Ben Raderstorf / Inter-American Dialogue

On May 24th, the Inter-American Dialogue invited Sergio Fajardo, former governor of Antioquia and mayor of Medellín, to discuss his perspective on Colombia’s current political climate and future challenges. The event focused on long-standing issues, including the peace process and citizen security, and new challenges facing Colombia in the context of the upcoming 2018 presidential elections.

Fajardo opened the event with the overarching question: “where is Colombia heading?” Alluding to Colombia as a book with many pages, Fajardo condemned the page filled with violence and destruction while calling on a new page that, as he outlined, must ascribe to peace and a prosperous future. Through the use of this metaphor, Fajardo offered a lucid analysis of Colombia’s current challenges and shared provocative solutions for the future. To move forward, Colombia must focus on addressing three issues: reconciliation, corruption, and education. 

According to Fajardo, the pre-conditions for reconciliation must be for the people and, especially, politicians to respect the peace accords with rigor and transparency. Fajardo condemned those politicians who fail to recognize the peace accords and campaign under that platform in the upcoming presidential elections. The peace accords are an opportunity to write a new page in Colombia’s history, a way forward for Colombia.  

Reconciliation also includes practicing a culture of co-existence and legality and guaranteeing citizen security. Fajardo lamented the long history of criminals, narco-traffickers, and paramilitaries, because they have been the “main actors” dictating and influencing citizens ‘culture, including illegality. Fajardo called on Colombians to build a different culture towards co-existence. The other side of reconciliation is establishing citizen security. In Colombia, micro-traffic and at-risk youth threaten the security of many Colombian city, but Fajardo recognized the efforts carried out in Medellin in decreasing violence and the best practice conducted there. Most importantly, Colombians must understand citizen security as a right in order to overcome, not incentivize, violence.

The second issue for Colombia to move forward is the need to address corruption, especially in the context of polarization. Fajardo lamented the victory of the “No” in the referendum on the Peace Accords, and warned against the threat of the Odebrecht scandal. The mix of polarization and internal corruption poses “a dangerous threat” to Colombia’s current political landscape. The main source of corruption is clientelism, which threatens and erodes democratic institutions throughout the country, including Bogotá. Fajardo was quick to point out, what he called, “The Colombian Fallacy.” As he explained, “the most corrupt people are the ones at the front of the fight against corruption.” Fajardo suggested the biggest antidote against corruption is transparency and for the Colombian people to cease electing corrupt politicians. Corruption threatens Colombia’s future.

However, Fajardo concluded his address with the new page in Colombia’s bright future: education. According to Fajardo, Colombia’s new narrative must focus on investing in education. This “new development model” will help foment science, entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation, and, consequently, tackle inequality. In order to fund this new page, Colombia must move from the “tax war,” or the price Colombia has paid for war, and towards an “education tax.” Fajardo was confident in his platform to turn the page on Colombia’s violent history and invest in knowledge and innovation to secure Colombia’s future.

The event concluded with a question and answer section that delved deeper on the 2018 Presidential elections, the judicial reforms under Santos, US-Colombian relations, the continued threats of the drug trade, and the implementation of the Peace Process.

Watch the full recording of the event here