28 abril 2010

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Half Way There

DEVELOPMENTSix years ago president Álvaro Uribe presented his vision of what should be Colombia in 2019. In this year, 2010, everybody expected a partial fulfillment of these goals.

Half Way There.

Colombia's rulers have always been criticized for thinking in the short term. With periods of four years, no one dared to propose structural changes to put the country on a path towards development. But in 2004, when Álvaro Uribe was working on his first re-election, he introduced a plan called ‘Vis
ión 2019’, with the idea that during his mandate the country would take a final and irreversible path towards prosperity. The idea was to commemorate a real Bicentenary, two centuries after the Battle of Boyacá, in which Colombia got its definitive independence from Spain.

"Dreaming doesn't cost a thing" or "just speculation" were some of the skeptical comments heard at that time. However, many economists in the government thought that a long-term plan was necessary. Finally a group of technicians from the National Planning Department, headed by Santiago Montenegro, submitted a document that was discussed for months among business men, academics and politicians. Dozens of trips and meetings were necessary to adjust the goals for 2010, 2014 and 2019, the year in which Colombia should be out from the club of the poorest.

But the results aren’t the expected. Since his first day in office, Uribe's obsession was to increase the investment and therefore defeat the FARC. The paradox is that although the investment overpassed the expected (aimed at 25 percent of GDP and scored 27), the model works against another of his goals, because it is based on the boom of mining and oil sectors, where it is virtually impossible to create new jobs. The problem is that to reach that point the government had to raise the military spending and exceed the tax exemption to investors, measures that favors the capital above the work.

Unemployment is the biggest blemish of the government, since it was projected as 8.6 percent and yet is at 12 percent. "In the country not a single formal job has been created since 2006" says the dean of economics at the Universidad de los Andes, Alejandro Gaviria. And in fact, for many observers that imbalance between investment and employment, exacerbated by the global economic crisis, was crucial for Uribe to leave the country in a very different point than that dreamed in his famous ‘Visión 2019’.

Overcoming poverty was a critical task and yet today is at the same point as in 2004, 45 percent, when according to calculations, it should be at 33 percent. Although the global economic crisis is the reason that the government uses to explain the growth decrease from 7 points to zero, it is curious that other countries in the region, including Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, were much better. In fact, Uribe proposed to lower extreme poverty to 12 percent but it remains at 17, and he couldn’t close the gap between rich and poor people. Instead of decreasing to 0.52 percent, as intended, it rose to 0.58, two points more than the previous situation. This is very serious considering that during the last five years the economy increased above 4 percent, the government sold State enterprises and there were important profits because the oil prices; all these elements were dismissed to create a true wealth redistribution.

On the security issue, although there are many well-known achievements, the goals set by the government are far from being accomplished. Some of them are absurd and others lack of policies. For 2010 murder should be 21 per 100,000 inhabitants, however, it is at 37. This number shows an improvement compared to the rate of 45 on 2004, but is far from what it had been predicted. This happens because the 2019 plan assumes that at this moment 28,000 demobilized illegal fighters would return to the social and economic life, but the government didn’t calculate that the rearmament of criminal groups would be so quick and massive. In addition, the plan assumes that in 2010 there would be zero coca plants in the country, that drug traffickers would be halved and the guerrilla members would demobilize one by one. Nobody knows where this number came out. In fact, during the last two years the crops have decreased by 20 percent but there are still 80,000 hectares.

Other black holes that swallowed the plan are related to land and infrastructure issues. For 2010 the government should have given 205,000 hectares confiscated to drug dealers and illegal groups to agricultural projects. Actually it has delivered more than the triple, but a third of that has been reverted to its former owners and at the end of the last year there were only allocated 50,000 hectares. That is, a quarter of the expected.

Infrastructure is the biggest Achilles' heel. The government should have built 1,200 km of roads of high capacity and quality. It built only a half, from which has been issued only 181 kilometers of highways. But there are concessions signed for more than 4,000 kilometers. To privilege the secondary roads (as the government did) may be seen like an act of fairness with the regions, but in reality it did not solve the structural problems or the country's competitiveness.

Additionally it was expected that 60 percent of the airports were running in excellent condition at this moment, which is far from being a reality. Just look at the problems it has had El Dorado in Bogotá.

In education, despite the gains in coverage, from 300,000 elementary school students only 60,000 barely have access to university. Although they many enter to Sena (a system offering technical education), there is not evidence that they can get a job.

Issues such as electronic voting and justice decongestion were left behind. The government took eight years to realize that it was a mistake to merge the ministry of justice with the one that deals with politics.

There are countless issues that have been omitted or are halfway to be achieved, and all the experts consulted by SEMANA magazine agree on something: Uribe was unable to shift emphasis in his second term and his desire for re-election has led him into patronage and politicking.

It’s left to be seen whether Uribe’s successor continues the plan raised in his ‘Visión 2019’. And, if so, he would have to remove the tax exemptions, face corruption and accept that, as Alejandro Gaviria says, "security spending reached the limit and it’s necessary to think in other priorities". Possibly these equity, education and development debts weigh on the unconscious collective of the country and have led the political debate to take an unexpected turn.
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