Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Final presentation: Biofuels

Next up: The environment team on biofuels in Colombia, and in particular, palm oil.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Final presentation: Business and trade

This week we will post one team's final presentation each day. First up: IEDP's business and trade team members discuss their research on government efforts to prepare small and medium enterprises for implementation of the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement.

Friday, April 6, 2012

IEDP on camera!

Check out our video in which students talk about what they did in Colombia!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

One last hurrah


Dispatch from the environment team

Al fin, Cartagena. While other policy teams were suiting up for meetings with the DEA, etc., the environment team was in a taxi in the midst of the other side of Cartagena—one that tourists rarely see. Rafael Nuñez is home to 13,000 of the poorest people in the city, which has one of the most extreme income disparities in the world. By 8 a.m. the heat was already settling heavy on the neighborhood, and we drove past a trash-covered shore and bustling fish market before finding what we thought was our final destination. 

It turns out that there are two sites for the non-profit Granitos de Paz in Rafael Nuñez, and we happened to have stumbled first upon the cuter one: a daycare center for hundreds of infants and pre-schoolers. The center had a nursery, a ‘dance studio’ with a full-wall mirror, an open-air cafeteria that served fresh meals, and lots of singing, clapping children. We were smitten.

We eventually were able to drag ourselves away to the site of our actual meeting, the Granitos de Paz office, run by the lovely and lively Diana Peña. There, we learned a bit more about the amazing work of Granitos de Paz, a non-profit that is leading micro-finance investment and urban agriculture development in the neighborhood. They have built 42 houses in Rafael Nuñez in the last eight years, and they teach families to grow crops in the narrow, sunny spaces behind their homes. Urban farmers of the neighborhood sell spearmint (for mojitos), basil, red pepper, eggplant, and cucumber to some of the fanciest hotels in Cartagena, and Granitos de Paz also offers cooking classes for growers to learn how to incorporate their fresh produce into meals at home. 

Off to the side of the office was a ‘senior center’ which might more accurately be described as a ‘dance club’ given all the boogying that was going down at 9 a.m. We ended our visit with a walk around the neighborhood to visit some of the neighborhood gardens and take in the luscious smells. Though tangential to our research topic on biofuels, the visit to Granitos de Paz certainly renewed our faith in the possibility for grassroots, environmentally inspiring economic development in Colombia. We were also all grateful to have found a place to retire/get down with some Latin beats in a few years.

- Allie

Friday, March 9, 2012

Some dispatches we didn't get to post earlier...

Dispatch from the business and trade team

Our last morning in Bogota started with a meeting at our hotel with Carlos Ocampo from the Centro Integral de Servicios Empresariales (CREAME). CREAME is an incubator that was founded in 1996 by 29 academic, business and governmental institutions. It serves to increase capacity of small and medium businesses by educating owners in order to increase their competitiveness on the global market. To accomplish that goal, CREAME provides training and resources for small businesses. Their services are in high demand in regions with few alternative economic development initiatives. They also connect businesses in similar industries, which allows for the sharing of best practices. CREAME gets its funding from the Ministry of Commerce and multinational corporations. 

After our meeting with Carlos we headed over to the Department of National Planning where we met up with the rest of the group. Not only was the meeting informative, but there was also an amazing view of downtown Bogota! It was the perfect way to end our time in Bogota.

- Kyasha

Dispatch from the environment team

The environment team spent our last morning in Bogotá with the first Minister of Environment and now a professor at Universidad de los Andes. We met with him at the beautiful U of A business school building and chatted about biofuels and environmental decision-making in Colombia. Our host is skeptical of the trickle-down effect of wealth in Colombia, noting that “for the last 50 years, we are the same.” He worries that Colombia’s agricultural policy—along with its promotion of mining and other industries—are contributing more to the concentration of wealth than its distribution. He also said that adequate environmental protections are elusive under a weak state and that, as of now, Colombia doesn’t have the minimum conditions to protect the environment vis-à-vis mining.

However, when it came to palm, the professor said that is was possible for the industry to go in the “environmentally right direction.” Though the environmental performance of the palm industry was atrocious in the 90s, when there was no water treatment, methodologies have improved significantly since then. Palm is planted in previously deforested areas but is not a driver of deforestation, and Colombia has enough arable land that palm is not competing with food crops. 

The major challenge in protecting Colombia’s unique ecosystems, the professor said, is not money, but political will. “In order to protect the Amazon Basin, you don’t need economic incentives,” he said, citing one example. “It’s a political decision about what the future of that region should be.” His recent book lays out an environmental vision for the agriculture frontier of Colombia. Meeting him left us with a sense of the importance of this kind of envisioning to environmental policy-making.

- Allie

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homeward bound...

... but with lots left to do! We have many more pictures and stories to share in the coming weeks. And check back for our final reports in the last part of March.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Day 7: Group meetings and Universidad Technologica de Bolivar

IEDPers woke up to a much warmer, more humid climate this morning, having arrived in coastal Cartagena last night for our final day of meetings. Each group attended separate meetings in the morning but reconvened around mid-afternoon for a final hurrah at Universidad Technologica de Bolivar.

Our host explaining the history of the university.
Back when the university was founded in 1970 as a technological institute, Cartagena was a city of fewer than 350,000 inhabitants. Today, it is home to more than 1 million, and the university has grown along with it. In 2011 it joined a list of 20 other accredited universities in the country (a distinguished accomplishment). It is continually forming relationships with other universities and pushing to be a research institution.

Among the research being conducted at the Universidad Technologica de Bolivar currently are studies of the various development plans that are being designed and enacted nationwide. There are 1,133 such plans -- 1 at the national level, 32 in the departments and 1,103 in municipalities. There appears to be considerable lack of coordination between the various plans, making for ineffective implementation.

Our guests at the university shared some yummy banana cake with us while we admired their beautiful campus -- comprising colorful buildings, tropical trees that danced in the wind, and lots and lots of sun. It made for a pleasant grande finale!

