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Against the cliché of Colombia as a violent nation

[Enrique Serrano, ¿Por qué fracasa Colombia? Delirios de una nación que se desconoce a sí misma, Planeta, Bogotá 2016, 273 páginas]

 

REVIEWMaria Oliveros [Spanish version]

Colombian history has often been classified as one of the most violent. The long chapter of FARC terrorism along with the confrontation of the drug cartels have always been present. But, earlier in history, events such as the Commoners Revolt, the War of One Thousand Days and the Banana Massacre, have been part of Colombia. This succession of events has induced the majority of Colombians to believe that violence has characterized the history of the country and that probably its people can do little to avoid it.  

This belief is defied by the Colombian communicator, philosopher and writer Enrique Serrano in ¿Por qué fracasa Colombia? Delirios de una nación que se desconoce a sí misma [Why does Colombia fail? Deliriums of a nation that is unknown to itself]. The purpose of the book is to analyze why Colombia has not prospered more as a country. To answer this question, Serrano analyzes in short chapters Colombian mentality from the beginning of the nation; there he finds reasons to explain why Colombia is a country in which it has been difficult to go forward, grow in progress and be able to develop to its maximum.

¿Por qué fracasa Colombia?

Why does Colombia fail? is a risky book, which defies thoughts that have remained in Colombian's minds for a long period of time. Opposite to this central belief based on the fact that violence has characterized the history of the country, Serrano warns, already from the first pages: "Also it is presumed that this is a nation infected by the most cunning violence, since its beginnings until the present day. Nevertheless, it has been more pacific than violent, at least during most part of its slow formation. And that in spite of the fact that it is not possible to deny the importance of violence; violence is something episodic and recent, similar to the one of other transitioning-nations.”

Serrano tries to expose the history of a country that did not begin in 1810 with the shout of independence, but that its origins go behind the moment when the Spaniards came to America and established themselves in Colombia. All of these, to show the reader that during the three hundred years after the arrival of the first conquerors, Colombia was a pacific and restrained nation.

The principal premise of Serrano is that those who came to Colombia were mostly new Christians, descendants from Arabs and Jews, from the south of Spain. They were looking for a provisional place to accommodate and be able to avoid the religious conflicts taking place in Spain during that time. The newcomers established in small urbanizations, each one far from the other, not only because this was what the geography of the country permitted, but because the last thing that they wanted was to enter into conflict with other settlers, including both Europeans and indigenous people, as Serrano explains.  

Actually, it is questionable that among the new settlers there was a predominating religiously-private approach or that the search of a refuge to their consciences motivated, in most of the cases, their march to America. It gives the feeling that the author accommodates the starting point with the mind in those posterior aspects that he wants to explain.

The author also defends the thesis that in Colombia there was a racial miscegenation, rather than a cultural miscegenation, due to the fact that the indigenous culture was very weak, which contributed to the assumption of the religion brought by the Spaniards. In the culture that they transmitted to the new generations, ideas like eventuality or even the fact to getting used to failure were present: "In addition they had to react in a pacific way, and not in a violent one whenever the events were unfavorable and could not fulfill their desires. Therefore, a relative tolerance and conscience that frustration from the pursue of desires is something probable, is present in the old guidelines of upbringing in the Colombian nation.”

Serrano suggests that this mentality which originated centuries ago is still present in Colombia: the idea of not straining to the maximum, of not risking too much for fear to failure and of mediocrely performing tasks. Probably this mentality that built throughout the years is the one that explains why the projects of urbanization in the country do not advance correctly, why the project for the subway in Colombia´s capital is not concrete yet, or why it has been difficult for the country to explode resources to the maximum.

Although in the book there are other themes like language, corporal hygiene and social classes, history is undoubtedly the fundamental component. Referring to historical facts of Colombian past, Serrano proposes a national history´s vision far from the habitual one. As it has been told, his account does not begin with the shout of independence in 1810, but rather explaining the Spaniard society during the 15th and 16th century. All of these, to understand the mentality of the first men, women, and families that arrived to America. It is all about an optimistic vision trying to share the idea that suffering has not been everything in Colombian history.

It is a fact that the history of the country neither lives and is not even remembered with enthusiasm by Colombians. To remember the past is for many people, a way to remember violence, wars and the national polarization that began with the formation of the 2 major political parties: Liberals and Conservatives, in the mid 19th century. To know well the past, in any case, is primordial for progress; actually, this is what the new law promulgated on January 1, 2018, which forces to all the colleges of the country to give class of Colombian History, tries do to.

The book concludes with a series of suggestions about the present and the future. The last chapter titled “Where does a nation like that can go?” is all about transmitting a feeling of hope. According to the author, knowing the past and not fleeing from it, but accepting it in order to improve mentalities and habits, is what will give the base to the country not to fail.

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