Written by Bruno Bilquin.
Some five years after the conclusion of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the political, economic, health and general situation in the country remains fragile, with a divided society, drugs-fuelled conflicts and weak governance. 2022 will be a key electoral year, while economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic remains a challenge. The President of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, is set to address the European Parliament during the February plenary session.
Political and economic situation
The year 2022 will be crucial for Colombia, with legislative elections scheduled for 13 March and the first round of presidential elections set for 29 May. Inequality, the economy, state capacity, violence and the handling of the pandemic are key issues for voters, and protests flared up during 2021. Polls point to a lead for Gustavo Petro, a left-wing candidate and former guerrilla, while analysts concur it is too early for robust predictions. Colombia, Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, is burdened by low trade openness and a commodity-dependent export base that leaves it vulnerable to price shocks; efforts to foster diversification have fallen short. The pandemic has led to the country’s most severe economic recession in over a century, aggravating unemployment, currently estimated at 13.8 % for 2021. However, gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have recovered to pre-pandemic levels by end-2021. About 64 % of Colombians are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which is just about the average for the region. From 3 January 2020 to 8 February 2022, Colombia reported 5 966 706 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 135 757 deaths, to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Security and human rights
In 2017, Colombia became a partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the first in Latin America. It also signed a framework participation agreement to take part in EU-led Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions (entry into force in 2020). However, the country struggles significantly with security issues. With 177 killings in 2020, Colombia remains the world’s most lethal country for human rights defenders. The year 2020 saw a rise in the number of murders of social leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC members, the highest since 2011. Illicit cocaine cultivation and production are increasing. Colombia remains the primary source of origin for cocaine transported to the United States. Cocaine from Latin American producer countries (mainly Colombia) is the second most seized illicit drug in the EU.
EU-Colombia relations and EU support for the Colombian peace process
The EU has supported the Colombian peace process from the beginning – through diplomacy, international cooperation and development, humanitarian aid and civil protection, and investment and trade. This includes the EU-Colombia Trust Fund (€96.4 million); the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe (NDICI-GE); and, potentially, the European Peace Facility. The EU also finances United Nations projects to reintegrate ex-combatants. The EU is Colombia’s largest foreign direct investor and its third trading partner. Colombia is part of the trade agreement between the EU, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, in force since 2013. In October 2016, Colombia and Europol signed an agreement to improve the fight against criminal activities, in particular drug trafficking and money laundering. The Parliament, in its April 2021resolution on the peace agreement in Colombia, reiterated its readiness to continue providing all political and financial assistance to support the agreement’s implementation. The EU will deploy an EU election observation mission (EU EOM) to Colombia’s legislative and presidential elections; High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell recently appointed Javi López, MEP (S&D, Spain) as EU EOM Chief Observer.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Situation in Colombia ahead of crucial elections‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.