Matthew A. Swift, Co-Founder and CEO of Concordia
With the election season behind Colombia, the difficult task lies ahead of uniting the country amidst a time of tremendous uncertainty. As Colombia moves toward President-elect Ivan Duque’s inauguration this August, the new administration will face a litany of challenges that carry implications on many levels—local, national, regional, and even global. But with every great challenge that Colombia faces, there is an equally great opportunity for the country to push forward and to lead both at home and on the world stage.
In looking at Colombia today, there is much to be hopeful about. Colombia’s democracy is vibrant and diverse, as showcased by the wide array of political candidates competing for the presidency during this election season. In August, the peaceful transfer of power from President Juan Manuel Santos to President-elect Ivan Duque will serve as a demonstration of the resilience of Colombian democracy. The progress that has been made in Colombia further demonstrates the commitment of public and private sectors to ensure a Colombian government that is representative of its people. The Colombian people have become aware of the great responsibility they have in choosing their governors. The recent elections had one of the highest participation rates in history, highlighting the commitment of Colombians to their institutions and future as over 50% of eligible Colombians participated in the election. This has given elected officials a greater political will from the people to go out and introduce new policies.
There have also been many meaningful advancements toward greater prosperity and peace. The Colombian economy is recovering from its previous recession, access to health services and education has improved considerably, and the country’s homicide rate is at its lowest in nearly 40 years, a major achievement for the nation. The pace and character of the transformation underway in Colombia is both profound and inspiring.
But despite being the most resilient democracy in the region, Colombia must address certain growing challenges if it is to continue to succeed.
Worries about the crisis in Venezuela have prompted great insecurity within Colombia, as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have flooded over the border in the last few years due to the humanitarian crisis. Both the humanitarian and political dimensions of the crisis must be resolved for a sustainable solution. Is the next great refugee crisis going to happen on the Colombia-Venezuela border? I believe so.
In conjunction with this, while the Colombian economy is improving, growth remains low and significant inequality, poverty, and corruption persists. This necessitates sound economic and political reforms, as well as a continuing commitment to innovative public sector and private sector partnerships. Colombia needs to be the most business friendly country in Latin America. The private sector alone has the potential to fuel a burgeoning middle class that will lead to great prosperity in Colombia for decades to come. One way that the administration can move forward on this is by promoting entrepreneurship among both well-established and younger communities.
Elections bring about political tension. While partisan politics have demonstrated that they can have positive effects on the development of a society, the political divisions that exist in the country today need to be bridged. This should be the first priority of President-elect Duque’s administration. The government must respond to the recent growth of fake news on social media, as targeted attack ads on all sides have become troublingly commonplace.
Compounding these issues, the drug trade is more robust than ever, threatening both internal and regional stability, despite some reform in the Colombian government’s strategy and policy. Since 2012 narcotics trafficking has increased by over 200%. It is therefore imperative that we devote great thought and discussion to what an effective anti-drug strategy should look like.
None of these challenges exist in a bubble. The resurgence of the Colombian drug trade is not just a Colombian issue, but a regional and global issue — one whose resolution is foundational to a strong relationship with the United States. In my personal opinion, addressing the increase in narcotics trafficking will be the number one priority in future U.S.-Colombia relations.
What’s more, adverse environmental developments—including floods, droughts, tropical storms, and other extreme weather events—have the capability of sowing further instability, crime, and violence. Not only that, natural disasters can often exacerbate poverty due to lack of preparedness and timely help. It is for this reason that Concordia has focused on disaster preparedness more than disaster response.
Severe economic inequality has become a source of ire, political distress, and divisions not just for Colombians but for populations across the globe. Major climatic and environmental risks are a growing reality for the entire Americas region and the world. Growing political fractiousness brought on by globalization and the advent of the Internet is not just characteristic to Colombia’s democracy, but to democracies across the Americas and Europe. As a key international actor, other countries are looking to Colombia for their response. This focus on globalization has become imperative to Colombia as they have pushed to increase their international participation.
When Concordia first established its Americas Initiative in Colombia, we recognized that the country was at a crossroads—bearing both uncertainty and promise. Through conversations with Colombians across sectors, industries, and political alignments, we grew to understand the importance of providing a radically inclusive space where such dialogue and collaboration could take place to effect social impact in Colombia and beyond. It is by increasing the commitments of both the public and private sectors that real change can be achieved.
It is this belief that lies at the heart of this year’s Concordia Americas Summit. By pursuing cross-sector partnership opportunities, facilitating engagement with newly-elected Administration officials, and providing a platform for experts to share their perspectives on pathways to prosperity and peace, we can make substantive strides on the issues most relevant to Colombians and people across the Americas region.
Ultimately, Colombia is a hopeful place — one that has the ability to serve as a model for countries that are contending with similar problems, become the best place to do business in Latin America, and be a catalyst for social impact in the broader Americas region.