A country with fantastic tourism potential has just shot itself in the foot with one of the most bizarre decisions this century.
The nation is Colombia in South America which, for those who have visited it (as I did twice many years ago as a young backpacker), remains in the mind as one of the world’s most incredible and scenically beautiful countries.
Colombia’s main problem is a ferocious and bloodthirsty battle which has continued for 52 years. It pits government forces against a rebel group, and is one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies.
The operative word is Farc. It’s the name of the rebel group.
The battle with Farc is a major reason Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises travellers: “Terrorists, insurgents, paramilitary groups and armed criminal organisations are active throughout Colombia and there is a high risk of kidnapping, including of foreigners. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world.”
Last week, an end to the battle seemed in sight, with a ceasefire and a historic deal signed in Cuba between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Farc leader Timoleon Jimenez after nearly four years of negotiations.
Rather than saying Farc, many Colombians sighed with relief.
But the landmark peace deal needed to be ratified by Colombians before it could take force.
Yesterday, in what seems a baffling and inexplicable result, voters in Colombia rejected the deal. The shock referendum result saw 50.24% vote against it, on a low turnout of just 38%. (Voting is not compulsory in Colombia.)
As a result of the Colombian vote, the battles between Farc and the Colombian army, which at times have approached civil war intensity, may well resume after the current ceasefire expires.
The rebels had earlier agreed to lay down their weapons under United Nations supervision, to join the political process, the BBC reported.
Colombia has vast tourism potential. One prospect is tours of Central America linking Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast with Cuba, itself emerging from a US trade embargo that has lasted 55 years. The flight time between Cuba and Colombia’s northern coast is under two hours.
Many in Colombia hope a better deal will follow, but President Santos warned previously that there is no plan B for ending the war, which has so far killed 260,000 people.
DFAT continues to advise travellers to exercise a high degree of caution overall in Colombia “because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity”.
DFAT continues: “The risk of travel in some parts of Colombia is higher. For this reason, we recommend that travellers fly between most Colombian cities and minimise the use of vehicles for trips through rural areas.”
That’s wise but a pity, as the rural areas are very beautiful.
Written by Peter Needham