Last night I saw Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado on TV, making predictions for 2010 for all the twelve signs of the zodiac. I am a Sagittarius, so according to Mr. Mercado, 2010 will be “excellent for travel and sports (but I’ve always been terrible at sports!)” and I should “change and reinvent [my] life” (if you are interested to know what Mr. Mercado predicts for your sign, go here). After listening to that most vague prediction for the next 365 days of my existence, I started thinking that if Mr. Mercado can get away with that, I should definitely try to make my own predictions for Colombia in 2010.
So here you will find what I think will occur in Colombia next year. Most of my predictions are nothing but educated guesses, as I do not claim to possess any psychic powers whatsoever. Nonetheless, others are simple hunches dictated by my intuition. As you will have to wait for an entire year in order to know whether or not I was right (and by that time we will all have forgotten what I said), I think there is little risk in putting my predictions out there.
Let us start with the economy, perhaps the easiest part, as smarter people than me have already made their forecasts for next year. The government thinks that the economy will grow 2.5% next year. As their forecasts are oftentimes inflated, the situation in Venezuela is unlikely to change for the better, and there will be no expected structural changes to the economy in the foreseeable future, I predict growth will be lower than that. The IMF believes so, too, and they forecast that Colombia’s GDP will increase 1.3% next year. 2010 will open with an unemployment rate of around 13% in January, which will gradually go down throughout the year, but do not expect it to go below 11%. Inflation will also speed up from its historic low this year, reaching 4-5% in 2010.
Now, let us move to politics. I predict that President Alvaro Uribe will not be able to stand for reelection next year, as the referendum that is meant to change the Constitution will not pass. I believe that the Constitutional Court will decide that the proposal for a referendum is constitutional, and will leave the matter in the people’s hands. It will be the best solution for them not to lose face before the government and wash their hands of all responsibility. However, fewer than 7.5 million Colombians will vote on the referendum, and as a consequence Mr. Uribe will have to leave the Presidency on August 7, 2010. He will be remembered as one of the greatest heads of state ever to rule Colombia.
The Presidential election will move forward and there will be a need for a run-off election, which Juan Manuel Santos will win. The runner-up will be one of these three men: Polo Senator Gustavo Petro, former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo, and former Minister of Agriculture Andres Felipe Arias. Mr. Petro has more chances than the other two, according to the latest polls. In Venezuela, Mr. Santos’ victory will be received as the victory of the far right, and the cold war between that country and Colombia will continue. As a consequence, Venezuela’s economic blockade against Colombia will remain in place and tensions along the border will increase. Nonetheless, there will be no war between the two countries in 2010, as President Chavez will be more concerned with Venezuela’s dismal economic performance and the political problems it will bring. Throughout 2010, the situation along the border will be one of high alert.
In the United States, Congress will finally ratify the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, although that is likely to occur only in the second half of 2010. Nonetheless, the US government’s general attitude towards Colombia will remain somewhat cold, and the government in Bogota will slowly learn to rely less on its American ally. Aid for drug eradication will diminish next year (this we already know for a fact) and the Colombian government which is already running a budget deficit will have to find that money inside its own pockets.
So, these are my main predictions for 2010. Other minor ones include: the introduction of Colombia’s third private TV channel, more problems for the construction of Bogota’s metro system and the inevitable moment of reckoning that Colombia is not prepared for hosting the soccer U-20 World Cup in 2011.
Of course, time could prove me totally wrong. Perhaps Mr. Uribe will after all win the 2010 election (or maybe even Mr. Petro, who knows), perhaps there will be a war with Venezuela, and perhaps the US Congress will not vote on Colombia’s FTA. Whatever. Walter Mercado probably has been wrong dozens of times and he still has a good number of followers, so I hope the people who read this column (and I thank them dearly for having borne with me for the past seven months) forgive me if none of my predictions become true.
From my home in Bogota, I wish you all a very happy 2010.