Colombia Dialogues at The New School

February 19th, 2015 · The New School, New York

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Mary Watson, Executive Dean of The New School for Public Engagement, celebrated in her opening remarks that this event broadens an institutional cooperation between CAF and OLA that has started around the PNK Fellowship and moves forward with this series of biannual country seminars in New York. Christian Asinelli, Director of Institutional Development from CAF was also enthusiastic about this relationship, and also remembered that the Latin American Bank is the only financial institution of this type that is owned, managed, and aimed at Latin America. Consequently, CAF has a decided interest in promoting strong leadership and vibrant networking among public officials and young academic leaders across Latin America. The event was designed and chaired by three Colombian PhD students in Public and Urban Policy from The New School: Maria Carrizosa in the first panel, Martha Jaimes in the second panel, and Manuel Valderrama in the last panel.

Colombia is one of Latin America´s fastest growing economies and is the third most populous country following Brazil and Mexico. Colombia has had a steady economic performance over the last decades. In 2013, it had the 4th highest GDP in the region, and it is expected to have grown by 4.7% in 2014, outperforming the region´s average growth (2%). Unemployment rates have dropped substantially since 2011, and employment has increased in the last two years. Decisive steps have been taken to curtail the spiking inequality (ranking 10th in the world), as well as to enhance the country's economic dynamism challenged by an abrupt geographical environment. Moreover, the current peace process between the Government and FARC armed group, taking place in Cuba, promises to alleviate the longest standing armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere, and to bring the country together to a new phase in Colombia's history.


I. Colombia's Global Agenda

The opening panel featured two insiders to the hallways of diplomacy and international relations from the Santos government, who -now entering his fifth year-, has repositioned Colombia in the international arena through what he calls a positive agenda. This is a shift away from an agenda fully concerned with drugs and security, into a broad-ranging agenda through which the country participates more actively in global issues. To a large extent, this change of focus is based in the country's strong economic performance and sustained social development achievements, and intends to pave the way for Colombia to become a regional leader and a global player. Joining the UN Security Council, starting to act as a humanitarian donor, entering the OECD, or presiding UNASUR, are but a few examples.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations Carlos A. Morales, offered an overview of the main topics in Colombia's current international agenda. The DPR began recognizing that ever since the 1990s the international community has played a relevant role in the peace process: Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, Chile, and the UN system, being the most salient examples. As Morales explained, while domestically the country strives to define: "the line that divides peace and justice, forgiveness and forgetfulness", the role of ex guerrilla members in drug eradication and de-mining, and the financial challenges of the post conflict phase; the country is aware of the importance of having an active participation from the international community in building stable peace in the country. But Colombia's global agenda has increasingly diversified, up to a point that today the three key topics are: First, the Sustainable Development Goals, an area in which Colombia has played an active participant role, suggesting enhancements to the architecture of the SDG framework. Second, there is the climate change topic, an issue where Colombia has been increasingly vocal, supporting the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Undeniably, the drugs topic is crucial and here Colombia has taken an active lead promoting an innovative approach. Santos has been calling for more effective responses to drug trafficking, based on public health respect for human rights and harm reduction. The 2013 OAS report –proposed by Santos- is reflective of this innovative approach to drug policy. Morales broad and yet detailed overview emphasized the potential, and also the challenges Colombia faces being simultaneously an Amazonian, Caribbean, Andean, and Pacific country.

María Isabel Nieto, Colombian Consul General in New York, shared with the audience the vision of Santo's development plan called "Path to Prosperity". Consul Nieto highlighted the government's intention of making Colombia by 2025 the most equal and the most educated country in Latin America. She highlighted, for example, that the current national budget for education is higher than for any other sector, including security. She stressed there is a keen awareness that the country's recent favorable economic performance must be supported not only with a plan to diversify the country's production matrix away from commodities, but also with decisive action to overhaul a long-standing transportation blockage that hinders the nation's productiveness and competitiveness. Colombia's road infrastructure has been described as the worst in Latin America; a situation the Santos government is committed to change by 2019. However, Colombia's main infrastructure investment is its 4G network, which is now the country's largest-ever public investment project. Reducing the digital breach is seen as a poverty reduction strategy.