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the security team

Today was a strong finish for the security team as we wrapped up our investigation on the Colombian Bacrims at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency office in Cartagena. After passing through tight security checkpoints, we met with the Special Agent-In-Charge of the office who has been with the agency for more than 20 years, much of which he had served in Latin America. He explained the importance and the severity of the Bacrims to security in Colombia. He also explained to us how the Bacrims smuggle illicit narcotics out of the country, including the use of submersibles or "drug subs." These makeshift submarines can submerge up to 60 feet underwater carrying tons of illicit drugs on just one trip. The use of these submarines make it exceptionally difficult for law enforcement and military forces to detect and intercept drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

Our host also described the extremely fragmented organization of some of the main Bacrim groups and how they can buy off entire communities in order to operate. After our meeting, we rode to lunch in an armored SUV courtesy of the DEA. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your tax dollars being put to good use!


Dispatch from the social policy team

The morning began with the Observatorio del Caribe, a think tank in Cartagena that focused on generating information on development issues and policies in the Caribbean Coast. Their biggest effort at the moment is launching their information system to collect data from various stakeholders and archive it in a central, accessible location online. They are also working with the government on a large food security program. Their work is important because the Caribbean coast of Colombia has been disconnected from the interior, and there are huge gaps in knowledge about the region for policymakers.

The next meeting was one of our more interesting ones. We had a roundtable discussion with several community organizers, UNDP workers, and municipal government representatives who work specifically on issues of Afro-descendants. Everyone had a lot to say about the challenges for Afro-descendants. People had different ideas on the politics of racial identification and its role in mobilizing. A Palenque student stood out among the activists explained the daily experience of racial discrimination and micro-aggressions Afro-descendants faced.

- Ine

Dispatch from the business and trade team

This morning the Business and Trade team accompanied the Social Policy group to the Observatorio del Caribe Colombiano. This think tank develops strategies for regional development by creating public knowledge. To that end they have created an online database on their website ( This system is called the Sistema de Indicadores de Desarrollo del Caribe (SID) which features indicators that chart the rates of development in the Caribbean region of Colombia.

After a lovely lunch in the sun our group headed to the Universidad Technologica de Bolivar for our very last IEDP meeting with the entire group.

- Kyasha

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 6: Department of Planning and group meetings

The groups spent the morning finishing their rounds of meetings in Bogota, visiting such sites as the Ministry of Defense and the National Planning Department. Around lunchtime, everyone gathered for a meeting at the Department of Evaluation of Public Policies.

The department is responsible for helping to prepare Colombia's National Development Plan, which is based on programs put forth every four years by candidates running for national office. (According to our host, Colombians vote on programs in national elections, rather than candidates themselves. The candidate who puts forth the program that gets selected is the one who runs it.) The department also monitors numerous indicators for the National Development Plan to assess its progress, output and outcomes.

Dorado's diagrams of the current and previous plans.
Under former president Uribe, our host said, the National Development Plan looked like a house with three pillars: security, investment and social cohesion. The roof held up by the pillars was the communitarian state. Uribe's strategy was the winning Colombia's war would attract investment and build trust in government institutions. Essentially, decreasing security problems would boost GDP and reduce poverty. Under President Santos, the NDP looks like a wheel with three spokes: socioeconomic growth, social equality, and security and justice.

Unlike Uribe, Santos puts particular focus on justice as a part of the administration's security efforts. He also acknowledges that foreign investment is just a small part of national growth, and narrowing the income gap requires improving the quality of education. All three parts of the wheel must be promoted simultaneously in order for the plan to progress. Although the two plans contain many of the same components, Santos's plan acknowledges developments in Colombian society.

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the social policy team

The morning began especially early with a last-minute meeting with the appointed government representative of Colombian Afro-descendents. He explained how he works as an advocate for Afro-descendant issues trying to get money to Colombia to support programs and projects addressing these issues.

We had the opportunity to meet with two of the former Ministry of Health's assistants who were integral in shaping some of the more recent health reforms. They offered insight into the thought process for some of these policies and gave an economist's perspective of the health care system.

Our next meeting was with the Monitoring and Evaluation team at the Department of National Planning. The team explained step-by-step how they monitored the progress of various policies and their policy evaluation techniques. They offered ongoing examples of monitoring and evaluation projects, including one dealing with Familias en Accion. When asked about how they monitor outcomes of policies by different ethnic groups, it became clear that this wasn't information that there was  lot of effort in pursuing. According to some employees, Afro-descendants are not considered a minority in Colombia, and the needs of Afro-descendants are similar to mestizos and white Colombians, unlike indigenous populations.

- Ine

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 5: Union leaders, Escuela Nueva and dinner with representatives of the public sector

Four of our groups had a unique opportunity to hear union leaders talk about current conditions for workers in Colombia. We visited the union's headquarters for lunch and listened to two presentations by labor rights activists, who offered perspective on recent free trade agreements and some ongoing labor disputes -- for example, with Coca-Cola and Nestle.

It is often very difficult for workers to organize in Colombia because only a portion of them are legally allowed to do so. Often labor laws trump union rights, the union leaders said. It can also be flat-out dangerous to be involved with unions: According to one presenter, over the years this particular group has seen 25 of its members assassinated, 18 jailed and 7 driven from the country.

Later, many of us enjoyed a visit with Escuela Nueva, where the conversation was more positive, focusing on successful improvements to education. Founder Vicky Colbert explained that much of the education NGO's philosophy has revolved around "learning for change" -- encouraging low-income areas to adopt modern pedagogical methods, such as collaborative learning and community engagement.

Latin America's education system is still very teacher-centric, Colbert said. A teacher from 100 years ago would not be lost in one of today's classrooms. But thanks to some simple tools, training and knowledge-sharing networks produced by Escuela Nueva, teachers are learning how to better serve their students.

