buenaventura came to Bogotá and stayed at my boarding house – where I keep a room. I got to hear them play. It was a surprising encounter, and let me enter a world of Colombian life that rarely reaches the capital. Continue reading on Beacon…


US – Colombia FTA: Taking a Stab at a Better Image

Peering down toward his boots through the glass window below, a crane operator lowers the boom to snatch one of hundreds of container boxes that zoom through Colombia’s port city, Cartagena, where an expected $50bn over the next 5 years in fresh flowers, cotton textiles, and a torrent of other products now come and go cheaper than before under a free trade agreement recently signed by the US and Colombia earlier this year.

Colombia is generally optimistic about the new relationship, expecting 4.8% GDP growth in 2013, according to Reuters’ reporting. Even though its 2013 projection slouches slightly next to last year’s 5.9%, President Santos’ administration requested 185.5 trillion pesos (USD$103bn) in spending, a 12.2% nudge in investment up from 2012, a government official told Reuters.


The Free Trade Agreement will dismantle hefty duties and tariffs for commodities like coffee, oil, and precious metals. But it should also attract American companies and local entrepreneurs to set up in its Andean capital city, Bogotá, where increased security in recent years coupled with Colombia’s investment optimism make for a magnetic arena for doing business.

Some companies have already bitten the bullet and have decided to race to Bogotá for new opportunities.

Cincinatti-based Convergys, a company that specializes in customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, has already begun to tap into Bogotá’s thriving bilingual talent base. Convergys, whose global presence employs about 70,000 across 5 continents, chose Bogotá to set up a state-of-the-art call center. Known as “the Athens of South America,” Colombia’s capital attracted Convergys because of “the number of top-notch colleges and universities located in the city… and advanced telecommunications and transportation infrastructure,” according to a press release.


Richard Strub, director of operations for Convergys in Colombia, told The City Paper, a Bogotá local English-language newspaper, that “government incentives, a central location just hours from from North America and South America, and a motivated, highly educated workforce have played key roles in drawing business to Colombia, and to Bogotá.”


Not everyone can claim the same optimism as companies like Convergys though. Some, like Buenaventura’s port city, where roughly 80% live in poverty, could be wary of strong promises about more wealth and bounty for all. According to the Washington Office on Latin America a long history of abuse toward labor groups, who have historically occupied the violent margins of Colombia’s industrial thrusts, are still tender. Colombia Reports says that the FTA’s labor-related promises come with a rickety plan, which might not be enough to wipe clean workers’ harsh skepticism toward Colombia’s new commitment.

A sure group definitely falls in line to benefit from Colombia’s free trade kick. To educated Bogotanos the FTA means new opportunities. People like Strub and the optimism he carries should serve as signals to the rest of the world that Colombia is trying to change its image, that it is eagerly opening up for business and trade, and that the country is desperate to show off its nearing successes, not its appalling past.

Sogginess Is Expensive for Colombia

Flooding in Cali, Colombia

February 2012

Lately, life in Colombia resembles fiction more than anything else. That is foreboding considering that its literature, when not whispering about love, is strewn with scenes of political violence and the wrath of nature. This time the imagery leans more toward the latter.

Flooding that followed the Niña, a series of Pacific warm weather patterns that agitate Colombia’s wet season, caused mudslides, eroded farmland, and left a painful proportion of the country homeless.

What is worrisome is that the damage looks worse than it was last year, where costs associated with the flood stung at the touch of $5.1 billion or 2% of Colombia’s GDP. But it might not be as much of a burden to clean up. One reason the costs will not climb that high this year, according to analysts, is because after the 2010 floods, the Colombian government decided to set aside $850m for over 4,000 government led projects that intended to corral the chaos expected out of the following wet season. Seems like a good preventative step, doesn’t it?

That is how the floods are viewed from Bogotá’s perspective.  But the wrath brought on by the floods is still a very immediate threat to the real time cash flow of workers and businesses.

For the herders whose cattle are stranded while trying to graze in standing water, and for the truck drivers who cannot meet their shipping partners because the road linking them to the port city of Buenaventura is being diced up by mudslides and washouts, the costs are sure to keep feeling suffocating.