A NEW HOPE

Colombia 2013 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY & POLITICS

Colombia is looking to move ahead by presenting its new international image to the world.

Officially known as the Republic of Colombia, the country gained independence on July 20, 1810, led by the revolutionary Simón Bolivar. Following the path of liberty, enlightenment, and freedom, the government was established as a republic, and currently respects a Constitution laid out in 1991. The president is elected by popular vote, serves a four-year term, and is limited to a maximum of two terms; increased from one in 2005. The last elections took place in May 2010 with the current president, Juan Manuel Santos of the Social Party of National Unity, winning 6.8 million or 46.6% of the votes in the first round and 9.02 million or 69% of the votes in the second round. He was inaugurated in June 2010, and he can run for a second term in May 2014. President Santos is both the Chief of State and Head of Government. The government is split into three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch is led by the president, followed by the vice-president, and then the council of ministers. The president also elects his own council, which acts as a cabinet of advisors.

The second branch, the legislative, represents the congress, which comprises of a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives and a 102-seat Senate. The Senate is elected nationally every four years, with the last election in 2010, when the Social Party of National Unity won 25.8% of votes and earned 28 seats. Meanwhile, the Colombian Conservative Party won 21.2% of votes and 22 seats. In third place was the Colombian Liberal Party, with 17 seats and 16.3% of the vote, and the rest of the seats were spread among seven other parties. The elections for the Chamber of Representatives are represented by the votes of every region and minority groups. The result of the votes came out in a similar fashion as the Senate with the Social Party of National Unity winning 25.9% and 47 seats, the Colombian Conservative Party 21.4% and 38 seats, and the Colombian Liberal Party 19.3% of the votes and 37 seats. The rest of the seats were spread among nine other parties. The elections for the Senate and the Chamber always take place two months before the presidential poll. At the provincial level, there are department assemblies and municipal councils, which are always held one year and five months after the presidential elections. There are 32 departments in Colombia and one capital district, which is Bogotá. Each department then has its own capital city. The departments are split into municipalities and each is assigned a seat, which are then subdivided into corregimientos. Each department has a local government with a governor, a mayor, and an assembly.

The final branch of government is the judicial branch, which is led by the Supreme Court and consists of 23 judges divided into three chambers: penal, civil and agrarian, and labor. The Council of State is also represented in the judicial branch, in which administrative law is decided. It also holds the Constitutional Court and the Superior Council of Judicature, which deal with constitutional law and auditing, respectively.

INTERNATIONALIZATION

Over the past decade, Colombia has been making extra efforts to increase its international presence. In 1Q2013, the country had 11 free trade agreements (FTAs) in force, with the most notable ones with the US, the EU, Mexico, Canada, the Pacific Alliance, and South Korea. Annual bilateral trade in 2011 between the US and Colombia reached $35 billion. The country registered $11.06 billion in trade with the EU, $6.8 billion with Mexico, $1.5 billion with Canada, and $1.5 billion with South Korea. After the EU, China is the country's second largest trading partner, with $10.2 billion of annual bilateral trade. These FTAs are aimed to increase economic activity, as well as introduce social programs and raise awareness of Colombia on the world stage. The government is also in negotiations with five other entities—Turkey, Panama, Japan, Israel, and Costa Rica—about further FTAs, which would undoubtedly increase trade and foreign relations. Colombia is also considering a FTA with New Zealand, but no dates have been set for negotiations as of yet.

Colombia is also a member of many political and economic groups. In 1966, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia signed the Declaration of Bogotá to found the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF). Over time, the group grew to include 18 countries from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the EU. The idea of the group is to promote sustainable development through credit operations, grants, and technical support, while offering financial structuring to public and private sector projects. The CAF has its head office in Caracas. In June 2012, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru established the Pacific Alliance. In 2010, the bloc exported $445 billion worth of products, 60% more than the largest economic group in South America, MERCOSUR. The Pacific Alliance represents 36% of Latin American GDP, and it was set up with the idea of free trade and economic integration with an eye toward Asia in its activities. Colombia is also a member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), which is a customs union that also includes Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador as full members. Most of the remaining Latin American countries are either associate or observer members. In 2005, a joint agreement between MERCOSUR and CAN granted the nations of each group associate membership to the other's bloc. This was done to encourage bilateral trade and diplomatic ties across the continent of Latin America. Colombia is also a founding member of the UN, as well as a member of the WTO.

DOMESTIC RESOLUTIONS

Since 1964, Colombia's government has been dealing with an insurgency staged by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In the 1980s and 1990s, fighting intensified and threatened to destabilize the country as attacks on security forces and kidnappings became more prominent and received international media attention. In 2000, it was estimated that FARC had 20,000 rebels in its army and controlled large swathes of rural areas. President Santos' predecessor, President Álvaro Uribe, stepped up clampdowns on rebel-held areas, forcing their retreat and a massive improvement in the local security situation. FARC is said to have less than 8,000 fighters now, with many regional and military leaders either captured or killed. Kidnappings and attacks are much less common, and tourists and businesses are returning to the country. In April 2013, peace talks resumed in Havana with FARC after a month-long recess. Even though there have been attempts at peace talks in the past, there is much more optimism in the nation about the current process, with demonstrations across the nation in favor of successful talks. President Santos is eager to leave a legacy as a peacemaker, after nearly six decades of internal conflict. Colombia's second most prominent rebel group is the National Liberation Army (ELN). Leaders of the group are meeting in Havana with the Santos government, discussing separate peace terms to FARC. While the talks are ongoing, the security forces have not let their guard down and remain vigilant about future threats to domestic stability.

Over the past decade, Colombia has made significant steps in creating a stable and sustainable country. With hopes that the worst of the fighting is behind them, Colombians can move forward and look to a brighter future. President Santos is initiating new agreements to promote the country and integrate it into foreign economic markets.