sábado, 24 de mayo de 2014

Why is it Colombia a Developing Country?

Kenji Orito Diaz is a Colombojapanese Professor and Social Worker who became famous in Colombia due to one of its conferences in the University of Los Andes in Bogota. The topics of this conference were the myths between Colombia and Japan. According to Kenji there are three main myths that Colombians have about Japanese people. The third one is the main topic of this essay.  He said “Colombia is a rich country and Japan is not” (Mito 3 – Yokoi Kenji). Japan is not only the Second Major Economy in the World but also, one of the most technologically speaking advance countries too and, still Kenji said Colombia was richer that Japan.  How Could Colombia be richer than Japan?
During the conference he shared an experience about something that happened to him while he was visiting his paternal family in Japan years before. It was about a watermelon he said. His grandfather bought a “huge” watermelon and everyone was so excited about having watermelon for breakfast that morning that his cousins were screaming and jumping around the house. He could not understand why it was such a big deal having watermelon for breakfast. He said: “When I was in school we could get a piece of watermelon for around 25 cents of a dollar and my mom usually bought a watermelon for around 2,50 dollars, but In Japan a watermelon cost around $40 dollars” .  Then, he make a reflection, he said Colombians do not really thing that they live in a rich country, as personal I did not think that too (Mito 3 – Yokoi Kenji).
Geographically speaking Colombia has a privileged position; 2 oceans, a 1,142,000 km mountain which is called Andean and it is divided into three branches itself; warm, cold and in between weathers for the whole year, a unique mountain system, with plateaus, rainforest, plains, snowy mountains, deserts, tundra and wetlands. Also, not counting only with the oceans, Colombia also have extend and torrential rivers going through it (Having a part of the Amazon River too). Because of all this, this country has one of the richest flora and fauna worldwide. Counting with 0.8% of the planet’s terrestrial surface, it is the third country in terms of biodiversity in the world, after Brazil and Indonesia. Moreover,  It has more than 3,000 varieties of flowers, nearly 1.800  bird species out of the 9.000 that exist, huge amount of amphibians, reptiles bats, rodent and insect varieties- counting with 3.000 species of butterflies (Colombia: Biodiversity Synonym). And, in terms of raw materials and energy, Colombia is the world’s leading producer of emeralds, and South America’s second largest producer of gold and only producer of platinum. Colombia also owns the largest coal reserves, second largest oil (The government had declined to join the OPEC because it is worried about not being able to fulfill compulsory export conditions OPEC members must comply with), and the largest natural gas reserves in South America (Raw Materials, n.d). 
Then, why is it Colombia a developing (poor) country? What is that that have happened that has not let us grow as a country and be located in such a bad position among the rest of the countries in the world?  Colombia has public institutions much more sophisticated than those in Guatemala; it is more urbanized than Bolivia, and has a more vibrant business sector than the Dominican Republic but still, shares similar poverty rates with those countries. The poverty rate in 2012 was of 32,7% and extreme poverty of 10,6%, which means around 15 million people among the whole country are living in poverty. Moreover, for 2013, Colombia ranked in the Seventh place of the most unequal countries in the world. According to the report of the World Bank, this rate is similar to countries such as Haiti, Angola and South Africa (Breaking with History, n.d).
The reason is very simple and, also complicated. Colombia has not being able to reach economic growth because of the Corruption inside its government. According to the World Bank, corruption is defined as the abuse of public power for private benefit (Tanzi, 1998). The reasons of why corruption is present in each country are different but, there are still common features that shape a suitable environment for corruption to grow and, it looks like Colombia fits in all of them (El Gammal, 2011). Corruption is a controversial topic in Colombia, mainly because this one comes from the government and the public institutions itself. Political Corruption has leaded to many other problems such as poverty, lack of education, unemployment, crime, drugs and violence (The Armed Conflict). Being this one the base of everything else that happens in the country.
Everything started in the nineteen century with the disputes, usually involving violence, between the two main political parties in the country.  They wanted to maintain their status quo inside the country; therefore they made an agreement called “Frente Nacional” whose mail goal was to rebuild the country after their last military government and “give the country an opportunity to grow”. The two parties then divided the presidential elections and the sits in the congress by equal. This means every four years, the president would change from one party to the other one - just the two of them – and the congress would be equally divided within the two. This caused many conflicts and disputes inside the country. And leaded to the formation of, what today is the FARC.
Colombia has been affected by corruption in every single way, from the social, political and economic point. In recent years, there were revelations that 48 thousand government officials, including 800 mayors and 30 governors, were being investigated for corruption. (Rojas, 2009). A U.N. study demonstrated that the costs of corruption committed by public employees were ten times greater than the costs of illegal acts committed by common criminals. Another study on criminality in Colombia indicated that, while all crimes were growing at an annual rate of 39.7 percent, those described as committed by public employees were growing by 164.1 percent (El Gammal, 2011).