Jeff and Naveen with one of our dinner guests.
Our day ended with a terrific dinner with several representatives of the public sector in Bogota. Besides sharing details of their work with us, many of them offered suggestions for fun things to do in Cartagena -- our next destination tomorrow afternoon.

For more pictures from our dinner party, visit us on Facebook.

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the social policy team

The day began at Hospital Universitario San Ignacio with a conversation about Colombia's health care delivery system with a professor of medicine. He criticized La Ley 100 because it deprioritized primary care services and public health interventions, resulting in a rise of communicable and chronic diseases. He explained how the incorporation of insurance companies using fee-for-service payment has led to the fragmentation of health care delivery. Insurance companies urge patients to pick and choose parts of their health care depending on which provider within their network provides a particular service (e.g. diagnostics, treatment, follow-up, rehabilitation, etc.) for a lower price, rejecting the idea of comprehensive, patient-centered health care which has proven to reduce costs by at least 20%.

When the conversation transitioned to a discussion about racial health disparities and diversity in the health care workforce, the doctor had less to say. However, he insisted that there was no discrimination against Afro-descendants in universities and that it was actually easier to get social services if one identified his/herself as a minority. To further his argument, he identified a medical student of African descent at the university who was especially "brilliant and interesting."

For lunch we made our way to the Office of the President to meet with the director of the Agency for the Reduction of Extreme Poverty which is housed in the Department of Social Prosperity. He described their innovative program Reunidos that combines social work, private-public partnerships, and social innovation initiatives to eradicate extreme poverty. When describing income generation activities geared toward Afro-descendants, he explained how Afro-descendants were especially talented in "culture and sports" in addition to other unnamed "industries".

Later that afternoon we made our way back to Pontificia Universidad Javeriana to meet with a professor of health policy and the former secretary of health in Bogotá. Though he is a medical doctor, he insists that his primary role in Colombia is as a social activist. He discussed Colombia's denial of racial discrimination and institutionalized racism in his personal and professional experiences. He discussed his efforts to improve primary care in Colombia and his research on social and environmental determinants of health. He has started projects that promote urban rejuvenation and "city health" in order to improve the living conditions of Colombia's poor as a means to improve their health status.

- Ine

Dispatch from the human rights team

In a hectic day at the office, the human rights group met first with a Colombian NGO working primarily with the multisectoral issues surrounding displacement and the needs of displaced populations. The group's research suggests that a connection exists between military presence and displaced populations. Through the lens of human rights, the group has observed the disproportionate number of homicides, incidents of violence, and number of active paramilitary groups in departments most affected by displacement.

The group has seen, as in other cases of internal displacement, that official processes and channels of recognition for displaced persons. With the environment team, the group discussed consequences for the health and education for displaced families, and the gaps left unaddressed by legislation on the subject. By independent estimates, between 1985 and 2011, a staggering 5.494 million Colombians have been displaced, mainly due to conflict, which in turn is sustained and financed through resource exploitation by responsible groups.

The afternoon meeting, attended by the larger group, was with a prominent union representing workers from 60 companies. The group has researched the difficulties of unionization and the trends in membership and activities in Colombia. Unions in Bogota have worked to raise awareness and pursue legal cases against major companies.

The group’s final meeting was perhaps the most pertinent to the research topic – with Grupo Memoria Historica. The team was able to obtain valuable perspectives on the origins and foundations of GMH, including early concerns such as dilemmas on appropriate methodologies to be used in the collection ofhistorical memory.

GMH’s choice of emblematic cases, the team learned, was basedon an assessment of key factors present in different degrees in the relevant cases,such as presence and degree of conflict, involved groups, or indigenousidentities. The key aspect was not just to collect statistics on human rights atrocities but also to examine the impact of violence on victims and families.The goal was to create an indigenous effort that operated under the collective definition of justice. The meeting was particularly relevant for it spoke tothe difficulties inherent in the process of historical memory, such as logistical and security issues in gaining access to victim groups and the ideaof beginning this process while the conflict persisted. The team also learned of the process through which the GMH reports were drafted and finalized throughcommunity participation, and how the reports have become incorporated intocontemporary art forms.

GMH is in the process of being transformed into the Center for Historical Memory with the mandate to archive and provide symbolicacknowledgement to the atrocities of Colombia’s past.

- Emad

Dispatch from the security team

The security team began early by meeting with Fundacion Ideas para la Paz. Founded in 1998, the think tank is committed to monitoring conflict, negotiations, post-conflict, business sector, and security/police issues. This was a good opportunity for us to talk to two experts on the Bacrims. In our conversations with them, they discussed the origins of the Bacrims as they had evolved from the paramilitary groups in Colombia. They, too, referred to the Bacrims as neo-paramilitary groups because of much of the same leadership and membership in these older incarnations. Our hosts also reiterated the importance of the government addressing the Bacrims as well as the FARC.

Our host at Corporation Arco Iris explains the origins of the Bacrim.
We also visited Corporation Arco Iris and got even more insight on the Bacrims. There, we got a comprehensive (and even a little intense) overview on the history of the guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and the Barcims. In our discussion, we also learned about the techniques, tactics, and procedures of these various groups, and then focused particularly on the Bacrims as our research paper will mainly focus on that. The conversation went really well, although we suffered from the "fire hose effect" with so much information being thrown at us. Nonetheless, a fascinating meeting and discussion.

- Neal

Dispatch from the environment team

The environment group made the most of the leap year with three planned and one impromptu meeting, as well as the discovery of a delicious hole-in-the-wall café and a sweater-wearing Chihuahua. In the morning we tagged along with the human rights group to meet an NGO that compiles information on displacement in Colombia, often coming up with distinct numbers than those released by the government. The group relayed that the “post-conflict” development narrative now being told about Colombia often masks the narrative of continuing violence and human rights violations in the country—something to keep in mind in our research on the biofuel industry.

Our lunch talk with a unionist coalition based in Bogotá, snowballed us to another contact and afternoon meeting (theimpromptu one foreshadowed earlier). But first came the café, where we drank creamy hot chocolate and listened to the rain while sitting in beautiful wooden chairs made by the owner who later lent us his laptop. Muy amable.

Our (first) afternoon meeting was with Fedepalma, the palmgrowers association of Colombia, where we met with an environmental expert and a social development expert. The two were extremely knowledgeable, and we touched on a wide range of topics, from employment to the Free Trade Agreement to targeted expansion of the agricultural frontier. We learned more about the recent life cycle analysis of the biofuel industry in Colombia, which determined biofuel’s carbon footprint as compared to diesel. Not counting indirect land use change, biofuels represent an 83% reduction in emissions from diesel; counting indirect land use change, the figure is still at least a 46% reduction—still well above the European standard of 35%. Though he acknowledged that palm plantations span the spectrum of excellent to poor management, the social development export noted that Fedepalma is working towards helping all plantations run at a high level of efficiency in terms of resource use.

Our final meeting of the day was with a human rights non-profit. We met with a lawyer who has worked on the (in)famous Las Pavas case in the northwest of the country, where the population (120 families, according to a recent news report) were displaced from their land three times by violence and returned three times. Upon the second return, they found the land covered in palm, a crop that uses a lot of water and does not fit with the community’s farming and fishing traditions. In the news, these campesinos have been accused of taking advantage of land reparation laws to claim territory that was never theirs, but our host told a story of palmeros delegitimizing community leaders and intimidating the population. So, as our research deepens, our understanding of the social and environmental impacts of the palm industry is both clarifying and complicating.

- Allie

Dispatch from the business and trade team

The business and trade team at Fundacion Ideas para la Paz.
The business and trade team started our day at the Fundación Ideas para la Paz, which was founded in 1999. Fundación focuses on developing the business industry by recommending guidelines and best practices to assist companies via research and technical assistance. This assistance mostly takes place in rural communities, specifically in locales where multinational corporations (MNCs) may initially be met with suspicion. In the past, this suspicion led community members to block the roads to keep out companies. However, with the guidance of Fundación, the corporation met with communities members. This meeting led the company to provided training and jobs, which led to a mutually beneficial relationship for the corporation and local community members.

Worker training in Colombia is unique in that the nation is conflict and post-conflict simultaneously. Thus, ex-combatants must be reintegrated into society so that they will not return to guerrilla warfare or coca farming. In training combatants companies also limit the amount of violence carried out in the communities where they are working. Ensuring human rights become good for business and not just a part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

After meeting with the union with the larger group, we headed over in the rain to Proexport to meet with Camilo Andres Ayala Patino. Proexport falls under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade and has 24 international offices. The goal of the organization is to increase Colombian exports around the globe. In 2012 Proexport's focus is regionalization of trade. This will be accomplished by sharing information about international markets with businesses, offering export training and adapting Colombian businesses so that they can be successful in the international market.

Camilo stressed the importance of education for business owners. Once owners learn how to effectively package, brand, and prepare for international logistics, they can more successfully integrate into the global market. In the era of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), successful market integration is especially important as companies with more exposure to international trade will be more successful in competing with global organizations.

After leaving Proexport we had time for a cup of coffee and then headed to Escuela Nueva to learn about the meaningful work being done by Vicky Colbert and teachers around the world. Our jam-packed day ended with a delicious dinner at Tabula with policy leaders. Whew! This is our last full day in Bogota. Tomorrow we will be heading to Cartagena. Stay tuned!

- Kyasha

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 4: Virtus, group meetings and U-M alumni

After a morning of separate meetings, all five groups met for lunch with representatives of the Bogota-based management consultant firm Virtus. The consultants presented an overview of conditions and opportunities for investment in Colombia, highlighting five "growth engines" identified by the government for spurring economic development: innovation, infrastructure, mining, housing and agribusiness. But Colombia's under-developed infrastructure, large informal sector, and limited access to financial services continue to pose challenges.

Dispatch from the security team

The security team began the day with its most informative meeting yet -- at the International Crisis Group. Following a short introduction from Colombia/Andes Project Director Silke Pfeiffer, we dove heads-first into a lively discussion with analyst Christian Voelkel about the Colombian government's response to BaCrim groups. Our first line of business: define the BaCrim -- a task that stumps even the government, Voelkel said, given that the six major BaCrim groups operate very differently from each other.

Christian Voelkel, second from right, with the security team.
The most powerful BaCrim, for example, (Rastrojos) was born from cartel links but today operates like a paramilitary. The group is armed, uniformed and known to regularly threaten and kill social leaders. One scenario Voelkel recounted is of Rastrojos calling forward community members, accusing some of supporting the FARC, and executing them. Their motivations appear to be largely economic, however. Even the name Rastrojos can be bought and used like a franchise.

Voelkel said calling these groups "BaCrim" over-simplifies who they are. A preferred term is "New Illegally Armed Groups," or NIAGs. Given the complexity of the problems the NIAGs cause, Voelkel said, the government needs more than law enforcement to defeat them. Keep an eye on this space in the next couple months for our recommendations -- some of which are sure to come from our conversation with Voelkel.

- Lindsay

Neal with General Serrano, drinking coffee in his hoffice.
The team also had the extreme pleasure of meeting with General Rosso Jose Serrano Cadena. Serrano is the former Chief General of the Colombian National Police and has recently served as ambassador to Austria as well as a government advisor on counternarcotics. He is one of the most respected figures in Colombia, and being picked up by him and his driver, meeting with him in his office, and drinking Colombian coffee from his monogrammed coffee set was truly special and an honor. Our team mates, Rocio and Veronica, took turns translating for the General as he discussed issues surrounding drug trafficking in Colombia, including the origins of the BaCrims and what policies need to be adopted or amended to engage them. He also showed us the many pictures hanging in his office, including a photo with U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert and even Fidel Castro. Also joining us was one of our faculty advisers, Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky, who has met Gen. Serrano numerous times when he was still Captain Serrano, Colonel Serrano and then eventually Ambassador Serrano, his most recent title.

