Monday, June 2, 2014

Colombia high, Colombia low

This is a happy day for Colombians.  Nairo Quintana, a young cyclist from my family's region of Boyaca, just won the Giro d'Italia, followed in the overall standings by another Colombian.  There were a few other Colombians that placed well in certain stages of the race, too.  I think it's thrilling to see a developing country like Colombia pushing its way into fora that were formerly reserved for wealthier European countries and the US.  If you look at the major bicycle races in the last few years, the leaderboard is all Europe, the US, some Oceania, and then there's Colombia!  I'm not particularly a fan of watching cycling or any other sports, though I do like the idea of these big European bike tours over well-thought, scenic routes.  But I am proud of Colombia, and I think its increasing presence on the bike circuit is a fun proxy for the rise of other lower-income countries as they rise to the same levels of development as their wealthier counterparts.  As Joseph Stiglitz once said, it looks like the world is indeed becoming less a place of poor countries and rich countries.  We are increasingly a world of rich countries (though sadly, as the second part of Stiglitz's quote tells us, these countries are full of poor people who do not partake equally in the general prosperity).

Quintana's victory is particularly happy for us, because he really is right from our area of Colombia.  When you go through his humble hometown (I believe it's either Combita or Arcabuco) or the surrounding towns, there are banners of him everywhere.  Ours is a simple, unpretentious agrarian region, so to have a local participating in and winning these high-profile international contests is really something new for us.  Last year was a big deal when Quintana placed second overall in the Tour de France, and won accolades in the race such as best youngster and best mountain climber.

The good news from the world of Colombian cycling also counterbalances to some extent the generally bad news coming from our country right now in the presidential election season.  The campaign has been particularly nasty, cynical, and sordid, with scandals, spying, and subtle threats of coups d'etat.  The far right is making a robust showing in the polls, as political candidates openly align with fascist street gangs and cyberterrorists.  It all threatens to derail the ongoing peace process with the country's major insurgent groups.  This strikes home especially for my family, as some of the young adults in our lives have in their day flirted with and even belonged to such street gangs.  I hope both they, and the country at large, does not go down the path of intolerance and everlasting war.

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