Nieto underlined the fact that the tourism sector has increased 70% since 2006, and if health tourism is taken into account, it can be expected to grow five or even tenfold in the next few years. Of course, this implies a shift in tone of how Colombia portrays itself internationally. The Consul, who has been Private Secretary to the President, former Deputy Minister of Interior, among various other leading roles, eloquently assured that Colombians, by re-electing President Santos have voted for peace. And indeed, never before in the history of this internal armed conflict has the country been so close to achieving peace. The negotiations with the FARC guerrilla have already covered four of the six main topics: land reform, political participation, drugs, and victims. The consistency and prospects of these talks, together with the steady economic performance and ambitious social policies fuel an optimism of Colombia's global agenda: "we are tired of thinking small" summed Consul Nieto.

Sakiko Fukuda's remarks helped to place the country's performance in the global context. She celebrated the fact that "Colombia has a clear voice", especially with regards to the Post 2015 agenda. Fukuda emphasized that while "the MDG was an aid agenda from the South to the North", in which certainly "development turned out to be disruptive process", this time, new actors –i.e., developing nations- were articulating a different perspective. Ultimately, Fukuda suggested: "Colombia's leadership should come in the way of new policies and new institutions", and explained the fundamental role of achieving a "meritocratic bureaucracy", which she considered to be a truer path to development and leadership.

II. Urban Inequality: Historical Perspectives and Management Prospects.

Germán Mejia (Dean of Social Sciences at Javeriana University) presentation signaled a series of analytical shortcomings in current historiographical paradigms that study Latin American cities. For Mejia, there are two main "historiographical prisons" that hinder the proper understanding of the urban question in Latin America: the history of state formation and industrial capitalism. The first one subordinates the understanding of the urbanization process to the rise of the Nation-State. The second paradigm ties the city to industrialization as its unique developmental platform. Both of these "historiographical prisons" define the city as an outcome of exogenous forces overlooking its capacity to self-generate power, wealth, and active participants. For Professor Mejia, these paradigms limit the production of knowledge about the city and constrain the scope of research questions asked. Mejia puts forward six premises that can help unlock the above mentioned analytical constraints: 1) cities are a humanized space, a social construct created by its inhabitants prior to a built environment; 2) the city survives the socio-political systems in which it is inserted; 3) urbanization persistency is less due to push factors -i.e., rural to urban migration- and more in due to pull factors; 4) as urban centers precede nations, and in fact the tension between city and nation is a defining feature of all cities; 5) with the emergence of the city a new category of subject is created, the urbanite, with whom both the bourgeois taste and intimacy initiate; 6) cities are social territories that are attached to particular historical moments, so their identities and legacies must be understood historically. (icon Read German Mejia's full presentation -Spanish-)

Fabio Giraldo examined the role of cities in addressing inequality of income distribution, with particular emphasis to capital gains tax at both the urban and territorial levels. His presentation broadly discussed the urbanization process, and laid out a framework to approach its political economy, highlighting the importance of citizen participation in city-making and policy assessment. Giraldo argued that conventional approaches to the urbanization process fall short to explain recent rises in housing prices. He also argued for the need to account for capital gains in the process of redistribution within the city. Hence, Giraldo proposed a new approach to model the main components of supply (land, urbanization, and construction), and demand (income, subsidies, and credit) of urban attributes, recognizing its macroeconomic, entrepreneurial, and social policy features. Giraldo concluded that this approach provides important analytical tools to reflect on the scope and impact of urban-territorial policies in Colombia. In Giraldo's approach, urbanization policies must conform to the principles of a Social and Democratic State under a functioning rule of law. They must also incorporate monitoring and evaluation tools into rulemaking, considering both the rural periphery and urban centers, as a means to promote active citizens and a common form of citizenship. (icon View Fabio Giraldo's full presentation -English-)