Before our dinner with U-M alumni, we enjoyed a comprehensive briefing on counternarcotics from the National Police intelligence analysis unit.

- Neal

Dispatch from the social policy team

Today we spent the afternoon at the Ministry of Education meeting with the Vice Minister of Higher Education and Deputy Director of Higher Education, the Vice Minister of Secondary Education, and working groups within the office of Early Childhood Education. The discussion on higher education built upon what we'd previously learned from the World Bank the day before. Tertiary education is reaching higher quality standards and graduating more students with professional degrees and PhDs than ever before, yet there is only the capacity (faculty, classrooms, etc.) to accommodate 50% of students who apply to higher education institutions. Moreover, for the half of the applicants who are actually able to matriculate the drop out rate is substantial.

The discussion with the secondary education experts revealed Colombia's efforts to reduce education disparities and provide culturally tailored curricula for internally displaced peoples (IDPs), indigenous populations, and Afro-Colombians while still maintaining uniform quality of education across the system. For early childhood education, the approach is more comprehensive, involving multiple other ministries such as the Ministry of Health. The goal is to provide children with a variety of social services at an early age to improve their possibilities for success in the future.

The Ministry of Education has shifted its focus from coverage to quality and has partnered with McKinsey to identify opportunities for improvement. All across Colombia there are brand new mayors and the Minister of Education views this as an opportune moment to shape education initiatives at a municipal level.

- Ine

Dispatch from the human rights team

The Human Rights group met with human rights NGOs working on various aspects of identification, victims' rights, and legal issues surrounding the peace and justice project in the morning to parse further the intertwined aspects of human rights imperatives surrounding Law 975 (Justice and Peace Law). The group sought explore the components of a successful process for transitional justice in Colombia, and the progress made in this regard, as well as with respect to international human rights standards. The group observed that the inclusion of victims in judicial proceedings - even on emblematic cases - remains an issue of utmost importance. The group further explored policy and reform options, such as the streamlining of pending cases and appointment of more magistrates to raise capacity of the justice system.

The team’s afternoon meeting was with an NGO mainly focused on psychosocial support for victims through identification of persons executed extrajudicially or considered missing or disappeared. The group's research suggests that identification and verification processes have been frustrated by the absence of information and databases of citizens.

- Emad

Dispatch from the environment team

In the environment team’s morning meeting, Dr. Jorge Bendeckof the Biocombustibles Association told us that, when it came to biofuel production, Colombia was different. While in mega-producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia biofuel cultivation goes hand-in-hand with deforestation, in Colombia, converting rainforest for agriculture is prohibited, Bendeck said.

The palm frontier is not the Amazon but rather the eastern plains of the Andes where 1.5 million hectares of degraded land—many of them abandoned cattle pasture—have been identified as fit to plant. Bendeck urges international policymakers to avoid generalizations about the biofuel industry and consider cultivation practices country-by-country. He sees palm plantations as both driving rural development—one direct and two indirect jobs are created for every seven acres of palm planted—and also as a major player in climate change mitigation, since palm plantations can serve as “oxygen factories.”

Our afternoon meeting with Ana Maria Loboguerrero Rodriguez, an economist in the National Planning Department’s climate change division, widened our lens on climate change mitigation and adaptation in Colombia. Until the 2010 National Development Plan (NDP), which serves as a road map for the country until 2014, Colombia was mostly focused on climate change mitigation, or reduction of emissions, and in implementing its low-carbon growth strategy. Since Colombia’s energy sector is already extremely clean—70% of the country’s energy is hydro—the pressure points on emissions reduction were usually put on agriculture. However, the most recent NDP, which coincided with intense flooding in the country in December 2010, turned Colombia’s attention towards climate change adaptation. The NDP includes protocols for measuring climate risk and asks regional governments to come up with region-specific plans for adapting to climate variability.

At global climate conferences, Colombia, though certainly not a small island country, pushes to be recognized as similarly vulnerable to climate change due to their economic dependence on ecosystem services. In terms of long-term sustainable development in the country, Rodriguez sees quantifying these ecosystem services as key. “Water has no price” is no longer a satisfying answer to mining companies who come to the table with numbers, ready to hash out concessions. The priceless must be translated to pesos for effective low carbon development.

- Allie

Dispatch from the private industry team

Business and trade started our morning by visiting the United States Agency for International Development. USAID representatives gave a wonderful overview of microfinance from the 1980s until today. We learned that the barriers to microfinance in rural places include the high costs associated with banks moving to rural places and finding clients. The current usury cap is 40%, but banks would need to charge a higher rate to pay for the costs associated with microlending in rural places. In order to address this problem the Final Inclusion Bill Draft was proposed in March 2011 to increase the cap on the usury rate.

We then joined the group at Virtus, where the entire IEDP group got some insight into the fiscal challenges that our team has been closely researching. Our day ended with a delicious, marathon dinner at Andres Carne de Res with University of Michigan Alumni.

- Kyasha

For pictures from our alumni dinner, visit us on Facebook!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 3: The U.S. Embassy, World Bank and group meetings

Our first day of meetings was an overwhelming success, with each policy research group visiting a number of sites to interview experts and policymakers (read on for more). We also had two sessions in which the entire class participated: a briefing at the U.S. Embassy and a Q&A session at the World Bank.

Our visit to the Embassy began with a country briefing from the Deputy Chief of Mission, who has served in Colombia off-and-on since the late 1980s. As a result, he has observed the evolution of the U.S. partnership with Colombia since the very beginning of Plan Colombia. His perspective of this partnership -- and its role in managing Colombia's ongoing conflict -- was overwhelmingly positive. He and many of his embassy colleagues view Plan Colombia as a success.

