Tuesday, April 28, 2009


By Robert Valencia--For almost two decades, Colombia has been bestowed with different sorts of comparisons. Some of the Clinton administration’s top executives, for example, named Colombia the “Vietnam” of South America. Likewise, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called his neighbor the “Israel of the Americas”, when the Colombian army forces trespassed the Colombia-Ecuador border. Such an incident almost ignited a war in the Andes last year.

And more recently, Parag Khanna, director of the Global Governance Initiative and senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and member of Washington, D.C- based Brookings Institution, christened the South American nation as the “Andean Balkans,” in his book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. Khanna traveled around the world and outlined several countries where he believed they showcased both First and Third World features, while describing three different types of influence from the current world powers: United States, the European Union and China--the first one makes full use of its military weaponry to influence the current world order; the second uses diplomacy and bilateral talks; and the third invests in infrastructure--such as dams, roads, and ports--to name a few.

Khanna dedicated an entire chapter to Latin America under the tile “The End of the Monroe Doctrine”, which included countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, to which he called the “fraternal twins.” The data Khanna provided about Colombia is not far from what it is known today: a country geographically divided by the Andes divergence that, according to him “creates different cultural patterns, recognized in the colorful ponchos that indigenous tribes exhibit as flags.” Other information ranges from poverty levels that reach 60 percent of the entire population, to the guerrilla-led civil war, and the kingpins who have influenced the Colombian society in every sense of the word.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat risky to wed Colombia with Yugoslavia based on the information he gathered. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines balkanization as “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units.” Such geopolitical term stemmed from the process of disintegration of the Balkan Peninsula since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, which wound up on what we know today as Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. Lastly, Kosovo and Vojvodina have claimed independence, albeit the lack of recognition from several European countries. Lest forget the country’s plethora of ethnic diversity and languages (Serbian, Slovenian, Macedonian and Slavic). Despite its rugged geography that impedes the construction of cost-effective road network, Colombia is a multi-ethnic nation that share many things in common, among them the official language (Colombia is the world’s third largest Spanish-speaking population, after Mexico and Spain.) Although some massacres in Colombia’s Urabá region and other parts of the country were carried out, one cannot compare the kinds of carnages perpetrated by Yugoslavian leaders. One clear example is the nationalist group Ustaše, supported by the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists. Ustaše killed thousands of Bosnians and Serbians.

Yugoslavia proved to be a country that intended to establish unity in the midst of a frail identity. When the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded in 1963, it was agreed that every nation and province would have its own constitution, Supreme Court, parliament, president and prime minister—of course, under the rule of General Josip Broz Tito. Even though General Tito maintained the Yugoslav unity, its inhabitants felt a rampant suppression of their own national pride. In the early 1970s, a group of Croatian students claimed more civil liberties by organizing protests around the country on what was known as the “Croatian Spring.”

After Tito’s death in 1980, the lack of ethnic cohesion in Yugoslavia turned out to be more noticeable, raging many Serbian nationalists led by Slobodan Milosevic. Meanwhile, the regional presidents pushed for independence, which paved the way for the Yugoslavian Wars. The war torn the Balkan region apart in the 1990s, leaving a high death toll among Bosniaks during the Srebrenica ethnic cleansing, considered the second largest massive killings in Europe after World War II. Such carnage led the United Nations establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, which seeks to prosecute and try alleged perpetrators of the wars. Indeed, Slobodan Milosevic was indicted but died in captivity, whereas Radovan Karadžić was found guilty of the Srebrenica Massacre. Sadly, these two butchers of the Balkans still attract the masses of Serbian nationalists who honor their leaders’ images in Belgrade’s clandestine bars.

Although Colombia has undergone anomalies in its public order almost throughout the entire course of the 20th century, it is purposeless to relate it with the Balkan incidents mentioned above. Obviously, one cannot be oblivious of the current massive displacement of farmers in the country—the second largest after Darfur—, but underscoring that Colombia will become the next Balkans is quite risqué, since there are no historical records of Milosevics or Karadzics who led Colombia or any ethnic cleansing cases within the population. Instead, the paramilitaries and the guerrillas are held accountable for most of the massacres in the nation.

Another detailed Khanna missed and that he did not record in his book. In the last couple of months, the Marxist guerrillas have been downsized in number and power under Alvaro Uribe’s presidency while the country has registered a steady economic growth, according to Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_22/b4036001.htm). The future Balkanization in Colombia Khanna laid out is clearly nullified, as hundreds of thousands of Colombians went out to the streets in different parts of the world on February 4th and July 20th of last year. The first rally gathered massive groups of nationals who marched for a common purpose: express its anger against the FARC and claimed the release of all hostages, while the second rally called on peace in the region after the Colombia-Ecuador incident. To sum up, the history of a nation is not written by foreign policy pundits, but by its people.

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