Over five million Colombians have been displaced since the nation’s armed conflict began over 50 years ago. Of this figure, two million Colombians under the age of 26 have been displaced between the years 1985 and 2013. The Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been in peace talks since November 2012. In order to move toward progress and peace, the relationship between the Colombian government and its citizens must incorporate youth inclusion.

In February 2015, the FARC announced that it would discharge soldiers under 15 years of age.

The FARC, criminal gangs, and other organized crime groups have forced young adults to participate in the conflict. Lack of education and employment opportunities, combined with high poverty and conflict, create a space where joining organized crime is the logical choice for protection and wealth. For this reason, focusing on youth inclusion as a sustainable peace model is exigent.

Unfortunately, it was released in March 2015 that youth unemployment (14 to 28 years) is at 15 percent in Colombia. It has stayed steadily around this figure for one year.

National and local government efforts have tried to reintegrate adolescents who were involved with the FARC. For example, the Colombia Youth department is a space for young adults to be involved with public policy and dialogue within the national government. On Colombia Joven’s website, the department highlights its values as: honesty, respect, responsibility, compromise, loyalty, tolerance and solidarity. All form the idea of ensuring youth participation.

As a way to encourage youth inclusion for those who were displaced or involved with the conflict, young victims of the conflict in the department of Meta (located in the middle of Colombia) have come together to create the Department Youth Roundtable (comprised of 5,000 members) from 29 municipalities in the department. The organized meetings are for professional and educational development.

The Meta department created the Intergenerational Youth Public Policy initiative in 2010 (supported by numerous organizations including USAID and UN Population Fund) in order to improve youth socio-political conditions by the year 2019. This organization was governmentally spearheaded from the Public Policy for Youth organization under the Department Youth Roundtable. In its published report, “Meta: Vivir al Derecho,” it discusses youth vulnerability and potential to engage in illegal activities. The goal is to create conditions that guarantee life, integral human development, adequate educational inclusion, work, and civic and socio-cultural development in the department of Meta.

Colombia is making clear strides to acknowledge the importance of including youth, but the lagging youth unemployment rate form challenges for the future of the state. Despite these advancements, it is difficult to implement outreach policies to reintegrate ex-child soldiers because of their experiences. Some feel marginalized and continue to seek illegal activities as a living. The surging organized crime network known as BACRIM is comprised of new offenders and demobilized militia members. This poses as a major threat to the security of the state and the future of the young adult population.

Nevertheless, displaced youth and other victims of the conflict have demonstrated resilience through their formation of regional youth development projects. Based on these efforts and others, youth inclusion strategies are occurring at a productive triangular process, from the grassroots level, department/municipal level and the national government level. In this way, sustainable peace may be attained.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, Colombia Joven 1, Colombia Joven 2, Juntos Construyendo, OECD, UNFPA
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Colombia
Poverty in Colombia remains an issue but progress has been made. In the 1980s, the capital city of Colombia, Bogota, started to implement a program of economic stratification of urban populations. The city ranked populations from one to six, one being the most poor and six being the wealthiest. Essentially, the stratification was supposed to direct city officials where to charge more for basic services like water and sanitation, and where to charge less. This program was officially codified into law in 1994.

Proponents of the program, like former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalusa, say that the stratification only helps the government to serve the poor better by focusing infrastructure projects and providing cheaper services. Opponents, however, say that it makes mobility for the poor more difficult by legally separating them out, as well as increasing stigma around poverty.

When mapped out by strata, it is clear to see the physical separation of economic classes in the capital city. The wealthiest populations are clumped together in the northern part of the city while the poorest are in the south and along the outer edges. The distribution of wealth in the city is compartmentalized, depreciating an already underserved population.

Armed conflict in Colombia has been persistent for this century and half of the last. Due to this, Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, reaching over five million in 2013. Many of these IDPs move to cities, especially Bogota. This shift has led to a large population without housing or resources, creating slums and shantytowns in and around the city.

Especially significant when looking at urbanization in Bogota is the development of a much poorer, extremely marginalized class on the outer edges of the city, where slums have grown significantly. Two of the largest slums, Altos de Cazuca and Ciudad Bolivar, house hundreds of thousands of people and are host to a myriad of social problems, most notably violent crime and poor access to essential resources like clean water, health care and education.

