Colombia advances trapped in a labyrinth

The present in Latin America can be defined as critical and the future uncertain.

28 December 2022 Wednesday 21:31
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Colombia advances trapped in a labyrinth

The present in Latin America can be defined as critical and the future uncertain. The crisis caused by the covid is a moment of critical juncture in the economic, social and political development of the region, which is also facing a double crisis of regionalism and multilateralism that had been developing since before the pandemic, but which have worsened with her.

In such a context, Colombia is facing three crises that overlap and place it in a very difficult scenario: a high level of political-ideological polarization; a growing erosion of democracy; and considerable reprimarization and economic contraction. Such a scenario shows a social situation characterized by exclusion, poverty and inequality, whose political counterpart is the fatigue of democracy and the institutional crisis.

However, the agenda of Colombia's domestic and foreign policies were influenced by the escalation of the internal armed conflict in the last three decades. Internally, the historic social debt of the elites with a large part of society and the social mobilization to demand them democratically were postponed and contained until a political solution to the conflict with the guerrillas was achieved and the construction of a stable and lasting peace. In addition, the participation with weapons in political processes polarized the political spectrum in Colombia. Therefore, a hegemony of the radical forces of the right and extreme left in the political sphere was consolidated, which prevented the emergence of a political center. So, on the one hand, the post-conflict has created a scenario that favors the emergence and mobilization of new anti-establishment political and social forces; and, on the other, the formulation and claim of the postponed social agendas: more access and better quality of education and health, job creation, development of transport infrastructures, the implementation of a comprehensive agrarian reform and a frontal struggle against corruption.

Thus, the presidency of Iván Duque (2018-2022) has ended its four-year term on August 7, 2022 and will go down in history as one of the most unpopular and inept governments in the face of the most pressing needs of the most pressing social sectors. vulnerable, whose disapproval exceeds 73%. In addition, it has been characterized by high levels of violence and inequality. On the one hand, the selective assassinations of social leaders have totaled 787 since Duque was appointed president on August 7, 2018. On the other, the poverty rates had dropped from 49.7% to 28.5% between the 2002 and 2016 –due to the boom in raw materials–, which produced an increase in the middle class from 16.3% to 30.6% in said period. However, the poverty condition increased, in contrast, to 35.7% -in 2019- during the first year of Duque's presidency. Currently, monetary poverty grew to 42.5% as a consequence of the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic, which reduced the middle class to 25%. In sum, 19,621,330 Colombians live today in a situation of monetary poverty, of which 6,110,881 live in a condition of extreme monetary poverty.

Additionally, the image of the Government has been tarnished by innumerable and successive acts of corruption that have produced a profound delegitimization of the political establishment. It has not been a surprise, therefore, that a wave of discontent and social indignation has been unleashed, which has been expressed in the social protests of the years 2019, 2020 and in the social outbreak of 2021.

With regard to Duque's foreign policy, one of the moles that overshadow it are the recurring tensions that have been occurring between the Colombian State and international actors (UN, EU, US), regarding the doubts that They arise regarding a true commitment of the Duque government with the peace process advanced by Juan Manuel Santos. In this sense, Duque, supported by his party, the Democratic Center (CD), fulfilled one of his campaign slogans: "tear the Peace Agreement to shreds." In addition, the empty signifier used by Duque and the CD, “peace with legality”, revealed a strong ideological connotation. In this way, they revealed the alleged illegal nature of the peace agreements and challenged the laws approved by the Congress of the Republic to incorporate them into the Colombian legal system and the Constitution.

Regarding the verification of the Peace Agreement, the signatory parties, the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), granted a mandate to the Kroc Institute –Notre Dame University– as part of the verification mechanism. The reports from said institute show that three factors have affected the implementation of the agreement since it was signed five years ago. In the first place, they highlight the change of national government in 2018. Once Duque assumed the presidency of the republic in August 2018, the implementation of the agreement was significantly reduced, as can be seen in the reports of the Kroc Institute to monitor and verify compliance with it. The second factor, which has severely affected the implementation of its programs, has been the covid pandemic. In this sense, the sanitary and social isolation measures taken by the Government to counteract the effects of the pandemic left local and grassroots organizations alone in their territories. Additionally, the national government used the health crisis and the confinement measures as a pretext for not fulfilling most of its obligations with the implementation of the peace process without having to give further explanations or render accounts in this regard. In this way, there was a withdrawal of State institutions from the territories, which allowed the illegal armed actors to regroup and reorganize in the spaces left by the FARC. Finally, the third factor influencing the implementation of the agreement was the national strike called between April and May 2022, a situation that led to an unprecedented social explosion in Colombia.

In this order of ideas, the Kroc Institute revealed in its latest report (November 2021) that during the Duque Government the progress of the peace process was only 2%. In fact, Duque lied in an interview with the BBC (23/V/2022), stating that the Kroc Institute had recognized that the implementation of the agreement had advanced by 35%. However, said institute is clear in stating in the aforementioned report that the overall progress of the agreement is 30%, but evidencing that most of such progress was carried out between the signing of the agreement and the beginning of the Duque Government, that is, during the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos. In response, a large part of the social forces demand that the country not return to the past and that the path of building a stable and lasting peace be resumed towards the future.

