Colombia Today

As a Colombian living in Europe I often get asked what I think of the current situation of the country. My perception is the following. The peace agreement is a step forward, even if close to 50% of my fellow citizens disagree. But the enthusiasm the international community holds for the country’s immediate future has to be watered down by the myriad of obstacles that lay ahead.

The agreement is positive because it disarmed 7000 outlaws, even if an estimated 10–20% will fall back into criminal activities. The extreme internal political division that exists around the deal is mainly the making of ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who considers the government made too many concessions to the FARC in exchange for peace. Uribe governed between 2002 and 2010 and was responsible for the weakening of the FARC, that all sectors recognise, led them to sit down at the negotiation table. Uribe’s wide popular support comes precisely from the reduction in areas of control or influence of the FARC. His term in office also coincided with the commodity boom that brought faster growth rates.

The main point that discredits Uribe and his supporters is that on the referendum held in Oct 2016 the periphery of the country, which has been hit the hardest by the violence, by and large supported the agreement. This means that the communities that suffered more directly the crudeness of war, preferred swallowing the bitter pill of concessions to the FARC than continuing to endure the fighting. Counter to the vote against, which concentrated in areas where the war has been mainly seen on the evening news. What is revealing — and disturbing - is the correlation found between the regions that voted “no” and those where Uribe’s candidate for 2014's presidential elections won. This opens to question how many of these citizens would remain against if Uribe miraculously changed his mind?

The second fact that undermines the result of the referendum is that a significant sector of the population that voted against the deal are the followers of the many evangelical churches that exist today (around 20% of the population). Their main reason to oppose has nothing to do with the benefits granted to the FARC, but with the fact that the document of the agreement contains various phrases consecrating the rights of women together with those of the LGBT community. For the evangelicals this constitutes gender ideology and was their reason to object. Not exactly a case of fake news but of what I call “the dark side of magical realism”.

The international community followed the result of the referendum with disbelief, but since the government in the end managed to push the agreements through congress, it quickly returned to its enthusiastic mood. Several realities should curb the cheerfulness. The first is the pervasiveness of corruption and the drag it constitutes to the country’s growth. Corruption cases in recent years have touched the national anticorruption prosecutor, members of the supreme court of justice, numerous congressmen(women) and mayors of large and small cities alike. To give an idea of the size of the problem, Wikipedia’s article on corruption scandals in Colombia is 23 pages long and only covers since 1995.

A useful side effect of the peace agreement has been that as the media can no longer rely on the conflict to supply it of headlines, it has turned its eyes to corruption scandals to maintain the audience captive. The second reason to be less upbeat is that the regions where coca is grown will remain battlefields as long as the trade of cocaine is illegal and/or, government institutions are strengthened to the point where the rule of law can be guaranteed in all the territory. The assassination of more than 90 community leaders since the signature of the agreement is the tragic evidence that these regions remain abandoned. Both legalisation of cocaine trade or an all embracing rule of law are unfortunately still decades away.

Inherent elements of the cocaine trade make the business stick. Even if Mexican cartels have taken over a big chunk of the profits, cocaine production is unequally profitable for growers and it is also a logistics dream. An entire hectare of coca bushes produce a mere 4 to 8kg of cocaine*. No other crop with whatsoever transformation process is as efficient in reducing its mass. To aggravate matters, Colombia’s transport infrastructure is amongst the worst of the region, making other products simply not economically feasible due to transportation to market costs.

As a result, enthusiasm for Colombia’s immediate future has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The potential is there but it will take a few decades for the country to reap the benefits of the peace signed. And success will more than ever depend on its political class not turning it into one more eternal promising country, as several in the region are. As a descriptive analogy, while the metro of Santiago de Chile will soon run almost entirely on renewable energy, Bogota’s first line of metro is still on blueprints.

@DavidAbuchar

*UNOC United Nations Office on Drug and Crime figures for Colombian production of Cocaine between 1995–2009

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Colombian living in Brussels. I write about football, current affairs & reggaeton/ Colombiano viviendo en Bruselas. Escribo sobre fútbol, actualidad y reggaetón

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David Abuchar Luna

Colombian living in Brussels. I write about football, current affairs & reggaeton/ Colombiano viviendo en Bruselas. Escribo sobre fútbol, actualidad y reggaetón