Conflict in the country has caused and contributed to countless problems, not in the least a robust drug trafficking industry. While peace talks with armed guerilla groups and narcotraficantes are ongoing, the outcome and impact for the urban and displaced poor that have been affected but not directly involved in the operations of these groups is not clear.

Levels of poverty have declined overall in Colombia in the last decade. Even more promising is the dramatic decrease in urban poverty in the two biggest cities in the country: Bogota and Medellin. While the legal stratification of urban citizens and rapid rates of urbanization have contributed to poverty in Bogota, the progress made against urban poverty is substantial. From the years 2005 to 2012, poverty has only fallen 7.6 percent in small cities in Colombia, but in Bogota and Medellin the rate has fallen 23.3 percent.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: UNHCR, UCL, ABColombia, Business Insider, World Bank, IFHP
Photo: Pasion y Vida

The range of wealth in Colombia is vast. The richest people are six socioeconomic brackets higher than the poorest, and a fraction of the size. 88 percent of the population belong to the lower half of the pyramid.

The Colombian government wants to erase the gap between the wealthy and the poor and they want to use the Internet to do so. The plan is to connect 63 percent of the population to the Internet by 2018.

When the initiative began in 2010, 2.2 million people were connected to the Internet. Today, Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s Live Digital Plan (Vive Digital) has increased that number to 8.8 million.

Diego Molano is Colombia’s minister for information and communications technology. He attributes the 2.5 million people lifted out of poverty in Colombia in the past three years to the program.

“When we connect, for example…a small school in the middle of the jungle to the Internet, those kids…have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society—just like any kid in New York, London, or Paris,” Molano explains.

Molano recognizes, however, that connecting people to the Internet is not all that is needed. The Internet, he explains, is designed for the wealthy. It does not have applications for the rural shop-owner. “If you tried to sell Internet to them today…they say, ‘Why?’…no applications that impact their daily cash flow.”

The challenge becomes finding a way to provide Internet to Colombia’s poor rural populations as well as make it useful for them. To help with the challenge, Colombia has reached out to U.S. tech companies such as SAP, Google, Oracle and Facebook.

“Colombia is the perfect lab for them because poor people are already connected in this country,” Molano says.

One major issue, Molano has not addressed is that of electricity. In order to have Internet there needs to be access to electricity, and many parts of the country do not have that. An anonymous employee of Vive Digital told Colombia Reports that while he has delivered many computers to schools, a substantial portion have not been used because there was no access to electricity.

Colombia’s Internet initiative sees the equalizing power of the Internet, but is also finding challenges in its application.
“When you connect a potato grower in the Andean mountains, and he doubles his income thanks to Internet, you are reducing inequality,” Morano says, describing the ideal situation.

Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Colombia Reports, Washington Post
Photo: Elespectador

The banana company Chiquitawas founded in 1870 by Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker, and since then it has become the largest banana producer in the world. Underneath their popularity and production lies many controversies surrounding the company.

In 1998, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a piece about Chiquita’s business practices, which included the company using illegal pesticides, destroying villages to use their land and even using their transport ships to smuggle cocaine.

The Cincinnati Enquirer later recalled the articles and announced they would pay more than $10 million to avoid being sued by the company. Whether or not their information was true and obtained legally is still under question.

In 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was sent into exile and a coup took place. John Perkins and other activists believed there was a link between Chiquita and the coup.

Recently, the company has been sued by about 4,000 Colombians, who stated that the United Self Defense Forces (AUC), a parliamentary group that has gained funding from Chiquita,  has killed many of their family members. Because of Chiquita’s association with the group and the group’s work, family members of the deceased want the company to take responsibility.

Between 1997 and 2004, Chiquita gave $1.7 million to AUC, a group that the US and EU consider a terrorist organization, and has been held responsible for the torture and death of thousands of Colombians.

Between 1997 and 2004, Chiquita gave $1.7 million to the United-Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a group that the U.S. and EU consider a terrorist organization, and has been held responsible for the torture and death of thousands of Colombians.

Chiquita has already paid a $25 million fine for their work with the AUC, but it is also believed that they were paying a “banana bribe” in order to use their relationship with AUC to control Colombia’s banana industry.

