Colombia is poised to turn a corner in 2016: the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are close to signing a historic accord to end Latin America’s longest insurgency and five decades of war. A possible peace deal along with a rising middle class and low oil prices poses new challenges and opportunities for one of the region’s largest economies.
Make lasting peace with the Farc
According to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, “2016 will be the year for peace”. After more than three years of peace talks in Cuba, the government and the Farc have pledged to sign an accord by March. But the government has to allay fears that the Farc will escape punishment for war crimes and Santos must rally support from those who distrust the guerrilla group and don’t want ex-leaders to hold political office; if he doesn’t, a referendum on a peace deal could cause it to fail.
Meet rising middle-class demands
Years of economic growth and foreign investment have given rise to a middle class. This new force is likely to place tougher demands on the government to tackle corruption and ensure that state schools and hospitals provide quality education and healthcare. Whether or not Colombia has the funds is a concern following a plunge in global oil prices, meaning forecasts for economic growth in 2016 have been lowered to 3.5 per cent.
Flex diplomatic muscle
Buoyed by improved security and declining crime rates, Colombia has taken on more of a leadership role in the region with Santos pledging 5,000 more troops for UN peacekeeping missions over the next three years – in theory aided by manpower diverted away from counterinsurgency missions. Colombia’s diplomatic skills will be tested in 2016 over a maritime dispute with Nicaragua and a border crisis with neighbour Venezuela.
With a $15 (€13) minimum wage and an affordable housing plan, Seattle has had some of the highest rates of population growth in the US with about 14,000 new residents added each year since 2010. Some worry that the city will suffer the same fate as San Francisco, which has seen its demographics altered by the influx of tech-industry employees and now has the second-highest rental prices in the country. With a tech boom of its own due in part to the expansion of Amazon, based in the city, Seattle could go the same way.
In his first week as governor of Nuevo León, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez bolted shut the door of the governor’s palace and promised to use the money saved on rent to refurbish a local agricultural college. El Bronco (meaning “The Gruff One”) is shaking the political establishment with policies taking aim at scandal-ridden mainstream parties such as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri) to which he used to belong. He claims he will prosecute his predecessor for corruption, axe public funding for media groups in the pocket of the government and weed out drug gangs.
El Bronco became the first independent politician in Mexico to hold high office when he was sworn in back in October, riding a wave of voter disenchantment that could take him all the way to the presidential palace in 2018. He may need a bigger padlock though.
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He is one of Latin America’s original “pink tide” leaders, in power since 2006. Former coca farmer Evo Morales is in his third term despite a two-term limit, thanks to a new constitution in 2009. Now he wants to be allowed to take part in presidential elections in 2019; a referendum will put the vote to the people.