The DCM credited part of the success to the U.S. for its contributions of money and expertise. But even the most well-intended foreign aid packages fail when the local government is not fully engaged in the policy. Thus, he said the success of Plan Colombia has really been the result of the Colombian's political will, commitment and willingness to eventually put their own money into the effort. Today, U.S. financing of Plan Colombia is shrinking, as the Colombian government takes over more control of its programs (a good thing). And together, the U.S. and Colombia are moving toward a whole-of-government approach that will emphasize economic development as much as law enforcement and counternarcotics.

The whole gang at the World Bank.

The other bookend in our day was the World Bank, where Bank experts also credited Colombian political will with many economic developments that have been made in the last few years. They called it "putting the government in the driver's seat." Colombia's tax structure, distribution of royalties from oil, and education system are in dire need of reform, however.

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the security team

The security policy team got off to a great start today at the U.S. Embassy. After the DCM's briefing, my fellow security operatives and I met with other embassy representatives to discuss security and narcotics issues in Colombia. One is the program officer of the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) at the embassy, which has a large investment in various counternarcotics operations in Colombia. The other is a U.S. Army officer who is the operations and plans officer at the U.S. Military Group Colombia (MilGrp). Both offered background and insight on what the most pressing security issues are in Colombia; particularly the FARC and the Bacrims. They are two of the many bright professionals who we would want to spent more than just two hours with, but nonetheless, learned a great deal from.

The team's next mission was lunch with an LGBT rights lawyer. The social-policy team was gracious enough to let us piggyback on their discussion, and we also learned a great deal from him. A social policy expert and legal professional, he is also very knowledgeable on several human rights and security issues in Colombia, which we benefited from very much. His core focus, however, is policy addressing the gay and lesbian community.

We ended the day rejoining our other IEDP colleagues at the World Bank where we discussed various development issues -- particularly in public education -- in Colombia. As we are part of the International Economic Development Program, this discussion proved to be central in understanding the economic issues surrounding Colombia today and the many policies that continue to improve Colombia's economy.

- Neal

Dispatch from the business and trade team

Our first day of meetings got off to an exciting start at the US Embassy! The Business and Trade group learned further about the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) from two embassy staggers. The FTA has served to remove the barriers for Colombian goods in the US market. As one of the staffers elegantly explained, "free trade agreements act as a bridge between nations. Normally, the bridge has a tollbooth at each nation's entrance. The FTA removes that tollbooth. Yet, it is up to each nation whether they travel on the bridge..."

Jeff, Sophia, Kyasha, Sara, Mauricio, and Naveen (L to R)
In the afternoon our group headed to Fedesarrollo, where we were met by Mr. Mauricio Reina. He shared that textiles, apparel, shoes, coffee, graphics, horticulture and auto-parts are sectors that will all greatly benefit from the FTA.

Throughout the day we learned the steps that Colombia is taking to further strengthen its economy, including reformation of the tax system, justice system and royalty system. Infrastructure, health and education are sectors that require further development in order for Colombia to successfully trade on the international market. Tomorrow, we are meeting with the Minister of Trade. We're looking forward to hearing more about Colombia's trade relations around the world.

- Kyasha

Dispatch from the social policy team

Today we met with USAID's Vulnerable Populations special task force at the U.S. Embassy to discuss measures USAID has taken to advocate on behalf of victims of Colombia's conflict, the indigenous population, and Afro-Colombians. We learned that one of USAID's biggest roles is to help manage the efforts of multiple NGOs and government agencies on behalf of these populations for more effective programming. Additionally, not only do they champion equal opportunity employment agreements and affirmative action measures, but they also seek to elevate the national discourse on race relations and discrimination through multimedia communication campaigns.

For lunch we met with one of Colombia's leading LGBT rights lawyers. Considering Colombia's conservative current administration, people were surprised to learn that Colombia has an exemplary record on LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage has been legalized by the federal government so that same-sex couples have equal rights and considerations under the law as heterosexual couples. The topic of discussion bounced between various pressing social and economic issues as our host touched on the use of tutelas as a means of ensuring the right to health, bandas criminales, and his thoughts on the U.S.'s somewhat contradictory narcotrafficking policies in Colombia.

- Ine

Dispatch from the environment team

The environment team spent the morning chatting with three experts at the U.S. Embassy. When it comes to promoting low emissions development (LED) in Colombia, we don’t have to convince them of anything, one staffer told us; Colombia is on board. As we found out in our afternoon meeting, biofuels were conceived of as part of the country’s ‘green production’ strategy under Pastraña’s administration when the then-president visited Indonesia and Malaysia and saw biofuel production as the future—he dreamed of 3 million hectares of palm plantations within 12 years. Today, Fedepalma, Colombia’s largest biofuel company, is a major recipient of clean development mechanism (CDM) funding—a good indicator of the industry’s role in LED. However, as the embassy officials told us, though Colombia has one of the most aggressive biofuel policies in the world, the industry faces friction in terms of infrastructure (transporting the fuels from production sites is a challenge) and commercial market conditions (palm oil is more profitable than biodiesel).

Our afternoon meeting with a human rights group that works in conflict zones, offered us a perspective on the darker side of the biofuel industry. Our host confirmed reports we’ve read that connect palm expansion to the displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in rural regions. When we asked if the biofuel industry could benefit rural communities in any way, he responded definitively: no. He gave two reasons for his conviction: (1) Switching to palm production would require a cultural transformation which isn’t forthcoming, and that (2) palm is only profitable when grown on expansive plantations, so the industry is not conducive to small farmers. 

In the coming days, the environment team hopes to further parse the polar perspectives we’ve encountered on the biofuel industry and search for common ground.

