As a new year rises on the horizon, many of us feel compelled to reflect upon the year that comes to an end, and create a list of wishes and goals for the year that is about to begin. Knowing that we probably won’t fulfill all of our wishes, we are encouraged to dream big, and, at the end of the year, see what we have gotten and what we didn’t. As 2009 knocks on the door, here is what Colombia’s wish list for the new year should look like:
Pressure the FARC militarily, while continuing to rally national and international publics against their tactics, to the point in which they realize that they must use their demeaning leverage to sit down and negotiate with the government an agreement that will allow them to return to civil society.
Continue the demobilization of the paramilitary, but assuring that they are not returning to the direct or indirect use of violent tactics, and recognizing that many of them still are part of the armed conflict. Provide programs that will allow them to truly flourish within institutional and legal contexts.
Continue strengthening the military so that their presence extends progressively, seeking to cover every inch of the national territory. Assure that the members of the armed forces are better trained, and receive appropriate care after serving in areas of conflict. Also, guarantee that they understand matters of Human Rights, and work towards the respect rather than the violation of those rights.
Human Rights Concerns
Address the most pressing Human Rights issues presently affecting Colombia. End the use of kidnapping as a tactic, and free the thousands of Colombians that remain deprived from the right to freedom. Allow those families that have been separated to reunite, strengthening the social fabric upon which the nation is built. Similarly, properly address the issues of displacement and containment. With an approximate 1 in every 10 Colombians suffering from the effects of displacement, the new year should come with hope for those millions of individuals that they’ll be able reconstruct their life projects. Doing so, requires the materialization of a long-awaited land reform that will address the topic of land ownership and land use in Colombia. This objective also requires providing appropriate psycho-social treatment to all the millions of Colombians that are victims of the armed conflict.
As Colombia looks into the possibility of a long-term future in which conflict has ceased and peace becomes attainable, it is important to begin the work on social programs that will allow Colombians of all backgrounds to pursue their life dreams. Social programs, such as a true reform to the public education system, programs to support efforts on the areas of nutrition, health, and access to basic services such as clean water and energy, will be crucial in permitting Colombia to dream not only about peace, but also prosperity. Addressing these issues that, in the current form support models of social inequity, will prevent future surges in conflict and crime.
Aggressive Public Diplomacy Efforts
In a globalized world in which communications and media messages transcend the confines of national borders, Colombia must use every day of the new year working on public diplomacy efforts that will allow it to positively influence the country’s image around the world. Doing so requires a focus on national branding efforts, a strengthening of cultural, professional and educational exchanges, and the support of artists, sports personalities, and professionals in different fields so that they can proudly represent Colombia and its diversity, around the world. Such efforts will go alongside efforts to boost tourism and the infrastructure required to successfully attract growing numbers of tourists.
Traditional Diplomatic Ties
In the realm of traditional diplomacy, it is important to strengthen regional links to guarantee that Colombia won’t be alienated within Latin America. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Ecuador must be a top priority in this respect, as well as strengthening the existing positive relations with Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Chile. In a global context, maintaining the support of the United States, even after the political shake up that will happen in Washington, and also strengthening the links not only with Europe, but also with the nations in Asia, such as China, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea, that are seeking strategic alliances with Latin American nations.
Colombia has unbelievable natural resources. In an era in which the search for alternative sources of energy has become a top priority, Colombia must seriously look into becoming an important player in the development of ways to garner, transport, and use such energy sources as solar and wind power.
Colombia will finally know whether President Uribe wants to, and is legally allowed to, run for another term in 2010, allowing for the presidential campaign to officially start. Either way, hopefully, in 2009 Colombia will get a share of new leaders with innovative agendas that can fairly submit their platforms for the consideration of the Colombian population.
With all those wishes, and as the year is about to start, we need all the help we can get from every possible “aguero.” So everybody, put on your yellow underwear inside out, eat twelve grapes as the church bells strike the new year, and run around the block with your empty suitcases. Happy New Year!
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York