Interview : Eduardo Verano
In what ways can a more decentralised government be beneficial to Colombia´s development?
EDUARDO VERANO: If Colombia keeps the same centralised model as it has had for the past 200 years, its regional areas may have problems fully developing economically and socially. With the exception of the “golden triangle” – the area encompassing Medellín, Bogotá and Cali – there is a significant gap between Bogotá, the capital, and the country’s regions. The way to create regional development and equality is to lower poverty levels, improve social standards and to work on a regional based model. 49% of the people living in the Caribbean are living in poverty. Despite being only 21% of the total population of Colombia, the region accounts for 36% of the total population living in poverty. Colombia is not a fully organised state and there is a need for greater decentralisation. We are looking to promote regional development and post-conflict peace with a focus on regional equality.
What do you expect will be the biggest economic impacts of a post-conflict scenario in Colombia both on a local and national level?
VERANO: Now that many remote areas will be integrated into the country, we are aiming for economic growth in the post-conflict stage, as a real peace accord needs to promote regional development. The fast-tracking of laws is an opportunity to advance the needed legislation for the benefit of the regions and to revisit the centralised system. In the long run it will bring economic and social improvements to these areas. For example, in Atlántico there was no direct impact of FARC, however there were indirect effects caused by the amount of displaced people that arrived. In the Atlántico region alone there are 240,000 displaced people in need of attention and humanitarian aid. These people need to be integrated into the local communities, making sure they have the opportunity to be productive members of the country. The government has a clear vision, which will have a positive effect, but it still hasn’t come up with the necessary resources in order to deal with the magnitude of the problem.
How will the project to improve transport on the Magdalena River impact Colombia?
VERANO: The Magdalena River is the backbone of the country but it doesn’t play a strategic role in the economy because it is limited by several factors. Using the river as a method of transportation would be low-cost and practical. Instead, we are building high-cost, high-maintenance roads. We encountered an issue when closing the river contract and we need to design a new contract and find a new operator for the project. The Caribbean region has been playing close attention to this as we are aware of the impact that it will have. A navigable Magdalena River will change the structure of the economy in the country. Furthermore, the main river also offers potential areas for growth, such as the construction of new fluvial ports or new sources of energy generation.
How could the main cities on the coast cooperate for the development of the region?
VERANO: We naturally want to boost growth of the three main cities on the northern coast – Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena – but this is not enough. The risk we face is furthering the growth and development of these cities independently and not integrating them into the regional economy. The Caribbean region offers so many opportunities for international investors. The country is poor on its coast and rich in its interior, opposite the economic structure of so many countries in the world where port cities are the growth engines of the economy. The coastal cities and areas should play a much bigger productive role in Colombia’s non-central regions and exports could possibly be their main economic driver.
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