- Allie
Dispatch from the human rights team

The Human Rights team commenced its research on developments in the subject following the demobilization process, the Justice and Peace Law, and documentation of historical memory. The groups assessed and researched the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy in Colombia and initiatives in this regard. The group met with experts in various aspects of U.S. involvement pertaining to the facilitation and initiation of human rights development in the Colombia.

Particularly relevant to the group's research are USAID programs such as the Early Warning System, aimed at detecting populations or communities vulnerable to human rights atrocities. Other USAID projects cover a wide range of human rights issues, including gender rights, technical support for legal practitioners, LGBT rights advocacy, legal aid through Justice Houses, and support for legal education institutions. The issue of sustainability in terms of Colombian ownership of human rights institutions and programs remains central to USAID’s efforts in the field, as evidenced from the creation and institutionalization of the Ombudsman’s Office.

The group’s second meeting of the day was with a legal and rights advocacy organization to explore in detail the issue of documentation, archivization, investigation, and litigation in emblematic cases. The group's research traced the roots of the Justice and Peace Law and human rights developments in context of the politics that underpinned and facilitated the processes, and looked at case studies of emblematic cases. The group sought to identify the avenues for continued human rights advocacy, as well as how NGO involvement has evolved between administrations and legislative developments. The group observed that - while much progress has been made in the justice project - particularly as evidenced in recent trials of military officers and the indictment of those involved in the parapolitics scandal, much still is left to be desired. While Law 975, the work of Grupo Memoria Historica, and recent progress holds promise for the future of human rights protection in the country, major problems remain in the form of institutionalized impunity,victim participation, and reparations processes.

- Emad

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 2: Siteseeing

One of our groups on a site-seeing adventure.

Overlooking Bogota from Monserrate.

Perusing the souvenir stalls behind the church.

Stopping for a freshly roasted snack.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 1 - Volunteering at Pintando Caminos and the YMCA

Clothes hang to dry on the roof of a typical home in Ciudad Bolivar.
Twelve of our group spent our first morning in Bogota on the very edge of the city -- where paved streets give way to pocketed dirt paths that climb, plunge and wind around crumbling neighborhoods. Ciudad Bolivar is one of the poorest communities in Bogota and home to the community center Pintando Caminos. An occasionally harrowing (thanks to Bogota traffic) trek across town and into the hills brought us to Pintando's front door, with Elmer's glue and piles of colorful paper in tow.

Pintando's founder and director, Alexandra Tamara, greeted us with hugs and invited us to walk with her to a nearby park to get oriented to the neighborhood. From the top of a hill, we could see the community's sprawl: rows and rows of crude, tin-roofed structures blanketed a wide area. Alexandra said many of the homes did not have running water. Built up by migrants from nearby rural areas, Ciudad Bolivar is continually growing, and it is hard for the government to provide services and infrastructure. Schools are over-crowded, and most children never graduate. Gangs and guerrillas are active in the area, as police struggle to maintain peace and security. Often children are recruited to do work for the gangs because, as minors, they cannot be tried and convicted for their crimes.

Kids paste down colorful paper on their paper plate mosaics.
In the middle of all this, Alexandra and Pintando Caminos give Ciudad Bolivar children a space to play, do crafts and interact with trustworthy adults. The goal is to give them a temporary escape from the bad things in their lives and to teach them self-respect and love.

By the time we returned from our walk, more than 60 kids had gathered in Pintando's main activity room. Half of them would do crafts with us, and the other half would make the short walk back to the park to play sports. After some initial instructions, we set to work making paper plate mosaics and quickly discovered the children to be full of enthusiasm and creative ideas. Outside, the other group was playing soccer and climbing a jungle gym. We played and crafted for a couple hours then helped Pintando staff distribute juice and bread to the kids. Shortly thereafter, the activities ended with even more hugs than we got when we arrived -- this time from the children, who seemed to be having so much fun they didn't want to leave. It was almost easy to forget the terrible conditions they live in, and the fear and uncertainty their families face every day.

But we were soon reminded of these conditions when we piled back in the van and bumped along the treacherous path back to the city. Many of those children, we realized, will never finish their education, move to better neighborhoods and escape poverty. But hopefully some of them will, thanks to the efforts of Pintando Caminos to inspire, motivate and guide them. Maybe homework help from Pintando volunteers or the self-esteem boost of playing a sport will push some of them to make better lives for themselves. We hope so.

Visit us on Facebook to see more pictures, and learn more about Pintando Caminos here.

- Lindsay Minnema


Today in Bogota, 13 of us visited the YMCA to spend time with local children. It was a tremendous opportunity to meet these children as well as the YMCA staff and volunteers who welcomed us to their organization. The area of Bogota where the YMCA is located is know as a "tolerance zone," meaning that while prostitution is not legalized here, the laws against it are not enforced. Much of the community centers around the sex trade, and the Y makes a great effort to provide a normal environment for the local children. When we arrived, the children were involved in various arts and crafts projects, games, learning exercises, etc. There were also some kids playing a heavily contested game of soccer.

The YMCA director, Alveiro, and his staff divided our group into four groups of 3 or 4. We each had a Y volunteer and a translator (although several of us, not including myself, are proficient Spanish speakers) and took a walk around the neighborhood. We visited a family consisting of a grandmother, a mother, and a couple of young daughters. They were kind enough to invite us into their home while our YMCA hosts explained their situation, which is very similar to many other families in that neighborhood. While most of them have a loved one who is a sex worker, they all seem to enjoy a close family relationship.

We then returned to the Y to meet some of the kids who were participating in painting and we even had a dance competition. We taught them how to say "Go Blue" and immediately after doing so, some of the boys swarmed around me and proceeded to paint me blue! We then walked to what is called "The Jungle" which is a community recreation center where local kids who are not necessarily part of the Y can go to play and let loose a little. At the Jungle, there is miniature golf, basketball, soccer, a climbing wall, a jungle gym, a zip line, and a rope bridge. After looking up at the rope bridge, I realized why this place is called the Jungle as there were stuffed monkeys hanging off of it!

