About a month ago, a man died. He was 91-years-old, cheerily wrinkled. He had very nice teeth. And ever since he died, I’ve thought an awful lot about him. Which is weird because until the day he died, I hadn’t thought about him at all.
The man was Lee Kuan Yew, the former Singapore leader. I mean, I’ve never even visited Singapore and it’s hardly top of my list (my Colombian friends claim they like holidays in countries “more developed” than their own. I tend to go the other way) In fact, I wouldn’t even be thinking about Mr Kuan Yew at all, if my friends hadn’t. If they hadn’t said things like: “I wish Colombia could have a leader like that.”
Mr Kuan Yew was a dictator, right? A guy who came to power and stayed there for 30-odd years? Did some amazing things, apparently. Transformed Singapore from a “third world” nation to a “first world” one in the space of a generation. Spoke bluntly. Understood how the world worked. Turned a little nation with no natural resources into one of the world’s richest countries. Took out his broomstick. Made everything orderly, efficient, honest.
One of my friends, who has visited Singapore, said she asked a taxi driver there if he was happy. “This is a good country to live in,” he said, after a pause. “As long as you do everything they tell you.”
Ah, because that’s the catch you see. Mr Kuan Yew liked caning people who did naughty things and, well, dispensing with those who did even naughtier things (“expanding the scope of corporal punishment” I think they call it) You don’t whip out a spray can on the streets of Singapore baby. Not if you value your behind.
Some of you might argue Colombia has already had a leader in Mr Kuan Yew’s mould. You might argue about how successful that was (please don’t, this is a family blog) Some of my friends are convinced Mr Kuan Yew is exactly what Colombia needs. We can all go to bed one night and wake up with sparkling streets and zero corruption. And the prospect of someone smacking us if we are thought to have stepped out of line.
I went to Cuba some years ago and it was just confusing. I used to think all people needed to have a shot at being happy were some basic human decencies. You know, like free education (at least for their kids) and free healthcare. Off you go then. But I’ve never met a people as collectively miserable as the Cubans. Alright, I was only there three weeks (and we can certainly debate the Cuban Government’s Catch-22) But that’s not the point is it? The point is… what makes people happy? Freedom, right? Freedom is what makes people happy.
I’m reading this book at the moment, about women in Afghanistan. Freedom is all they want too. And some of them will go to an extreme length to obtain it. Like changing their gender. Like turning themselves into a man any way they can. Like forsaking any hope of a functioning, romantic partnership. Like exposing themselves to all of the psychological problems that can arise from denying you were ever born a woman. Because none of that matters. Because the only thing anyone wants, is to be free.
So, my friends, I remind you that Colombia is the happiest nation on Earth. That even the man who walks the streets at night, picking through the rubbish for food and something he can sell, can get enough pesos together and buy a pirate DVD from another man on the street and, astonishingly, he can find a way to watch it. Perhaps our greatest failing is our greatest liberation. For better or worse, in Colombia, people find a way to do whatever they feel like. And, for better or worse, they know no-one is going to whack them with a stick for it.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.