Colombia’s road paradox

Except for a few two-lane roads, Colombia is more of a sui generis country in the broadest sense regarding terms of its country road system.

There is the so-called 4G route for freight transport with its long exits to the major capitals. It leads over dusty roads which become impassable in summer as well as in winter. This is an arduous undertaking for the transport companies, but above all for the famous American jeep rust bowers of the Second World War. Even more so for the mules and Dunkies bringing their agricultural products down from the rugged mountains, plains, and jungles of Colombia.

Here, too, the state and its ministries are primarily responsible for this misery. Either the Institute is formerly known as the Ministry of Public Works, which later became the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which later became the National Institute for Transport and Transit -INTRA-, the National Road Fund and finally the National Fund for Roads -VCV-. Anyway, everyone disappeared from the picture. Whether the various ministries, its municipal public works secretariats or the current Ministry of Transport, the National Road Transport Institute – Invias- and the National Infrastructure Agency – ANI- have all been responsible for the planning, design and organization of the calls for tenders, so that ultimately the main production centers in the country will be linked to the main cities and the few seaports in the country (Buenaventura, Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Barranquilla).

During the heyday of coffee production and export from the 1960s onwards, the National Association of Coffee Growers developed, supported and financed various inter-municipal and inter-village road communication projects. This means that by funding and building tertiary access routes, the association has promoted access to various agricultural and animal production sites and not just coffee in the municipal capitals. This made it easier for the municipalities to bring products to the capitals of the departments and ports. Finally, this investment policy of public and private institutions helped to promote the diversification of agricultural products.

It is easy to see that, thanks to the initiative of the Action Forums of the municipality, there has been another form of road construction. They are run by organizations present in almost all regions of the country, particularly in the crisis areas of large cities and rural areas. Spontaneously, people come together to solve their problems regarding housing, education, roads, aqueducts, sewage, and other crises. In some cases, they organize meetings and folkloric dances associated with the sale of food, drinks, and spirits to raise money. In very few instances they ask certain politicians (council members, members of parliament, representatives of the local administrative boards or their respective advisors and processors) in return for votes in order to give them some support for the construction of an access road, the tank for storing water, pipelines for drinking water as well as for waste supply. It should be remembered that politicians were elected by the people in official elections and appointed mayors, governors or presidents. As such, they must organize essential infrastructural facilities on behalf of the state or to contribute to making them available to the people. Instead, people develop their own environment. Instead of receiving a service, they become the service provider of the state. But sometimes they also give in to the vice of disparagement by offering their vote to elect a politician to buy a service.

Finally, Colombia has another form of access to road construction. That comes from the corner of insurgent groups, paramilitaries, and criminal gangs all dedicated to drug trafficking. For the cultivation of opium poppy, coca and marijuana and for the similar transformation of these natural products into base products processed in artisan laboratories, they have chosen jungle areas with difficult access in the mountains. To reach them, they stole machines from the state and private companies to build roads in the middle of nowhere where they secretly process their drugs. But there are also hunters and cattle ranchers who have cleared mountains and jungles, which is a new problem for nature on the other side of the fence for wildlife.

This is the Colombian reality today, which beliefs to advance by building primitive roads of penetration throughout the country, but without any overall planning and certainly not without a commitment to balance with the environment, all in the interest of the progress and well-being of the industrial centers and some privileged individuals.