En un excelente artículo escrito por el periodista Sergio De León, el diario norteamericano USA Today presenta una radiografía clara sobre las dimensiones de la industria de cirugías estéticas en Colombia, vale la pena leerlo y por tal motivo transcribimos acá sus apartes más importantes:
"It's normal to return from vacation with a deep tan, but what about coming home with bigger breasts, a newly sculpted nose, a nip and tuck and some wrinkle removal. Vacations promising such corporeal transformations are being promoted by travel agents and plastic surgeons in Colombia, one of those countries along with Venezuela and Brazil where there's no shame in taking your body in for alterations.
"I was unhappy with my breast size and had gained a lot of weight," said Mauikai Gold, a 21-year-old from Miami who recently traveled to Colombia for cosmetic surgery.
She'd done her homework first, consulting friends and a half-dozen local doctors as well as beauticians at her favorite salon before choosing a plastic surgeon.
Next stop, Bogota.
Gold, who works in show business, writing songs and acting, lost 56 pounds to liposuction, added to her chest and got her nose fixed, she said in a telephone interview. Total cost: about $8,000. The ethnic Cuban had inquired as to the cost of having similar work done in the United States before opting for Colombia and calculated that she would have paid from $25,000 to $30,000 to have it done at home.
Add the quality reputation of Colombian medicine to the savings and you've got a good product to promote, according to travel agents and doctors in this Andean capital.
It doesn't hurt that this South American nation is enjoying a tourist boom that brought more than a million visitors to the country last year for the first time in two decades, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism. "Of all those people coming to Colombia, at least 3% come to get medical treatment, said Antonio Crespo, head of the Colombia Tours Solutions travel agency. In 2004, he said about 21,000 people came for surgery and in 2005, about 30,000.
Colombia Tours Solutions arranges travel logistics for tourists coming for plastic surgery. "We help with the hotels, transport, if they need plane tickets we can help with that," said Crespo.
"Surgery packages" include medical procedures, nursing, post-operative treatment, travel insurance, transport, hotel, a tourist guide and air tickets. Not included are tickets to theater or dining at one of Bogota's fine restaurants. The promotion of such vanity tourism got something of a shot in the arm with the signing of a new trade agreement in late February between Washington and Bogota. President Alvaro Uribe even called for creating free trade hospital zones where medical tourists can get treated tax-free.
It's not just Bogota, but also the Colombian cities of Cali, Armenia and Medellin that get many patients from abroad, noted Uribe.
Gold chose Colombia because it's close to the U.S., but also, she said, because Colombian women are renowned for their beauty. Part of that beauty, she added, is "natural," but part of it is "because they are so pro-plastic surgery." Gold was initially contacted through an Internet forum where people interested in plastic surgery discuss their concerns and share their experiences. Many of them have traveled to Colombia for operations. Other destinations mentioned on the forums include the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Thailand. Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador, along with Brazil, also have plastic surgery-tourism industries.
No official statistics exist on the number of tourists who visit Colombia on image improvement excursions. But plastic surgeon Andres Mejia says that for cities like Cali the volume is huge. Crespo said patients come from as nearby as Ecuador and Panama, and as far away as the U.S. and Spain.