“Chiquita has great sympathy for the Colombians who suffered at the hands of these Colombian armed groups, but the responsibility for the violent crimes committed in that country belongs to the perpetrators, not to the innocent people and companies they extorted,” said Chiquita spokesperson Ed Lloyd.

The United States Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the decision was “outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.”

While the company managed to escape the claims against them since their inception, with this new lawsuit gaining attention, it is hopeful that Chiquita will think twice before getting their hands dirty again.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC News, The Wire, Chiquita, Democracy Now!, Ethical Consumer, FundingUniverse, Gawker, NBC News
Photo: BBC News

Colombian EducationThe Colombian government has struggled to improve educational standards within the region for some time. Only 37 percent of Colombian minors continued their educational studies or vocational training after high school in 2010. With young people representing nearly 30 percent of Colombia’s working age population, educational improvements could breed huge potential for the country’s economic development.

Although education statistics are not at the top of the global charts, President Juan Manuel Santos is determined to improve the Colombian education system and reach the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development standards.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, is a coalition of 34 countries that has strict membership standards and identify with good economic and political standings. President Santos is especially interesting in attaining membership to bring Colombia more into the global economy.

Colombia first applied for membership with OECD in 2012, the same year that the government launched an educational initiative called “Everyone Learns.” The program targeted elementary school students in the poorest regions of the country, focusing on the areas of language and mathematics. It was able to reach 2.4 million students within the past couple of years.

The program also selected nearly 3,000 of Colombia’s top teachers to lead this program, which was fully supported by Education Minister Fernanda Campo. However, despite these efforts, Colombia’s educations statistics still fell below OECD averages.

In a new effort to improve educational standards so that Colombia can reach membership requirements and achieve greater economic growth, the government is launching a nationwide language initiative.

Colombia’s National Training Service, or SENA, has arranged for 102 volunteers from English-speaking countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to teach English to thousands of students in Colombia’s vocational education sector. These volunteers are projected to educate and reach more than 4,500 students, while also working with and mentoring nearly 800 instructors who already work in Colombia for SENA.

According to SENA Director Fernando Rojas, these volunteers will be dispersed throughout the country, mostly in the states of Tolima, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca. The teams are expected to teach for two hours per day to a maximum of 25 students at a time to ensure individual attention.

The program is expected to receive another 100 or so volunteers to join later this year in order to expand the project and reach more students nationwide.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Colombia Reports 1, Colombia Reports 2, The World Bank
Photo: Global Giving

Over the years, Colombia has rebuilt its image, moving past stereotypes of violence and drug lords ruling the country. Yet Colombia is facing setbacks in one of its main port cities, Buenaventura. Over 400,000 people call Buenaventura home, and yet more than 50,000 residents have been forced to leave during the last three years due to a myriad of reasons, including extortion and forced gang membership.

Colombia made efforts to build international relationships such as The Pacific Alliance, a group that attempts to unite Latin American countries like Peru and Chile with Asian countries to further their economic reach. Despite the steps forward, the signing ceremony took place in Cali, Colombia, as far from Buenaventura as possible.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the instability stems from a right wing paramilitary group, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), that vowed to put down their arms a decade ago. This would have served as a peace agreement, but many members struggled to survive and picked up the weapons again to fight for survival.

The citizens of Buenaventura struggle to find solace, with 80 percent of its population living below the poverty line and 30 percent below the rate of unemployment, according to The Economist.

To make this danger more tangible, in late June, Colombian police found another dismembered body in the style of gang “chop houses.” This is the 15th body found in such a mutilated state.

Analysts believe the aggression stems from warring drugs gangs with the intent to control the territory and infiltrate the drug trade between southeast Asia and Central America between the sub groups of the national neo-paramilitary groups “Los Rastrojos” and “Los Urbeños.”

These displays of violence are not uncommon as the people of Buenaventura attempt to quietly avoid the brewing conflicts.

It is unlikely that Colombia will reach any sort of economic and social stability as the gang-related danger continues to brew. The country cannot progress when nearly half a million people are forced to live in fear.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: The Economist, Columbia Reports, WSJ
Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The World Cup truly defines the idea of international competition. With the current 2014 World Cup only two weeks in, the viewership of clips, games, advertisements and the like are higher than any other international competition. According to, people have watched over 1.2 billion minutes of World Cup-affiliated advertisements, which is four times more views than the 2014 Super Bowl ads received.

