It is pivotal in three ways:
First, the economic growth of Colombia, particularly in the energy sector, has had an impact on the region as a whole, but particularly on its immediate neighbours, Venezuela and Ecuador, following the rapid expansion of extraction, production and export of its oil and gas reserves.
World Bank and Colombian government forecasts estimate economic growth of 4.5 per cent for 2013, after registering four per cent in 2012. That puts Colombia behind only Peru and Argentina in the Western Hemisphere for economic growth.
In the decade from 2002, exports from the energy sector increased more than five times, from US$5 billion to nearly US$28 billion. Foreign investment in the energy sector during that same period increased from more than US$1 billion to US$8 billion.
The government expects production of oil to reach one million barrels per day by 2014, which would represent an increase of nearly 100 per cent in the last decade. This rapid increase comes at a time when both its neighbours - Ecuador and Venezuela - are dealing with stagnant production in energy. But economists have expressed concern that the dramatic increase in Colombia’s exports of oil might destabilise the economy and upset the exchange value of the nation’s currency.
The second way in which Colombia serves as a pivotal state for the region and beyond is in its effort to end the 50-year war with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the last remaining major guerrilla army in the hemisphere.
For the past nine months, the government has been negotiating a peace settlement with the FARC in Havana, Cuba. The talks have the support of both the US and Cuba and have given Colombia a new status on the world stage.
One of the main reasons why Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, has achieved this status is because he has made land restitution central to his social programme. The programme has won the support of aid agencies in the development community particularly in Europe and the United States.
The land restitution programme has become a crucial link between the peace process and the government’s efforts to address the consequences of civil conflict. Around five million people are thought to have been displaced in the 50 years of violence. The success of the Colombian government in dealing with these issues over the next five years will be crucial.
Finally, Colombia has become a pivotal state in the hemisphere because of its close relationship to the United States. For two decades, Colombia has received more aid from the US than any other country in the hemisphere. US troops have been stationed in Colombia in the struggle to push the FARC back and to reduce the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia to the US.
President Santos has played the role of mediator and moderate force among the many differing views expressed in the region. His success in this role has had a marked, positive impact on the peace negotiations in Havana, making it difficult for the FARC to stiffen its bargaining position.
President Santos is expected to beat his former boss, Alvaro Uribe in the 2014 elections and win a second term. If that is the case, he is likely to be in a good position to achieve significant reform in Colombia.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Photo-Credit: Wikipedia- Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos