Colombia made its mark in 2014, but it was more than just the glory of James Rodriguez in the World Cup. Here are a few other Colombian happenings that caught the world’s attention this year
In this edition we examine how events in Colombia, and Colombians themselves, caught the international media eye over the course of the year. From the tragic to the hopeful and the downright comical, 2014 is undoubtedly a year in which Colombia touched the world.
Hungry Horny Hippos
In November, veterinarians in Medellin began sterilising hippos descended from the herd that drug baron Pablo Escobar had in his private zoo. The hippos escaped the property years ago and have since run amok in Antioquia department, eating farmers’ crops. The now-wild herd has grown to 60 by some estimates. Hippos are not native to Colombia, but thrive off the country’s lush vegetation and tropical climate.
Colombia Taking Off
The country became even more connected to the world this year after the Colombian airline Avianca began offering direct London-Bogota flights in June. The Dutch carrier KLM in July announced they would begin direct flights from Amsterdam to Bogota and Cali beginning in March 2015. KLM is returning to Colombia after cutting of direct flights in 1995.
Shakira in the Spotlight
The Colombian musical icon had an interesting year inside the country and out this year. In February the songstress opened a school for underprivileged children in Cartagena through her ‘Pies Descalzos’ (Barefeet) charitable foundation. The school is the eighth of its kind in the country. Shakira also sang at the closing ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil in July this year. In February she was accused of “promoting lesbianism” by an outraged Bogota city councillor after the release of a steamy music video she appeared in alongside pop singer Rihanna. The Barranquilla native also became pregnant with her second child to Spanish footballer Gerard Piqué this year.
Milestone for Gay Rights
The year also saw some advances for the rights of same-sex couples. In August, Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted limited adoption rights to gays and lesbians. The court ruled that a lesbian woman could adopt her long-time partner’s daughter, since the child in question was the biological child of one of the two partners.
Death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Nobel Prize-winning titan who put both Colombia and a whole new genre of writing known as ‘magical realism’ on the literary map with ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, passed away on April 17 this year. He died in his Mexico City home at the age of 87. The Colombian native is considered one of the most important authors of the 20th century. In November, the announcement that his collection of writings was purchased at auction by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, caused controversy and disappointment in Colombia.
Colombia Dazzles at the FIFA World Cup
After a 16-year absence, Colombia’s national football team qualified for the World Cup to much local fanfare. It didn’t take long for ‘Los Cafeteros’ to charm their way into the hearts of football fans the world over, with their ‘goal-scoring Salsa’ celebration dance. The dark horse team did not disappoint, losing to their Brazilian hosts in the quarterfinals after a controversial call that denied what would (or should) have been a tying goal in the match.
Juan Manuel Santos Wins Second Term as President
The Colombian president won a second term in a resounding victory over his right-wing contender, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the run-off election on June 15. The election caught the attention of the world over the effect it would have on the peace process; Zuluaga having campaigned on terminating the talks with the FARC rebels, while Santos campaigned on a so-called ‘peace platform’. After winning a second term in office, Santos’ first order of business was to push through a slate of electoral reforms that ironically banned future presidents from running for a second term in office.
7 Colombians Extradited to the US Over DEA Agent’s Murder
The murder of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson in June 2013 in a failed robbery attempt sent shockwaves through Bogota’s expat community and grabbed front-page headlines the world over. Watson was the victim of a so-called ‘paseo millonario’ ride, where a taxi driver and his accomplices rob their unsuspecting passengers. On July 1st this year, seven of the suspects arrested in the case were extradited to the US. At least two of the accused have pleaded guilty to the charges.
Brave Buenaventura Women Awarded
‘Butterflies’, a women’s rights organisation in Buenaventura that works to help displaced survivors of sexual abuse was given the UN Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva in September. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said, “Every day [the women] put their own lives at risk in order to rescue abused and displaced women and children. The Butterflies are truly a grassroots organisation and they help the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable region.”
State Visits Aplenty
A number of state leaders and foreign dignitaries visited Colombia in 2014, including the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Belgian Princess Astrid, US Vice President Joe Biden and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Let’s not forget Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. Prince Charles stirred up controversy in November when he unveiled a plaque commemorating the British who died while laying siege to the coastal city of Cartagena in 1741. The plaque made no mention of the Spanish who died defending the city from its British attackers.
President Santos went on a globe-trot of his own in November when he met with leaders in Europe to drum up support – and more importantly, financial contributions – for Colombia in the event that a peace accord is signed with the FARC rebels.
Colombian-American Actress Reveals Family was Deported from US
Just days after US President Barack Obama announced he issued an Executive Order to push through immigration reform in November, Colombian-American actress Diane Guerrero penned an op-ed in the LA Times in which she explained that her family was rounded up and deported back to Colombia when she was just 14 years old. She came home from school to an empty house, and neighbours told her what had happened. “Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me,” she wrote. “No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.”
Playing the Peace Talks Game
There has been no shortage of national and international coverage of the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba this year. But what went less reported was that there will soon be a video game based on the talks. ‘Adios a las Armas’, or ‘Farewell to Arms’ is in the final stages of development. Colombians will soon be able to sit around a virtual negotiating table as Marxist FARC rebels or the government to thrash out an end to 50-plus years of war in the game which mirrors complex real life talks. Look for the game in early 2015.
Foreign Investors Smile on Colombia
The Colombian economy has been roaring full-steam ahead for a while now, and 2014 was no exception. This trend continues to make Colombia an attractive place for foreign investors. Though foreign direct investment (FDI) dipped 6.6 percent in the first quarter this year, it shot back up by 9.8 percent over next two quarters, according to the OECD. A report from the Colombian Central Bank released on September 30 this year stated that FDI totalled $8.4 billion so far this year – a 9.8 percent increase year-on-year. FDI, however, tends to be weighted heavily in favour of oil and mining, which accounted for 50.4 percent of all investment this year.
By Mark Kennedy