Colombia: Farc Talks will Unlock a New Economic Powerhouse in South America

By all rights, Colombia should be one of the most vibrant nations in South America and an economic powerhouse to rival Brazil. The country is blessed with some of the most verdant and varied landscape on earth, from the ancient splendour of Santa Marta to the Amazonian rainforest which teems with wildlife. Long-standing ties with the United States give the economy a cast-iron anchor, and Colombia’s coffee and sugar exports remain buoyant despite the global downturn. And international stars such Shakira and Sofia Vergara lend their homeland a glitzy, cosmopolitan allure.

But ask a British person what they know about Colombia and all too often you will hear one, or both, of two tired themes: guns and drugs. For many people Colombia remains a furtive, dangerous place, associated as much with cocaine as coffee; the spirit of Pablo Escobar, perpetuated by modern-day ‘narcos’ such as Daniel Berrera, aka ‘el Loco’, only serve to cement this reputation for violence and corruption. But now, at last, the Colombian government is locked in negotiations which could dispel this toxic image and allow the country to fulfil the potential which has lain dormant for generations.

The government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, is currently negotiating with the guerrilla group Farc, one of the world’s most notorious terrorist organisations. The conflict between Farc and the national government has been going on for 50 years; Manuel Santos and his ministers hope the present negotiations in Havana, Cuba could finally end the conflict, and declare Colombia’s intention to become a key player in the new global economy. Colombia’s problems with guerrilla insurgents began with a peasant revolt against inequality in the 1960s, and since then several official attempts have been made to end it. Although President Virgilio Barco was able to neutralise the M-19 movement with a peace agreement in 1990, whereby the guerrillas surrendered their weapons and turned their attentions from terrorism to conventional politics, attempts to rid the country of Farc have been less successful.



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