Specific cases of corruption have been discovered in the last 10 years. Between the most important ones we can find: First, Last Government’ Minister of Agriculture, Andres Felipe Arias, introduced a program of subsidies for small farmers to help them compete with American agricultural product. Some of the money went to bigger landholders and politicians—as well as to the owner of an influential newspaper, and to a former beauty queen who owned no land. Second, the last Major of Bogota (Capital of Colombia), Mr. Samuel Moreno, was charged with criminal conspiracy and abuse of public office for allegedly plotting to have DAS (the Domestic Intelligence Agency), spy on journalists, judges and the president's political opponents through surveillance and wiretaps. Third, The “Proceso 8000”, the legal investigation to the events that happened in the middle-1990s, when the president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, was accused of receiving money from drug lords for his electoral campaign. And, the Colombian parapolitics scandal which was basically the discovery of many links between Colombian politicians and paramilitaries (Corruption in Colombia, 2011). Moreover, due to this problem in the country there has been multiple cases where constructions all over the country have stopped because of “lack of budget” but actually what happens is that few people keep the money from the public contracts and the building sites are not completed. This causes a chaos on the streets of the main cities (Otis, 2010).
The main consequences of political corruption in the economic field are many. Firstly, Corruption reduces public revenue and increases public spending. Thus, it contributes to larger fiscal deficits, making it more difficult for the government to run a descent fiscal policy. Secondly, corruption is likely to increase income inequality because it allows well-positioned individuals to take advantage of government activities at the cost of the rest of the population. Thirdly, it reduces the ability of the government to impose necessary regulatory controls and inspections to correct for market failures. The government is not able to regulate satisfactorily public institutions such as banks, hospitals schools, among others. Also, It reduces expenditure on education and health, which does not lend itself easily to corrupt practices on the part of those who make budgetary decisions. It increases public investment because public investment projects lend themselves easily to manipulations by high-level officials to get bribes. It reduces tax revenue, mainly because of the impact that it has on the tax administration and on customs, thus reducing the ability of the government to carry out needed public expenditure. Finally, corruption is likely to increase poverty because it reduces the income earning potential of the poor (Tanzi, 1998).
In the case of Colombia, corruption has brought with it a high collaboration between the drug dealer’ cartels and the public officers who try to get money from the business (El Gammal, 2011). Also, because of the security problem that the armed conflict has brought with it, there is much more investment in security and military than in education or social welfare. The allocation of resources is not fair and the inequality rate becomes higher every year. The corruption has cost Colombia around 10 billion pesos during the last 20 years, that is around 5 million dollars. Taking into account that with just 1 billion pesos you can: built around 40.000 houses for poor people, built around 1.000 km in roads, pay during 20 years the functioning of a public hospital, give every day 3 meals to around 40 million people during a year and built around 25 parks in a year. The cost has been really high (Restrepo, 2010).
It is true what Kenji said in his conference, Colombia has many ways to develop economically; we just do not realize what we have. In addition, the effect of corruption in the country has led a huge mark in economy and in people. With all this money being stolen by public workers, politicians and organizations, the country has become a sort of chaos that even the most important resources, like emeralds and oil, are being sold for such a little price that allows to developed countries to buy our resources and sell them to us again by a much higher price. For Example, emeralds are sold as rocks but them they a sold to Colombians as jewelry.
Also, people have lost their faith in Colombian government and democracy. All of you can listen on the radio and TV is that the country is experiencing this sort of situation and you start thinking, why should I go to vote if they are just going to keep stealing the money? Should I just vote for the one I think is going to steal the least?  And it becomes a vicious circle where people do not believe in institutions and institutions do not make any effort for people to believe in them. Then, what is the point of living in one of the richest places in the world (in resources) when the government has made Colombians feel like we need from outside countries more than what we actually do.
It is true that public corruption has existed worldwide for thousands of years. And it is also true that Colombia is not the only country in the world suffering the consequences of it. But, because of the corruption problem in the country many people have lost their family, land, and money. Also, the few industries that are actually working into the economic growth of the country are owned by either foreigners or people from the government (Or relatives) which still gain from people working the whole time for small salaries because “We are a poor country” when that is actually not true. The rules of the “El vivo vive del bobo” – a Colombia traditional idiom use to refer that smart people usually live well because of the brainless people – is the one that governs the country.

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