Colombia: A Status Report

October 8, 2008
Colombia Flower Farm

About the Author: Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro serves as the Senior Coordinator of the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Free Trade Task Force.

I spent last week in Colombia -- in Bogotá (the capital), Medellín (the former murder capital of the world, now a prosperous manufacturing center), and Quibdó (the capital of the poorest state in Colombia and an area which is predominately Afro-Colombian).

Workers on flower farms in the outskirts of Bogotá were pleased that their pre-school children were in day care on the farms where they worked. Campesinos -- farmworkers -- from around Medellín were improving yields and the quality of their products with the help of the company buying their crops. I saw displaced, demobilized fighters from the guerrillas and the paramilitary organizations working in a variety of jobs. In Quibdó, a “Justice House” was helping ordinary people obtain access to social services and resolve the problems that affect their lives.

In Medellín, the municipal government has built world class public libraries in the toughest neighborhoods and extended public transportation through two cable car lines up the steep hillsides to the poorest slums. That’s something I haven’t seen anywhere else in Latin America.

I don’t want to say there are no problems in Colombia. Of course there are.

But Colombians are proud in what they have achieved and are confident about their future.

Business groups kept asking me to explain why the U.S. Congress hasn’t approved the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement. “Don’t they understand that our exports already enter the United States duty free?” They are convinced that Colombia will have more jobs and a sounder economy if U.S. products have the same duty free access to Colombia that their exports have to the United States.

We exported $8.5 billion to Colombia in 2007 and $6.7 billion in just the first six months of this year. I worry that other countries will take this market from us while the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement is caught up in our domestic politics.



October 10, 2008

Ian writes:

WiserEarth is a website that might be intereting in the context of this conversation:

It encourages international collaboration, but of civil society groups, people and businesses that are interested in social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Tennessee, USA
October 10, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Nice report on Democracy and how it impacts a developing nation...when stability is insured.

Oregon, USA
October 10, 2008

Caleb in Oregon writes:

This is very encouraging news.

I think there's another factor to add to the economic equation: the improvement in the situation will continue to allow development in the ecotourism sector, something that would not only boost the economy, but would have side benefits such as providing an incentive for rainforest preservation. There was an article in USA Today a while back that some further information on this topic. I think this area of development has the potential to become important over the next decade.

I definitely agree with you on the trade issue. Free trade is the way to go. It will be interesting to watch developments. It's good to see encouraging news at the moment!

Texas, USA
October 11, 2008

Pat in Texas writes:

colombian people must be given a chance to advance. if you are born poor in colombia your stomache will be empty on the day of your death.people in the u.s. may be born poor, but if they will work and study, the sky is the limit. no such options in colombia, thus you have crime and violence.

October 14, 2008

BRE in Germany writes:

This is a real nice post about Columbia, short and to the point. Part of the problem with many members of the U.S. Congress and the general population in America is that we have been bombarded with so much bad news about Columbia for decades that it is hard to imagine there is any progress in that society. Another problem is that too many people have written the country off and no longer care.

We need to re-think how we deal with our neighbors to the South (the Caribbean countries, Central and South America) and we need to vastly improve our knowledge about one another. It should start with better education about this region in our schools and universities and be extended to education programs right across our respective societies for people of all ages. The U.S. mainstream media coverage of Columbia and other countries located in Central and South America could use some improvement as well.

In the meantime it will be left to 'us Netizens' to report world news that the big boys don't bother with or care about. Checkout Harvard University's 'Global Voices Online' project for many more stories like this one about Columbia and the rest of our southern neighbors.


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