The Duque government also produced a Venezuelanization of foreign policy. For this reason, the alleged Colombian leadership to force a change of regime in Venezuela is strongly questioned. Above all, for having served as the spearhead of Donald Trump's erratic and improvised policy against the Maduro regime. The rhetorical radicalism of the Duque government closed any possibility for Colombia to leave a window open, in order to contemplate some kind of negotiated political solution. Meanwhile, Maduro screwed himself into power, and Colombia, not even having consular relations with Venezuela, abandoned the governance of 2,219 kilometers of joint border, which resulted in an absence of the State and a power vacuum, which has been filled by illegal actors on both sides of the border that endanger national security and defense. Likewise, the strategy of the diplomatic siege led by Colombia against the Venezuelan dictatorship failed, after the US government of Biden recently relaxed the sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba, in order to have access to Venezuelan oil to replace the Russian oil supply that has been affected by US sanctions because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this way, the radical approach of the Duque government towards the Maduro regime lost North American support, and Colombia was left in the worst of all worlds.

Colombia has been undergoing a reprimarization process since the 1990s, where economic growth has been largely positive, largely thanks to the booms in raw materials and the increased weight of the mining-energy sector in the national economy, and even more in the export basket. In this order of ideas, there has been a strong increase in the participation of the mining-energy sector in the Colombian export offer, which went from 24.7% in 1995 to 45.5% in 2019. However, The growth of both the GDP and the Colombian export offer has not translated into important changes in the well-being of the most disadvantaged sectors of the Colombian population. Hence, the increase in GDP has not meant an increase in social welfare, as revealed by the Human Development Index (0.767) and the Gini coefficient (0.544) by 2021. In this sense, as previously stated, the Poverty still affects more than a quarter of the population, and informality affects half of the employed population. Consequently, Colombia suffers from a stagnation in economic development, which is the product, in large part, of the de-industrialization of the productive structure and the reprimarization of the export offer in the last three decades. It is not by chance that this phenomenon coincides with the adoption of the neoliberal economic model and the respective absence of an industrial policy. In this order of ideas, the productive development policies of the Duque government did not go beyond managing the stagnation of development derived from the international insertion strategy and the internal economic development model that it inherited from previous governments. In short, vertical policies that select competitive sectors and support their insertion in global value chains (GVC) through the generation of greater added value are still absent. Additionally, without clear incentive strategies for foreign direct investment (FDI) in non-mining-energy sectors, as well as with trade policies that are limited to information management, it is not possible to promote the productive transformation of Colombia.

For the first time, the two candidates with a chance of winning the Colombian presidency did not belong to the political elites and traditional parties that have governed it since independence at the dawn of the 19th century. They were two populist candidates of a similar authoritarian nature, on the one hand the leftist, Gustavo Petro; and on the other, the right-wing outsider, Rodolfo Hernández. Finally, it will be Petro who addresses the following challenges:

It is important that the next Government comply with the provisions of the Peace Agreement, particularly the Integral Rural Reform, the substitution of illicit crops and the political participation of the victims. The centrality of the victims in the implementation of the agreement should not be limited to their participation in the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (SIVJRNR), but should also implement the measures on land use and possession, replacement of illicit crops and security in the territories. By improving the conditions in which the victims live, mostly inhabitants of nearby and dispersed rural areas, it contributes not only to guaranteeing their dignity as individuals but also to their food security and self-sufficiency.

The next government must restore consular relations immediately and diplomatic relations gradually with Venezuela. The diplomatic siege and the attempt to lead regime change in Venezuela failed miserably. Diplomacy is not only used to take pictures with friends and ideologically related leaders, since the international system is made up of states that demonstrate the plurality of the ideological spectrum and the world's cultural diversity. The cost of the policy of zero relations with Venezuela has been very high, since it has represented the abandonment of the seven Colombian departments that border Venezuela. It is necessary to reestablish the binational border cooperation mechanisms, in order to liberate said territories from organized armed groups that practice different forms of transnational crime and have deteriorated the multidimensional security of citizens on both sides of the border. Likewise, more than two million Colombians in Venezuela urgently need access to consular services and the reactivation of commercial exchange between the two countries is necessary.

The new president of Colombia will face an economic and social crisis that worsened with the effects of the covid pandemic. Faced with this challenge, the Government that assumes the reins of the State on August 7, 2002 should formulate a public policy of investment in the productivity of companies so that they generate more value and profits, and with this the State can increase its tax collection. A more effective and efficient State that obtains more resources is necessary to meet social demands and current economic problems. Therefore, it is a political imperative to expand capacities in health care, provide greater support to employers and unemployed workers, guarantee resources for the creation of jobs, in order to mitigate job losses that occurred due to of confinement and social isolation measures.

A public policy is required that carries out investment projects in sectors of high added value that generate profits, either in co-financing modality, in public-private alliances or in attracting FDI in said sectors. The foregoing must be complemented with the combination of horizontal policies with vertical policies of direct support to entrepreneurs to generate more added value with sectoral criteria and that aim at insertion in GVCs. Likewise, it is essential to develop a strategy that promotes the attraction of FDI to non-mining-energy sectors. Currently, there is no progress in relation to changes in the policies that lead Colombia to continue to depend economically on the exploitation of natural resources (oil, coal, ferronickel, etc.), hence the country continues to focus on the royalties that said exploitation produces , without adopting a policy to directly exploit such resources. Therefore, it is necessary to create and offer tax incentives so that FDI is not directed primarily to the mining-energy sector, because the flow of capital continues to reach that sector, with which the Colombian economy remains exposed to the volatility of international prices. of raw materials and its comparative advantage continues to be distorted.

Eduardo Pastrana Buelvas is a tenured professor at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Faculty of Political Science and International Relations, Bogotá (Colombia).



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