New York Daily News

Colombia comes back

Sept 16--You have to give Colombians credit for nerve.

16 de septiembre de 2009

You have to give Colombians credit for nerve.

They’ve just launched a new ad campaign — meant to combat the country’s ruinous image as a haven for drug lords and guerrilla rebels — which kicks off with the line, “You run a risk when you go to Colombia.”

Naturally, the TV ad, currently running on CNN International, ends with a tourist-friendly punch line: “The only risk is wanting to stay.” But there’s something admirable about the country’s willingness to confront the elephant in the room right off the bat.

That’s not all Colombia is doing to try to broaden and update people’s awareness of a country that did indeed rate as one of the world’s most dangerous places as recently as six years ago.

On Tuesday, a week-long public art show will arrive in New York, highlighted by 13-foot-tall, heart-shaped sculptures parked in key places like Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall and Washington Square Park (see related story).

Of the nearly 50 installations adorned with information about Colombia, perhaps the most telling displays written testimonials from a globeful of tourists who’ve traveled to the country with great pleasure and without incident.

I did exactly that last month, visiting the capital, Bogotá, the warm Caribbean city of Cartagena as well as Medellín — a vastly improved place from its days as “murder capital of the world” back in the 1980s and ’90s.

In a dizzying week, journalists hosted by the tourist board got to speak to czars of the media, fashion and music. Although most of those folks were clearly putting the best face on the place, they didn’t sugarcoat the country’s continuing problems.

“It’s much, much better than it was,” said Benjamin Frieventh, editor of Colombia’s most respected news magazine, Semana. “But things still happen in some places.”
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