No South American country has captured the attention of North Americans for the last thirty years or so as strongly as Colombia. It is the third largest exporter of coffee in the world, and even today the leading manufacturer and exporter of cocaine. It has a nearly endless history of civil wars with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in each instance.
But today it is a more peaceful place. The FARC, the last of a long line of guerrilla armies, has laid down arms and its members are integrating back into the communities from which they came. The cocaine trade is no longer the possession of large and dominant cartels that ruled much of the countryside and were free to assassinate their opponents. And the countryside–mountainous, green, lyrically beautiful—is once again a place a visitor can enjoy without fear. While it is still, like so much of the world, a place of great income inequality (the wealthiest 10% control 65% of the wealth), the lives of the poor are improving through infrastructure, education, better medical care and the opportunity to participate more directly in the country’s economic development.