María Mercedes Maldonado (urban analyst and Bogota's Mayoral Pre-candidate) showed that spatial segregation reveals limits of income redistribution and poverty alleviation strategies intending to curb social and economic inequalities in Bogota. The panelist began recognizing that income inequality and poverty rates have indeed decreased in the city as compared to the national average. Although this evidences a potential for positive social change, this achievement is necessarily limited in scope since it does not take into account the spatial dimension. In this respect, Maldonado highlighted the direct relationship between the socio-economic residential segregation and multidimensional poverty rates: poverty is unevenly distributed along spatial lines in most cities. Maldonado insisted that strategies to address uneven urban development not only imply progressive taxation, improving quality of employment, improving education, or guaranteeing access to urban services. Spatial segregation must also be addressed by decidedly targeting housing location, promoting higher levels of class mix, preventing low-income housing to locate in immitigable risk areas, and improving the environmental quality for all citizens. Maldonado concluded that, despite the improvements achieved so far in Bogota, the current challenge is to address the persistent problems that emerge from an inappropriate perspective: a prevailing notion that new housing developments should be located in the city outskirts; slum upgrading that is virtually non-existent; policies that are fragmented, sectorial and isolated. Ultimately, Maldonado claimed for a unified national policy, that consistently tackles urban spatial inequalities. (icon View Maria Mercedes Maldonado's full presentation -English-)

Robert Buckley critiqued points from each of the panelists, in an effort to prompt further reactions. Reacting to Giraldo's intervention, he asserted: "the city should not be worried about its taxi drivers. Rather, it should be worried about generating the appropriate infrastructure and transportation systems that allow people to get themselves to their jobs". And further: "democracy is overrated and the power of accountability is also overstated". Panelists agreed that the current issues cities are facing are not isolated but highly interrelated. They also agreed in the political urgency of designing a unified national urban policy to address the inequalities within cities.

III. Toward Territorial Peace: Drug Policy, Displacement, and Rural Development.

Juan Manuel Galán shared his experience promoting a new national law (Project 27 of 2014) that intends to regulate the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This project aims to amend Article 49 of the Colombian Constitution, which considers illegal the use of prohibited hallucinogenic substances under prescription. For Galán this law echoes broader reflections that take into account the historical use of cannabis, the ecological and human damages caused by the eradication of crops -as the Colombian case evidences it-, and the unachievable aim of completely eliminating drug production. Hence, this project promotes a shift away from a prohibitionist model towards a new approach that tackles the political, social and economical effects of drug trafficking. Such change demands a series of institutional innovations of which this project is but a stepping-stone. Senator Galan advocates for a view between the prohibitionist and total decriminalization extremes in which the priority is to regulate its production and consumption within a human rights framework. Senator Galan presented some evidence on the effectiveness of such policy innovations. First, he explained that research in countries that have already abandoned the prohibitionist model has shown that drug legalization does not lead to increased consumption. Second, Galan highlighted that drug-policies that have a stronger emphasis in decreasing supply, have heavier social and financial associated costs. Project 27 of 2014 builds upon both of these findings. The proposed regulation would allow, if enacted, the right to access proper medication to those patients that need it (for example, 400,000 patients with epilepsy could benefit for the potential positive effects of medicinal marihuana). Galan concludes that this alternative approach to drug regulation recognizes the access to health as a human right. Ultimately, beyond motives related to the improvement of the global agenda on drug policy, this is view also contributes to the priorities in the current agenda of the peace talks. (icon Read Senator Galan's intervention -Spanish-)

Yamile Salinas examined the extent to which the human rights of ethnic minorities are being protected, as rural development and land restitution become critical components of Colombia's National Development Plan. For this, Salinas highlighted the features of the conflict that directly affect ethnic minorities. These included, in addition to drug trafficking, the close relationship between political inequalities and land concentration, and their intersections with rural development policies, national security policies, and government institutional capacity. Although in this context agendas of rural development have emerged, such as the proposals of the agrarian social movement, and the emphasis on rural development throughout peace talks in Havana, Cuba, and the Development Plan of the Santos administration, the risk of threatening the human rights of ethnic minorities has not been addressed properly. On the one hand, ethnic and racial minorities make up 80% of the total population displaced due to the social and political armed conflict. On the other hand, these minorities have also been marginalized in the processes of land restitution. Of course, Victims' Act has a number of challenges regarding proper land restitution, such as the huge number of lawsuits claimed by the total displaced population and the limited institutional capacity of the Colombian State to keep up with the response rate implied by the commitments stated in the national agenda. Nevertheless, Salinas drew attention to the marginalization of ethnic groups in this process by noting that only 0.05% of their claims have been granted. Salinas explained these phenomena by pointing the following: i) the main factors of war -i.e., ongoing battles, and anti-personnel mines- and ii) the systematic links between legal and illegal interests -e.g., mining concessions with inadequate informed consents, illegal securitization of cocaine labs and distributions routes, improper property titles, intra-ethnic conflicts-. Additionally, there has been a conflictive super-positioning between the agendas of rural development and land restitution, where the same land that is supposed to be restituted is rather allocated to large private investments. This, argues the Panelist, has had the disruptive consequence of blocking the compensations required by the claims of ethnic groups. Salinas concluded that Colombia has not been able to initiate an appropriate discussion about these issues, which are of crucial importance. (icon View Yamile Salina's full presentation -English-)