FIFA research supports this, demonstrating numbers from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Over 3.2 billion people tuned in for at least one minute of the games, compared to 900 million that tuned into the Olympics Opening Ceremony, which is the most highly watched portion of the event.

3.2 billion people represents a large demographic of the world, many of whom represent developing countries. The World Cup represents the level of accessibility isolated countries have to opportunities even to just watch a game. There is a level of danger to watching games in some countries such as the 48 people who died in Kenya at a viewing party, but the dedication to their countries trumps their socio-economic status.

Few events draw the attention of billions, however the World Cup bonds nations. The U.S. typically has a low viewership rate of Major League Soccer in comparison to the NBA, NFL and NHL views.

The Miami Herald reported that 15.9 million Americans tuned into ESPN and Univision to watch the U.S. versus Ghana game, which is the second highest recorded viewership for a World Cup match in the U.S. It pales only to the U.S. versus England match of 2010 which held 17.1 million viewers. Trumping this, are the 18.2 million people who tuned in to watch the U.S. and Portugal battle it out, according to CNN Money.

The possible reason for this is the higher number of countries filming and reporting on the event, with 48 countries present and 34 ultra-high definition cameras watching from all angles. The more access countries have to the games, the more people who will flock to small businesses who play the games for those without home access.

Many of the countries competing represent developing countries, such as Colombia, Uruguay, Nigeria, Ghana and many others. These countries typically have low participation and success in other international competitions such as the Olympics, so they find their nationalism and support in the World Cup due to the accessibility and commonality of soccer.

The number of people tuning to watch their home countries fight for international competitive prestige shows that even in times of turmoil and struggle, nations can be united through watching a small, fuzzy screen of their teams playing everyone’s favorite sport.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: CNN, Latin Post, Miami Herald, Reuters
Photo: Zap 2 It

El Río Habla

Fleeing the conflict and violence that has raged in Colombia for over 50 years, nearly 1,000 Colombian refugees cross into Northern Ecuador every year. Ecuador now hosts an estimated 160,000 refugees; 98 percent are Colombian. The government recognizes 54,000.

In 2009, 66 percent of asylum seekers who applied for protection in Ecuador were granted refugee status. It was one of the highest acceptance rates in the world. But three years have wrought significant change in policy. Though there were over 100,000 applications for asylum standing in 2012, recent restrictions have granted true refugee status to a select few.

About 60 percent of Colombians who come to Ecuador settle in poor cities. There they live with a refugee’s lot – discrimination and difficulty finding employment, lack of access to healthcare and lack of government support. The remaining 40 percent are less lucky.

After crossing the Río San Miguel and the Río Putumayo, they settle in small communities on the 353-mile-long border. Isolated and characterized by an utter lack of infrastructure, these villages have little means of communicating with other communities or with their government.

Poverty spurs violence. In one UNHCR study of the Lagros Aros region, 660 of 700 women surveyed reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. There is no employment, healthcare or protection. And only the residents know it.

So they fight ignorance with awareness.

Since 2009, the UNHCR and Radio Sucumbíos have reserved a 15-minute slot for a program called El Río Habla, the river speaks. Well before each broadcast, refugees meet to discuss their experiences. They identify issues requiring public attention and design the radio program accordingly.

The show is not only a cry for help. Colombian and occasionally Ecuadorian guests have a chance to tell their stories. They speak about their lives as refugees and their lives before. They talk about themselves and their families. For thousands of Radio Sucumbíos listeners, they are humanized.

The UNHCR reports no quantitative analysis of the program’s effects. Still, workers and volunteers report a heightened public awareness. As public interests turn toward the disadvantaged in border communities, authorities are forced to provide services to people there.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Asylum Access, UNHCR, Cultural Diplomacy
Photo: UNHCR

Congressional elections in Colombia took place on March 9th. President Juan Manuel Santos, who is currently in peace process negotiations with the FARC guerilla group that has been terrorizing the country for fifty years, has narrowly kept his National Unity coalition majority in the lower and upper houses of Congress.

