Is dangerous to visit Colombia?

· Latin America, Violence
If you are afraid to visit Colombia, be afraid of these other countries too…


If you are traveling to Colombia for the first time, surely you will be concern about violence. Much of the news you get about Colombia are related to any violent event and Hollywood has done a good work showing Colombia and Latin America as a fully war camp of gansters. When I was at the University in Medellín in the 90´s, one of my companions got a contact from a London news agency asking to do a kind of report about Colombian events. My idealistic young companion started to send them information about cultural events with the beautiful settings of many Colombian regions. After a time, he was dismissed because what they were waiting was to have “violent” information about Colombia. I remember also in a Hollywood movie of detectives and thieves, that the American hero investigating a drug´s cartel, travelled in a trip to ElDorado International Airport. As soon as the plane landed, two war tanks came to guard the plain. The character came down the plane and was welcome on the airport track by other who asked him to hurry up to a waiting car saying “hurry up, we can be shot here!” Showing Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and any other Colombian city has also its “international standard”: towns of the Old Wild West with cows, chickens and bars anywhere. If a foreign TV journalist has to do a report from Jerusalem, it is said that he has to have at his/her background the beautiful views of the ancient Jerusalem walls, even if he is reporting boom atacks. The same to Paris with its tower or any USA city with skyscrapers. But if it is done from Colombia, you have to choose the gloomiest places in a country that has wonderful city landscapes and natural views of colors and contrasts. Let us see: When violence is being used and for what? When it is real and how?

By Al Rodas | Picture “Luxembourg Knotted Gun” by John Wardell. Monument near to the UN in New York.

Violent Colombia

“Dangerous Neighbourhood”, London sign by pure evil bunny.

Is Colombia a violent country? Of course, it is. The statistics said that. The reality shows that. Violence in Colombia is not a new fact. It has been present in the country since ever. For certain periods of its Republican history, violence in Colombia has reached high proportions. Other thing you have to know is that violence in Colombia has a very complicated net of actors, factors and events and it is also connected by many ways to violence in Latin America and to the intervention of foreign actors.

Those who want to understand violence in Colombia should study carefully the history of the formation of the Republic since the conquest of the territory by the Spaniards and the history of Latin America. Statistics show numbers, history will make it understood and true will work in the perspectives of change it.

Are Colombians violent people? The answer to this question is no. This suggestion has been done along the history by some foreign scholars. Same happens with other long and regional conflicts around the world. Certain scholars with certain interests have suggested that Palestinians, Cambodians, Slovenians and many others are violent by nature. It is the simplest way to explain facts of regions that we think we understand and the laziest intellectual act. In other way, this suggestion is always at the side of those who have certain interests against the people they scored like “violent”. If it could be proven that Colombians were violent, discrimination would be a good solution for them and their tragedies would cause indifference as it happens in the Colombian case very often. If you want to know about the meaning of peace, justice and development, you should not ask to scholars from Iceland, Switzerland or New Zealand, but to Colombians. Only people that have suffered the lack of peace, the fragility of justice and the consequences of poverty, knows the value of it. In this way, sometimes Colombians are right when they say that solutions should come from Colombia itself and that the role of the International Community should be of vigilance and support.

The Most Violent Country of the World

“Cyclist Killer!”, London by Danny McL.

It is very well known that Colombia has been among the most violent countries of the world, along with Iraq, Pakistan and many others from Africa. Traveling to Colombia is often warned by governments of the developed countries and the country is presented as a war camp. To put Colombia alongside with Iraq is to say that a city like Bogotá has a war situation like Bagdad and that is untrue. To say which country is more violent than the other, is also very complicated, more if the source is violent by itself. Surely, Iceland has more the moral right to point out the entire planet telling which countries, societies and cities are more violent than others. Of course, Iceland would need a high investment in scholars to visit all those countries and study very well the information and facts.

Among the 36 more developed nations of the world, the first most violent country is the United States of America that showed in 2005 a number of 500 thousand crimes by gun, it is 166 persons were killed in a population of 100 thousand, according with the Economist Site “Semáforo verde“. In Colombia by 2006, according with the reports of the National Police – published by El Colombiano -, the numbers of crimes by gun were 17,479, it is to say 37 persons among 100 thousand and the number has been inferior this year.

Following that same report of the National Police of Colombia, in 2002 the statistic was 76 crimes per 100 thousand, while in 2003 it was 53. Anyway, the number continues being high to the world and high in Latin America region. At the moment, “more violent” than Colombia in Latin America are El Salvador with a number of 57 per 100 thousand, Venezuela with 49 and Guatemala with 38. Showing these numbers, we can say therefore that United States, Venezuela, El Salvador and Guatemala are more violent than Colombia, but there are not warns in most international airports preventing people to travel to Venezuela and the United States.

“Manif anti CPE” in Paris, March 18, 2006. Picture by Alain Bachellier.

If you say that Colombia is so dangerous like now it is Iraq, you mean that the Colombian cities are under heavy attacks, bombs in any public place and many other kind of terrorist attacks. Surely, it is not what the ones who like to do world classifications are meaning. They want to mean that in Colombia there is a political conflict and you have to take care if you travel to Colombia, but such conclusion is not understood like that for citizens if they see the name of Colombia near to Iraq as violent alike. What we want to say is that you can not compare the violence of Colombia with the violence of Iraq. It would be more exact to the comparison with the violence of the USA.

