Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 16, 2010

Policymaking, not easy, not at all a formula.

Just read an interesting World Bank study about policy and conflict. Wondered how it applies to Colombia  …

In Colombia’s case, low income and high poverty are driving the conflict. Sure, one says, in Colombia, it’s easy for rebels/terrorists to recruit young people because the opportunity cost of the conflict is low. These young people don’t have many choices, if any other opportunities. The World Bank study suggests the focus ought to be on policy interventions to reduce poverty, namely on expanding welfare programs.

But, one will argue that in Colombia’s case, the conflict is also holding back the economic growth. So, the World Bank suggests, increase military and police interventions. But yikes, the human cost of this is high: deaths and refugees. More misery, more suffering. More gunpowder-blood memories to incite the next generation of violence. (“I joined the FARC for revenge. The FARC killed my brother and I plotted to infiltrate and kill them,” a 17-year-old girl, still child-like enough to wear pigtails, told me.) How much more of this? Well, one might say, at least some of those young people, lots of them in fact, will be funneled into formal jobs in the military. They will see social mobility, spirits will be lifted. But, the military, really, is that not the flipped coin of being recruited by the other guys?

An alternative is to conduct formal negotiations. But in Colombia’s case, there’s no genuine interest in the part of the terrorists to join the political mainstream. The FARC, the largest group and the one who creates most havoc, have shown no will, even, to negotiate.

In Colombia’s case, there’s no ethnicity or separatist factor; and there’s no one region that considers themselves discriminated by the state. However, there’s danger the state will continue to ignore the needs of the indigenous: many tribal leaders seek out the government for help to stop the recruitment of their children and the extermination of their culture (“We have been left alone in the midst of the bullets of legal and illegal armed groups,” said Miller Correa, indigenous governor of the resguardo of Tacueyó, Toribío municipality). And the Afro-Colombians, they comprise the majority of the internally displaced population. If these minorities act upon their feelings of marginalization … then what?

Interestingly, the study points out, the presence of forest cover is significantly associated with a high incidence of conflict as the forest is used to hide from law-enforcement. Is this because a large chunk of poor people live isolated and uneducated (at least uneducated in the globalization meaning of the word) in the forest? Does this contribute to the indigenous feeling marginalized?

The World Bank also lists regional cross-border cooperation as essential. … Really? But … Hugo Chavez to the East, Rafael Correa to the South. Brazil’s forest to the south-east.

Not easy. Not a formula.

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