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Issue: 40 Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Colombia, Bogata

October 18, 2006

Canadian Member

Membership is limited at the Canada Club in Bogata, Colombia

by Chris Arsenault

There is something implicitly boring about Canada's elite.

Even in the fastest, flashiest, most beautiful places, they're still lumbering, reserved and placated; that's the only conclusion I can draw from an evening at The Canada Club in Bogota, Colombia.

We walk from the old city, where every bag of garbage left outside is torn apart by people looking for something to sell or something to eat, to arrive at the carpeted hotel convention centre that hosts the Canada Club every Friday night.

In Bogota's posh Zona Rosa convention centre, we saunter past the lobby and up a flight of stairs with brass rails to a medium-sized lounge. Canadian business boys in their mid-50s, wearing golf shirts with oil company insignias tucked into waist-high khakis, shoot pool as Colombian waiters in bow-ties carefully replenish their drinks.

Waiters slice and pass around delicious white cake with a cherry red topping; a seafood bar with iced shrimp and squid sits in the corner.

An unspoken three-drink maximum seems to be in effect and conversations are quiet and distant.

At neighbourhood bars in the city's historic district, young Colombians are just sitting down for a beer. Soon the tables and chairs will be pushed aside and every square inch of space will become a dance floor.

"You know, 60 per cent of the Canada Club's members are Colombians," says a tall, affable fellow with a blond moustache; the group's president.

I nod respectfully. It would, after all, be sensible that an organization based in Colombia would have Colombian members.

"But you know," he whispers in my ear. "Most of them are women trying to meet Canadian men," he smiles. I stare.

In the era of globalization, passports are personal power; privilege from apiece of paper connected to nothing but the randomness of birth.

And when it comes to passports, Colombia has a losing hand. "We can't go anywhere," says my friend Michelle as she negotiates the paperwork for a Canadian travel visa so she can visit her boyfriend's hometown of Montreal.

When I entered this country, I just walked in.

"Welcome to Colombia," said the customs officer after taking a quick look at my Canadian passport.

One doesn't need to follow immigration policy closely to know why a Colombian passport is held as suspect by anxious border officials and timid wonks at the department of citizenship: drugs and violence.

But the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, is based on that simplest of all capitalist principles: supply and demand.

The American (and Canadian) people demand cocaine. Colombian cartels supply it. The American government decides cocaine demand among Americans is problematic and initiates a $3 billion eradication campaign called Plan Colombia, contracting private militias like Dyncorp to spray toxic herbicides over vast swaths of land.

Powerful nations destabilize countries and then wonder why refugees show up at their borders; in 2004, 3,635 Colombians applied for refugee status in Canada--more than any other country.

Colombia grows some good coffee; disgusting instant Nescafe is served at many local restaurants.

Profits are shipped north, but problems stay behind. Someone is getting rich here; Colombia's stock market performed better than any country in the world in 2004, according the Economist, an influential London-based magazine.

And when it comes to getting rich, the boys at the Canada club are doing just fine. I just don't know if they're having much fun doing it.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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