Thursday, May 12, 2011

Freedom of Movement

Flying back from Bogota to Medellín, I gazed down at the winding mountain roads below me. Bogota - Medellín (roughly 160 miles) by plane takes 30 minutes, while a bus ride lasts 8-9 hours (not including any rain/mudslide delays). Most of the transportation infrastructure in Colombia consists of these windy roads that criscross the 3 mountain ranges that span through the majority of the country.

Proximity has obviously been a huge element in the shaping of Colombian history, namely the difficulty in reaching and governing over the 440+ square miles of the countryside from the department capitals, let along the national capital in Bogota. Bogotanos talk about the time before the tunnel connecting them to Villavicencio was constructed, taking 4-6 hours to reach the town only 50 miles away on dangerous mountain roads, now the trip only takes 90 minutes. Tunnels have been talk of the town here in Medellín, especially with the torrential rains and mudslides that have battered the country since last November.

A proposed tunnel linking Medellín to its international airport purposes to change the driving time from 1 hour to only 20 minutes. Tunnels' successes can be viewed towards the establishment of Santa Fe de Antioquia as a rising tourist attraction; while not much different than other colonial towns in Antioquia, it is the most easily accessed from Medellín because of the Tunel de Occidente. Perhaps most shocking of all is to learn that in ALL of Colombia, there are less than 300 kilometers of two-lane, two-way roads. While this might seem an explication for the road traveling woes facing the country, I believe is presents an opportunity to provide better transportation infrastructure within the country.

After all, freedem of movement is one of the most important freedoms out there. Where would the US be if throughout our history, there hadn't been the possibility of "packing up and headed out West," or even the great American road trip or loading up the family and driving to the next state for Thanksgiving. This freedom has only recently been bestowed on the Republic of Colombia, due to its ability to secure the roads rom guerilla and paramilitary groups. Every person in Medellín I know has a story about not being able to visit their relatives or head to their farm fifteen years ago because the roads were not safe. While the roads are safe from the dangers of armed groups, deterioration, mudslides and dangerous routes still affect the ability of most Colombians to travel long distances by road conveniently. I think a combination of foreign investment and well managed infrastructure development might make Colombia an easier country by ground.

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