Catalina Díaz, Director of Transitional Justice at Colombia's Minister of Interior offered a detailed, enthusiastic, and yet realistic view of what a transitional justice process entails. Very much in line with what Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace insists,she explained that Colombia's transitional justice scheme is distinct for two reasons. First, because conflict has not ended while the transitional justice scheme is being designed; and second, because what is being agreed in Cuba are the guiding principles of the road to peace. For Diaz, 'Peace' is not the main outcome of the peace talks, nor is it 'forgiveness': "we're not in Havana for an impunity exchange", she stated. Instead, peace has to be built after an agreement on the end of the conflict is achieved. Diaz highlighted 'peace' necessarily constitutes territorial peace. In fact, she explained that in Colombia "conflict and post conflict already coexist across the geography", which only makes more clear the fact that transitional justice is not an integral one-stop shop, but a process made by pieces over time. Catalina Diaz's intervention exemplified how Colombia's territorial peace is an arena where the dialogue between the public sector, academia and the people on the ground, should be brought closer together. And in fact, she was indeed optimistic about this process because "there is a coincidence between expert's findings and the discussions being held in Cuba". (icon View Catalina Diaz's full presentation -English-)

José Antonio Ocampo centered his intervention in his work as Director of Colombia's Mission for Rural Transformation. Ocampo noted that rural development is the single most relevant issue in the Colombian post-conflict agenda. To begin, the Mission proposed a classification -rooted in the rural-urban continuum idea-, of what is being understood as rural. Under this view, there are rural elements even in the biggest cities. Rurality should be regarded as a continuum ranging from: rural patterns within the 12 biggest cities, dense rural municipal centers, intermediate rural centers of 25,000 with low densities, to completely dispersed populations. Under this expanded definition most of the country is rural. For instance, a reading of rural MDG achievements proves the rural is certainly lagging: "the rural dwellers are more than three times poorer than their urban counterparts", noted Ocampo. Beyond fiscal transfers from mining royalties, all prior land reforms in the county's history have been inconclusive, to the point that today "70% of productive rural plots have no property titles". Ocampo stated that land reform geared towards agro productivity and rural economic development is fundamental, but even more central still is to come up with regulations that have positive local impact. In this sense, he stressed: "the biggest challenge for the peace process is to restore trust at the local level".

Ocampo concluded his intervention noting that Colombia is very keen to design refined laws, but has great difficulty implementing them. To reason this, he alluded to two explanations from different scholars. First, Ocampo referenced Robinson's metaphor that Colombia is like an orangutan in a tuxedo: "the tuxedo promotes democracy and macroeconomic stability, while the orangutan generates violence, civil war, drug dealing, and anemic economic growth" (from Robinson's report on the paradox of the prosperity index). There are, then, two Colombias: the more the tuxedo advances, does not mean that the orangutan vanishes but that it dresses up. The second idea is also illuminating and equally upsetting. It refers to Julieta Lemaitre's idea of legal fetishism, according to which Colombians suffer from an unjustifiable plead to the law regardless of its powerlessness. Lemaitre explains this as an act of resistance against armed action.

Note: The panelists should not be cited individually or by name; rather, citation must refer to the Meeting (Observatory of Latin America. 2015. Colombia dialogues: Dialogues between the public sector and academia, "Meeting minutes", February 19th, The New School University, New York, NY.).


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