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Making comparisons between Colombia and Ireland is about as useful an exercise as sweeping leaves in a hurricane. Even where there are similarities, something previously touched on by this writer, their day-to-day relevance would seem fairly minuscule. Colombian-Irish ties, while apparently growing, are still pretty weak.
Nonetheless, as an Irishman based in Colombia for eight years, becoming aware of these similarities has been rather interesting, insightful even.
While the blog posts referenced above made internal comparisons, here we’re going to add an international dimension.
The neighbour to the east
Basically — stick with us here — Venezuela could be seen as Britain, and that’s not just because of its geographical position to Colombia’s east. Historically, Venezuela was seen as the more advanced, organised and cosmopolitan country. In contrast, Colombia was (is) a violent backwater, insular and conservative. Friendly folk for sure, but untrustworthy schemers of sorts. (See where we’re going with this?)
A lot of the locals with any get-up-and-go did just that. They left. What’s more, a not-insignificant number of them went to that more developed neighbour to the east for a better life. Well, either there or to the US.
«The political problems next door could see the old inferior nations return to their inglorious past.»
However, over the last few years these violent backwaters, Colombia and Ireland, have found their mojos, of sorts, while the eastern neighbours appear to have hit the self-destruct button. Now, not only are those who had emigrated coming back but people from other countries are keen to give the current ‘cool kids’ a try, including many from the near east, reversing long-standing migration flows. (The influx of Venezuelans to Colombia needs no elaboration while there has been a significant rise in the number of Brits applying for Irish passports pre-Brexit).
Uncomfortable at the top
Added to this of late have been the neighbours’ current political problems and the risk of contagion to the now, um, flourishing ‘cool kids’. As the latter harbour men who have a proven track record at subversion, there is a belief that it will only take a little bit of instability to plunge them and their centre-right administrations right back into the bad old days of violence and economic decline. Of course, outside ‘help’ isn’t a prerequisite for this but it can be an important catalyst.
The eastern guys, for their part, have leaders who seem hell-bent on getting their way or, as some view it, are being unfairly hindered from doing their job. Now while a Jeremy Corbyn victory in the UK’s December election would work wonders for this analogy from a left-right perspective, it’s not completely necessary. Bungling Boris Johnson, while politically poles apart from Nicolás Maduro, fits the narrative here in so many other ways. For one, you’ve both men’s penchant for putting their foot in it.
As the problems to the east show no signs of easing, there’s a bit of schadenfreude on display in some quarters of the once inferior nations. However, looking down from a lofty position not only doesn’t sit well with them but it also tends to be followed by a swift, painful comedown. ‘Back in your place with you.’
When that comedown has well and truly landed, by their own doing or otherwise, assistance from the eastern neighbours will yet again be badly needed. After all, these countries have more in common than they may like to admit.
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