Despite Colombia’s wealth of natural resources, geographical position and advantageous climate, historical circumstances have bequeathed this Andean nation a multitude ofsocial problems: high unemployment, a housing shortage, malnutrition and hunger, high rates of infant mortality and abandoned children, widespread poverty, pervasive alcoholism and drug abuse,widespread juvenile delinquency, high rates of crime and violence, human rights abuses, entrenched and violently polarized guerrilla factions, and inadequate health and education services.
The roots of theseproblems can be traced back to the legacy of Spanish colonialism and imperialism. Even after Colombia’s independence from Spain, the new governors did not establish a political and social structurefor the benefit of all of its citizens, but rather for only for the very small, mostly Spanish-descendant class. The effect of such institutionalized inequality has proven to be disastrous for theoverall quality of life of Colombia’s citizens, including, ironically, its wealthiest, who have to live in fear of being kidnapped or murdered.
In the years following World War II, the situation wasexacerbated by two major factors: the new market for cocaine, and the Cold War, which resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union subsidizing opposing and often violent ideological factions inColombia, both of which used the fight against the other as an excuse for committing atrocities on innocent civilians. Extremists on both the right and the left also accepted funding and arms from thehighly lucrative cocaine trade, which had a vested interest in undermining any form of social order which interfered with its traffic.
Colombia’s rural poor, in particular, have experienced the brunt ofsuffering, often being the target of extreme violence and having their territory appropriated and/or pillaged by wealthy landowners, and multinational interests—such as the Chiquita Banana, which...