Many view the elections as a referendum on Santos’ negotiations with the FARC rebel group. The Santos administration has gained ground in recent negotiations with draft agreements already set for rural development and political participation for minority parties.

The elections also propelled former President and political rival of Santos, Alvaro Uribe, into the Senate. Santos had served under Uribe as Defense Minister until he won the presidency, and has since reversed many of the policies Uribe had fought for, including restarting the peace process. Uribe opposes government negotiations with the FARC rebel group, and his win in the Colombian Senate signals a fracture in public opinion on this contentious issue.

A narrow win for Santos’ Unity Party in congressional elections means that he has less of a mandate should he win in presidential elections to be held on May 25. In the Senate, the Unity Party won 21 of 102 seats, or 20.6%, while Uribe’s right-leaning Democratic Center Party won 19 seats, or 18.6%. In the lower house, the Unity Party won 37 of 166 seats, or 23.9% of votes, while the Democratic Center only won 12 seats, or 7.7% of seats.

Important to note is the high rate of voter abstention during the elections. Out of the 32,835,856 Colombians eligible to vote, only 58.11% actually voted. Further, out of the votes cast, 6.2% of votes for the Senate and 6.6% of the House votes cast the blank ballot option. Unmarked ballots drew 5.85% of the votes in the Senate and 3.4% in the House.

–Jeff Meyer

Photo: XinhuanNet
The Economist, The Economist, Reuters, Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports

In recent years, development organizations have sprung up and taken off swiftly around the globe. Headquarters hot spots dot the map from Southeast Asia to Northern Africa, from Latin America to the Middle East.

It is critical for these growing organizations to establish networks in environments suitable for development expansion; it is an investment that involves careful consideration and strategic planning.  As an aid, experts at Devex compiled a list of the top 5 best cities for development organizations to consider.  Taking factors such as location, demographics, resources and political environment into account, the top cities are as follows:

1. Bangkok, ThailandBangkok’s strategic location in the heart of Southeast Asia makes it a prime site for development networks.  Home to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the capital is already a nucleus for development efforts. Devex experts note that expected economic growth in the area means the city “will be even more of a regional hub” in the future.  Furthermore, Thailand boasts a lower cost of living than neighboring countries and tops the World Bank’s list of easiest countries to do business in for East Asia and the Pacific.

2. Bogota, Colombia – Another high-ranked country for ease of doing business by the World Bank, Colombia is a growing site for both private sector companies and development organizations. The Latin American capital possesses a young and skilled labor force due to the prevalence of universities and libraries. USAID Mission Director for Colombia Peter Natiello praises the city’s potential, claiming “Bogota allows USAID to build partnerships we need to achieve greater impact…with the private sector, NGOs, government institutions, and academia.”

3. Nairobi, Kenya – Africa as a whole is in the middle of a surge of financial and technological growth, with Nairobi at the center.  The Kenyan capital is home to more than 100 major international organizations, including the UK Department for International Development and UN Environment Program. Business analyst Naomy Wanga cites “communications technology, business development services, and the availability of both expertise and business opportunities” as major factors contributing to development success in Nairobi.

4. Amman, Jordan – Despite political tumult in the region, Amman boasts a relatively secure environment; the World Bank ranks it the least corrupt among low and middle-income countries in the Middle East.  Jordan follows an open-border policy and grants myriad public health and education services to the country’s more than 500,000 refugees.  Furthermore, Amman has a young workforce and improving status in health and education.

5. New Delhi, India – As both the world’s largest democracy and fourth-largest economy, India is a hot spot for growing development organizations.  New Delhi boasts a strong NGO community. In addition, the capital city is home to several UN regional offices and more than 140 foreign embassies and commissions focused on overcoming development challenges throughout India and South Asia. Though the South Asian region as a whole is struggling to reach several Millennium Development Goals, New Delhi shows potential for growth; the metropolis features an educated work force with strong English-speaking skills.

Each of these cities offers a unique package to expanding development organizations and demands serious consideration. Other cities Devex experts recommend include Manila, Philippines; Addis Adaba, Ethiopia; Dakar, Senegal; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Yangon, Myanmar.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Devex, World Bank
Photo: Wikipedia