In the late 1940's, when David Bushnell was a student, Colombia was seen in positive light, as a forward looking democracy in a continent where such regimes were not the norm. Yet, these years of tranquility would shortly come to a close and that image would suffer great damage with the Bogotazo, the infamous day in 1948 when the leading presidential candidate for the liberal party, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, was assassinated. This event unleashed La Violencia, a prolonged period of political warfare that paralyzed and divided the country for more than 20 years. Yet, by that time, Bushnell had already decided to specialize in Colombia and its history. He wanted to identify the origins of Colombia's happiness, one which he hoped would soon return.
The peaceful times didn't return swiftly, but that did not stop Bushnell in his adventure, it only made it better. And after forty years of research and extended stays in the country, he published The making of Modern Colombia: a nation in spite of itself, a book that incorporated adaptations of previous works and lectures. The book is regarded by some as the best general history of the country ever written. Although it may seem odd that a foreigner was responsible for the best account of the nation's triumphs and woes, Bushnell simply states that "sometimes an outsider can identify particular characteristics or take note of things that the natives never talk about because they take for granted."
For him, Colombia's story is worth telling because there are some situations and experiences in which the country stands out and differs from other Latin American nations. He mentions two in particular: the history of elections and the lack of strong dictatorships. One of the most particular traits in Colombian history is the number and frequency of uninterrupted elections, which make it a great case study for anybody interested in elections. Also, Colombia was one of the very few countries in the region who lacked strong dictators. General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who ruled in the early 1950's is perhaps the closest example of an authoritarian leader and, as Bushnell states, "in many countries Rojas would not have been a dictator at all." He also highlights that although there have been exceptions, Colombia has held a strong political record that respects the idea of a constitutional republic prescribed by heroes of the independence like Santander and others.
Bushnell also talked about Colombia's present situation. Hesitant to state his position on the issue of re-election, a growing trend in the region, he simply states that "although I am not one of those who is horrified by the possibility of another Uribe term- I do not think Uribe is trying to make himself a bloody tyrant- I think a constitution should not be reformed very often, it is written for the long term.."
The recognized historian also stated that nations must learn from their past to have a more prosperous future. In Colombia's case, the country must liberate itself from the stigma that "Colombia is all about violence." In fact, if one carefully looks at the country's history one sees that the first half of the twentieth century was relatively peaceful and progressive, and he hopes these days will soon return. According to Bushnell, for this to occur, "Colombia must understand that violence is counterproductive, violence leads you nowhere.". He leaves us with an optimistic outlook because he truly believes that if violence is controlled, as he hopes it will be in the next five or ten years, Colombia can expect a peace dividend and may even forget about the political turmoil and violence that have marked its recent years. Semana International delivers news about Colombia in English. Find more in our home.
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