“Il pestaggio all’Ospedale S. Paolo”, picture by agitazioni!. Milan, Italy.

If we continue with numbers, we have to say that Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica are the most peaceful countries of the Americas – even much more than United States. In Chile only two persons are killed in a population of 100 thousand. Argentina in comparison to Chile is a “very violent country” with only 6 persons being killed by gun in a group of 100 thousand. In that case, the name of the United States must appeared in the airports of Santiago and Buenos Aires as a country rather dangerous to visit where you have 166 possibility to be killed in a group of 100 thousand. However, even if you have 6 possibilities to be killed in Argentina in a group of 100 thousand, you could die in Argentina by a car accident, in a country with one of the highest rate of traffic accidents of the world, according with the Argentinean campaign “Luchemos” where it is said that 20 persons die per day in the country (7 thousand per year) plus 120 thousand wounded. Please take care if you cross an Argentinean road. But in this case United States is first than Argentina: According with the Pan-American Organization of Health in its 2004 report, from the 130 thousand of persons being killed in a traffic accident in the Americas, 44,500 occurred in United States that year. In 2002 OPS said that in the two continents were registered 128,908 persons killed by crush accidents and most of those killings (76%) were in the most populated countries of the Western Hemisphere that are by order United States, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia!

Violence and poverty

“Graffiti – crime szene”, Berlin. By henning.

It is very important to study violence because it shows also the reality of a country in its development and improvement. One of the main reasons of violence is poverty and lack of opportunities. Violence comes also from injustice and a systematic exploitation. In the mind of the leaders of a country willing to stop violence, guns are the last things to think as solution. Canada, Costa Rica and Chile are the Western models of no-guns societies and their violence is close to zero. Investments in military add and promotion of the self-defense is bad investments and it produces more violence. Countries like USA and Colombia spend much capital in weapons and that has been for them a bad idea. In USA guns come easily in the hands of children and we have heard about dramatic news of bloody events in their colleges. The paramilitary groups in Colombia gave up their weapons and the numbers of violence went down. Even if that act is not yet concrete and needs clearer legal frame, in this case is a concrete example that violence is caused by persons who have a weapon. In the Colombian ancestral wisdom is said that the man who has a gun, is ready to use it. Few people buy a gun to have it in a glass.

Social investment in stead gives good results for a country. It is possible that many high class groups who live in a glass box in Colombia still not understand that promoting the development of poor classes means peace, investment, progress and justice for their country. According with the World Bank (pdf) in its study of violence in Latin America, the region lost 14.2% of its GDP because violence and it means US$168 million. The lost of human capital means the lost of 1.9% of GDP and it is the same of what Latin America dedicates to primary education. The transference of funds from victims to criminals in Latin America means the lost of 2.1% of the GDP. If violence means the lost of so much money that could go to social investment, the investment in repression of the violence means the lack of even more share of the GIP giving few positive results.

“Campesino” by David Jurado. Take care! He is a Colombian from Medellín.

Recently the National Police of Colombia gave its positive report on how violence in Colombia went down in the last year. Especially Medellín and Bogotá showed positive numbers. In that report, it is said that violence has been reduced due to a very good team-work of police and citizens, the dialogues with paramilitary groups and others that circumscribe in the military sector. It has its ground of course if citizens lost their fear to criminals and are able to denounce them at time and defense the peace of their city. But that consideration is short: more than that, Medellín and Bogotá have been object of a great social investment, organization, infrastructures and more communitarian participation. The two cities are today places with proud and a good kind of development. Giving praises to the National Police for their job is necesary and we have to aim them to continue and to improve. But we have to consider that the down of violence in the two main Colombian cities comes also from a more complex process where politicians, communitarian leaders, youth, NGOs, watch organizations, intelectuals, visitors and many other elements, have worked together in giving back the cities to the people and visitors and not to criminals. Bogotá and Medellín must be an example to be follow in other Colombian regions, but it must be hold through the attention to those in disadvantage.


* Percepctión de los taxistas en Cali sobre la ciudad y la cultura ciudadana. Alcaldía de Santiago de Cali, 30 de julio de 2007.
* Accidentes de tránsito en el mundo. Luchemos por la vida, asociación civil, Argentina.
* Así se desarrolla la violencia en Cali. Vicepresidencia de la República. 8 de agosto de 2007.
* Medellín frenó su racha homicida. David E. Santos Gómez. El Colombiano, Medellín, julio de 2007.
* Violencia en América Latina, Epidemiología y costos. (pdf) Juan Luís Londoño y Rodrigo Guerrero. Red de centros de investigación de la oficina economista jefe, Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, agosto de 1999.
* Países más violentos. Semáforo verde.
* Violence USA, Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology.
* Día mundial de la seguridad vial 2004. Organización Panamericana de la Salud. Estadísticas de las Américas.

Cite this article

RODAS TORRES, Reinaldo Albeiro. Violence. Colombia Passport: Economics, Society and Culture in Colombia. Sihanoukville, August 8, 2007. It can be reproduced citing the source.

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