Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lack of Trust

This morning a friend sent me a link about the US rejecting negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia. Though sad, these kinds of news are very common in my country, so they really do not surprise me anymore. After reading the article I decided to answer my friend with a thought that I have been processing on the back of my mind for a long time: the real problem we have in Colombia is not poverty or violence, but lack of trust.

Although the concept is very simple, I was never aware of the problem until I left my country. In Colombia it is completely normal to be in paranoia, though most of us have grown used to it and do not even know that we are paranoid. For instance, Colombians tend to avoid many "dangerous" situations, such as talking to strangers on the street/phone, walking in unknown neighborhoods or even leaving their objects unattended in a classroom. I do not say there are not good reasons behind Colombians avoiding problems -history shows that you must be prudent in our country-, but the fact is that lack of trust is so present in our lives, that our lives become much more complicated than they should be.

I will give you an example. If you go to Bogota by plane, the first thing you notice when you try to leave the airport is a guy checking that your luggage matches the stickers you got on your plane ticket. Though this is exactly what every airport in the world should do, my experience tells me that Colombia is actually the only place where these tickets are checked. As a Colombian, I find it horrifying to arrive to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and think that someone could have taken my luggage while I tried to get out of the airplane. But still, French live with their unsafe system. The result: good or bad, French people need to do one queue less thanks to the trust authorities have granted to their citizens.

If you think this example is lame, think of this. One week ago I put a board game in the back of my bicycle. I just didn't want to throw it away, and not knowing who to give it to, I decided to leave in the back of my bicycle, expecting someone to steal it and make a better use of it. As of today, the board game is still there as no one seems to fancy it.

But trust is not only about believing no one will steal from you. Trust takes many shapes. For instance, if a German promises you something, you know he/she will do his best to fulfill  his promise. Unfortunately, I am not sure you can expect the same from a Colombian. The difference is that we believe everyone has the right to say something he/she does not really mean with the purpose of appearing charming or avoiding shame. We do not mean any harm by hiding our real intentions, but by doing this, we need to invent mechanisms to double check people and make sure that they do what they say. These mechanisms -written contracts, tests, consultation with 3rd parties, etc-, are very time consuming, and as a result, valuable time is lost to "administrative" activities. Every minute we lose double checking people, is a minute other societies gain an advantage over us doing something productive.

Of course, trust also affects our view of the political system. Or our attitude to authorities. Or our relationship with foreigners. So once again, the fact that an FTA deal is not closed does not come as a surprise: if we cannot trust each other, how can foreigners trust us? 


Catalina said...

I agree with you, in Colombia, we have a huge lack of trust problem, but I quite don´t think that it is the reason of the problem that we have with the FTA agreement, I think it is more a political problem... In any case, it is really sad that things like that happens...

Marcelo said...

Well, you are closer to Colombian than I am, so you might be right. Part of the problem is that Colombia thinks US will eventually look at it as a friend, but US only sees Colombia as a trouble country they have to help to decrease their cocaine consumption. We are simply too insignificant for them to care about us in any other way, such as an FTA agreement.

Catalina said...

Well, Again I have to disagree, about how insignificant we are for the US, did you knew that the Colombian embassy is the biggest US embassy in the world?