A BOLD TOMORROW

Colombia 2015 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY

After years of diplomatic success abroad, the Santos regime is on the cusp of ending the country's protracted insurrection, and the world has much to learn from Colombia about ending civil conflict.

In January 2015, the Economist noted fewer people died in the country's armed conflict than during any of the months during the preceding 30 years. This sobering statistic illustrates just how much is at stake at President Santos works to finally end decades of conflict that have exacted an incalculable humanitarian, and economic toll on the country. Looking to the future, Colombians hope to put this conflict behind them, and take advantage of peacetime prosperity. This will take the sustained commitment of all parties, but with so much to gain, observers around the world are finally publically expressing optimism.

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The Republic of Colombia emerged following the dissolution of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, a colonial jurisdiction of Spain that roughly corresponded to modern day Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador, as well as parts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Suriname, Guyana, and Brazil. As the dialectics of imperialism played out in 19th century Europe, Spain lost its sovereignty and thus, its ability to exercise coercive authority over some of its colonies.

Over the subsequent decades, Simón Bolívar and other leaders agitated for the withdrawal of Spanish forces, and the institution of civilian authority, leading to the independence of modern nations in the region. In 1810, Colombia declared independence. The Battle of Boyacá in 1819 was the turning point, and to this day, is commemorated as a national holiday in Colombia.

FINE TUNING

After a slew of constitutional amendments and reforms, Colombia adopted a new document in 1991 that outlined the decentralized model of unitary governance that exists today. Among its important updates, the constitution established an impartial constitutional court, introduced new habeas corpus laws that enshrined citizen's rights, and instituted a singular four-year presidential term—which was overturned in 2005.

The Colombian legislative branch operates a bicameral system, with a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives, and a 102-seat Senate. Both bodies' elections take place prior to presidential elections. The most recent Senate elections saw the Social Party of National Unity winning the most seats, with 15.58%, the Democratic Center Party coming in a close second at 14.29%, the Conservative Party with 13.58%, and the Liberal Party with 12.22% of the votes. The Social Party of National Unity also won the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Representatives elections, pulling 16.05% of the votes with the Liberal Party trailing on 14.13%.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

President Santos hopes to achieve total peace before the end of his second term in 2018, and with civic conditions on the mend, he is looking abroad, while a series of international agreements have placed Colombia at the center of regional and international economic networks. President Santos began his second term on August 7 2014, displaying a strong commitment to human

rights issues. Among a number of decisive steps was the creation of a new Ministry for Post Conflict, Security and Human Rights within his cabinet, headed by General Oscar Naranjo, former Chief of Police in Colombia.

Colombia's civil war with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has now lasted half a century, and Santos seems to be succeeding where his predecessors failed. Santos has been negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba, since August 2012, in pursuit of general agreement towards ending the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace. Six fundamentals are on the table: agricultural development in conflict areas, political participation for FARC members that includes legal representative legitimacy, an end to armed conflict, cessation of Colombia's illicit drug trade, victim's rights and compensation, and upholding and enforcing the incumbent peace agreement. These institutional changes elevate human rights to a priority issue across the Colombian government, and show President Santos's political will to improve the current situation.

In 2011, the presidents of Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru agreed to launch the Pacific Alliance, with Costa Rica joining in 2013. The initial declaration unveiled the creation of a free-trade block with “deep integration" of economies through the unfettered movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. The countries involved aimed to strengthen ties with the world, and the Asia-Pacific region in particular.

Over the subsequent years, member states have moved quickly to draft plans, in 2013 signing an agreement to abolish tariffs on 92% of merchandise trade, with the remaining 8% to be tariff free by 2020. Pacific Alliance member states went on to eliminate tourist visa requirements for their respective citizenry, and opened shared embassies abroad in certain countries. The stock markets of Chile, Colombia and Peru were merged into a regional bourse called MILA, which Mexico's exchange joined in January 2015.

While other states such as Brazil have struggled to retain momentum following the most recent economic downturn, and the ensuing decline in commodity and energy prices, Pacific Alliance states have posted stronger numbers, which has caught international attention. The alliance has attracted 34 observer countries, and several Asian states are lobbying for membership. The five Pacific Alliance members, with a collective GDP of $2.2 trillion, grew at an estimated 3.3% in 2014, and are looking at 4% growth in 2015, a hefty measure above both regional and global averages.

While the Pacific Alliance is the crown jewel of Santos's diplomatic achievements, especially in economic terms, it is the capstone in a larger structure of international agreements that signal Colombia's cosmopolitan intentions. 2014 saw Colombian diplomats in the Arabian Gulf hammering out trade deals that would connect the energy rich Arab states to the region. While events in the region represented disparate conditions and geopolitical influences, Colombia was actually a destination for Middle Easterners from all across the region. The Lebanese alone now constitute around 700,000 of Colombia's population with other regions pushing the Arab-heritage demographic to well over a million.

In recognition that investment did not represent the capacity of the two countries, Colombia and the UAE agreed to strengthen trade ties and develop mutual interests, with the Middle Eastern nation planning to install an embassy in Bogotá, according to local media. The agreement was reached in 2012, but the announcement signaled increasing interest in the region by Middle Eastern states. The UAE officially opened its embassy in January 2014, and the outpost has played an important role in increasing commercial ties.

With the Pacific Alliance on the path to redefining Colombia's trade relations with Asia, diplomats are making sure that regulations are brought into line with this new reality. Colombia's Minister of Trade, Industry, and Tourism visited Korea earlier in the year to solicit assistance from Korean agencies in boosting the competitiveness of Colombian industries before a free trade agreement comes into effect. Minister Cecilia Alvarez-Correa signed an offset agreement with Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, as well as the Korean International Cooperation Agency, and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, assuring that these organizations would provide technical assistance to Colombia's manufacturing and energy sectors. Korea is an important source of FDI to Colombia, and the second-largest foreign investor. Meanwhile, bilateral trade has increased from $730 million in 2005, to $2 billion in 2014. With Colombia attracting only 7.5% of FDI in Latin America, according to the Financial Times, deals like these are critical to gaining investment from Asia, which has become one of the most important sources of FDI in recent decades.