By Daniel Payares Montoya
August 8th marked the beginning of the term of President Iván Duque, who will lead Colombia for the next four years. This comes amid a political environment characterized by increasing polarization and a slow economic recovery after the commodities super cycle ended in 2014.
Among the countless trials that President Duque will face as the head of the new government, three specific challenges will determine the way his presidency will be assessed in the future:
The first is related to the end of the conflict with the FARC Marxist guerrillas. While this agreement, along with an eventual successful negotiation with the ELN Maoist guerillas, would mean the end of the last vestige of the Cold War in Latin America, it is still too early to claim victory.
The Colombian state still faces numerous difficulties in consolidating its authority and legitimacy in post-conflict zones. These areas have begun to be taken over by FARC dissidents, rebel groups, and other criminal actors associated with drug trafficking. Likewise, the presence of government institutions in post-conflict zones is minimal and the provision of public goods, such as education, justice and health, among others, is precarious. It is not clear how economic growth will provide opportunities for the creation of legal wealth and reduction of poverty and inequality that have affected people for decades. While plans have been designed to deal with these difficulties, their implementation has not been easy, and they have taken more time than predicted.
On the economic front, the country seems to have successfully overcome the fall in international prices of commodities that began about four years ago. It is estimated that GDP will grow at rates close to or above 3% in 2018 and 2019.
However, the main challenge for economic performance in the medium and long term is still associated with productivity. For the last three decades, productivity has been stagnant. Both the private sector and national government must act together to reverse this situation. Efforts are required to improve business productivity, increase market efficiency, reduce informality, and close human capital gaps, to name a few.
Although concrete proposals have already been made by the private sector to address this, the new government has to respond quickly with measures aimed in this direction. Without increased productivity, it will be hard to improve the standard of living for all Colombians in the long run.
The final, and perhaps the most important, challenge is to overcome the political division that has been exacerbated in recent years. Instead, Colombia must create an environment in which different interest groups can contribute to the development of the country. As President Duque said recently, it is fundamental that Colombians build on the issues that unite them and not remain divided; otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for Colombia to leave behind a history marked by violence.
To sum up, the new government has enormous challenges. Although the solutions are not easy, Colombia can continue moving towards development. President Duque has the opportunity to deliver a better country in four years than the one that he has inherited today.
DANIEL PAYARES MONTOYA is a first year Master of Development Practice student at UC Berkeley. Before coming to Berkeley, he worked at the Private Council on Competitiveness in Bogota as Associate Researcher and in Proantioquia Foundation in Medellin as Project Manager. He also has been a visiting lecturer at EAFIT and CESA universities in Colombia.