CARTAGENA, Colombia — The mood in Cartagena was festive and jubilant. As dusk fell on a humid Saturday evening in the coastal Colombian city, young people walked arm in arm in groups near the walls of the old city. The laughter from the cafes spilled out into the streets. Horses galloped by partygoers all celebrating what everyone thought was coming in the morning, peace between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, after a half-century of conflict. Nearly 10 days later, the shock, deflation and anger over the "no" vote (by less than 1 percent) for the peace agreement is a stark reminder of the deep divides between hard and soft power.
Hard power is unflinching and unforgiving. It looks backward and fails to seek common ground. Hard power is former President Álvaro Uribe and his factions who refused to negotiate. Soft power on the other hand, is more feminine: it strives to forgive and heal. Soft Power transcends difference and division to understand and move forward.
It is this soft power that although defeated, will likely continue its quiet and determined work if the past is any indication. I was in Cartagena to share public opinion data from our U.S. News/Wharton/BAV Best Countries Report. This was a return from our research and writing "The Athena Doctrine" in Medellin with Michael D'Antonio. There, we saw the small steps to peace that came through the empathy and creativity of both government officials and nongovernmental organizations.
In Medellin we met that city's government secretary, Mauricio Facio Lince, who was setting aside nearly two-thirds of the city's operating budget for the next generation. That budget includes access to free Wi-Fi in schools and libraries to nurture youth away from the culture of a violent past. Given 61 percent of the population is under 35, Lince's colleagues believed that education, encouragement and esteem could re-set Colombian society on a new course toward peace and prosperity.
Nearby, we met Catalina Cock Duque who runs "Fundacion Mi Sangre," the My Blood Foundation, which has helped 30,000 FARC rebel soldiers lay down their arms. Here in their "Casas de Paz," or peace houses, young former soldiers live with the very people they once terrorized. Geared toward a not-so-subtle approach to empathy and understanding, Catalina told us, "A man is a fist. But a woman is open arms."
Survey data we gathered from 64,000 people in nationally representative samples in 13 countries point to a growing appreciation for the competencies and characteristics traditionally associated with women. Here, people equated modern leadership with collaboration, selflessness, humility and forgiveness. President Juan Manuel Santos in defeat was awarded the Nobel Prize of Peace last week.
Yet there's a long road ahead. In our Best Countries Report, Colombia today ranks 49th overall out of 60 countries we surveyed this year. People around the world rate Colombia at 28th for adventure and beauty, but 57th for safety. Colombia is most associated with being corrupt, dangerous and politically unstable.
Yet again, soft power is at work behind the scenes, building the infrastructure of opportunity and possible future reconciliation. One of the few women in Colombia we met with a civil engineering degree, Margarita Angel Bernal, heads Medellin's urban development agency. She manages the many small- and medium-scale improvement projects around the city. These projects are designed to make a city that has endured decades of drug-related violence more livable. From upgrading streets and sidewalks to building schools and parks, the agency is taking an active role in reshaping Medellin. Bernal manages the various local advisory groups chosen to oversee each project, created to give local citizens the opportunity to take a more active role in the bettering of their communities. One such project, The Medellin Metrocable, a gondola lift system, carries 30,000 people daily connecting the favelas to opportunity.
It is this opportunity for a better life that may point the way forward: As we have reported in Best Countries, the majority of areas that have suffered the most from conflict in Colombia, regions such as Chocó and Cauca, voted strongly in favor of the referendum. Peace is harder than war, but those who have lived through both know which one they want.
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