Before we left the YMCA, we played a friendly game of soccer with some of the kids, staff, and volunteers. I think it's safe to say that everyone in our group fell in love with those kids who were incredibly happy to see us and be spending time with us. Spending today at the YMCA here was truly an eye-opening experience. The biggest take-away from today was that these children are at high risk of becoming delinquents for enduring the environment and conditions in which they live on a daily basis. Despite this, the vast majority of them become success stories proving that this program -- which gives these kids love and care where they would otherwise not receive it -- truly works.

- Neal Carter

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 0: Detroit - Bogota

Waiting at the airport, at a time when most of us 
would rather be sleeping:

Our first glimpses of Bogota...

At dinner near our hotel: 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Institutionalized Inequality in the Age of Reform

It is difficult to talk about a single social policy issue because no social issue occurs in isolation. As Audre Lorde tells us, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Thus, the social policy team set out to explore the status of education, health, and Afro-Colombians. In societies with egregious inequality such as Colombia, education and socioeconomic status are key social determinants of a population’s health. At the same time, we know that poor health affects educational achievement and socioeconomic status. Moreover, a population’s socioeconomic status affects their level of education and their health. How then do we parse out the connections between these three issues?
Our presentation reviewed the inequalities that persist in the educational and health system, giving particular attention to how those inequalities play out for Afro-Colombians. Since the process of decentralization, Colombia has undergone a series of health reforms, namely La Ley 100/1993 which established a managed competition model of health care with the goal of achieving universal health care and improving equity.  Colombia has also implemented novel education programs such as Escuela Nueva and Familias en Acción that have helped achieve nearly universal primary school coverage. Despite these efforts, inequalities still persist in both systems, and in some cases the policies have only reinforced inequality. A comparison between Afro-Colombians and the non-minority ethnic population (white and/or mestizo) along a series of indicators such as illiteracy, level of education, life expectancy, and health care coverage reveals how Colombia’s development initiatives aren’t reaching the Afro-Colombian population.
We outlined the history of Afro-Colombians, how Mestizaje ideology, discrimination, and color-blind racism fostered a hostile environment for Afro-Colombians, and relevant policies like Constitutional Court Order 005/2009 aimed at addressing the situation of Afro-Colombians, to further contextualize our research questions. Colombian UM PhD candidates Angela Perez, Ingrid Sanchez, and Monica Hernandez joined us to share their perspectives from the field.
This exploration should serve not only to elucidate the situation in Colombia, but as a mirror of our own problems of racial inequality at home. Colombia, a developing country that ranks lower than the U.S. on every development measure, displays health and education disparities along racial lines comparable to trends in the U.S., especially in cities like Detroit and Chicago. Oppression everywhere is an outrage and we hope our research gives you pause for thought.
Panel Discussion (From left to right: Angela Perez, Ingrid Sanchez, Monica Hernandez)

The Social Policy Team (From left to Right: Ronisha Harvey, Eboni Wells, Marisol Ramos, Ine Collins, Dionisio Garcia Piriz)

By: Ine Collins, University of Michigan School of Public Health, MPH Candidate '13

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Business, Trade and Social Inequality

The Business and Trade committees focused on business and trade’s impact on inequality. Colombia has the second highest level of income inequality in Latin America with a Gini Coefficient of 0.587 in 2009. Business and trade serve as a way to decrease the income inequality by providing more opportunities for Colombian citizens. Colombia is currently working on several policies to reduce income inequality including increasing financial access for households and enterprises, redistributing royalties, and worker protection.
The informal economy in Colombia employs 52.2% of the nation. Standardizing the informal economy will allow for ease in doing business, equitable social security benefit distribution, and the ability to monitor labor abuses. The standardization of the informal economy can also lead to the creation of small and medium enterprises (SME).
One great benefit for becoming a SME is the ability to apply for microfinance loans. In 2009, over US$300 billion was loaned to small businesses. A majority of these businesses would not be able to secure a loan at a traditional bank due to a lack of collateral. Microfinance steps into the gap to transition citizens from the informal economy to SMEs and to lessen the gap between rich and poor by offering more people the opportunity to start enterprises. Finally, microfinance has led to a reduction in coca farming in rural areas.
Trade also has a large impact on the Colombian economy. The US-Colombia Free Trade Act (FTA) was signed in November 2006 and ratified by the US Congress in October 2011. This act serves to continue trade preferences established under the 1991 Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.  The FTA will allow over 80% of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia to enter duty free. It also focuses on environmental protection and the protection of Colombian labor rights.
Business and trade policy has impacted inequality in various ways. Two examples of these influences can be found in oil royalties and in the floriculture industry. The oil and mining industries use fees and taxes (known as royalties) to promote social, regional and intergenerational equality. This distribution is based upon population, poverty, efficiency and inequality indexes. Due to prior corruption and mismanagement of funds, in 2010, approximately 80% of royalty’s revenues from the oil and coal sectors went to only nine of the country’s 32 departments. The Santos government has combatted this corruption by creating a General Royalties System (GRS) to ensure equitable division of goods. This step will ensure that poorer regions of the nation have more capital to combat inequality.
Another example of inequality due to business and trade can be found in the floriculture industry. Colombia is the second largest exporter of cut flowers after the Netherlands. In 2006, Colombia exported a total of 223.2 million kg of cut flowers valued at $960.5 million. This was approximately 4.24% of Columbia’s total exports, making cut flowers its fourth largest export. The cut-flower industry is the largest employer of women in the Bogotá region and in 2005 the industry provided 111,000 direct jobs through farming and 94,000 auxiliary jobs through transportation. In order to meet this large demand for flowers, workers are required to work long hours and are oftentimes exposed to unsafe working conditions.
A study done by the Colombian National Institute of Health in 1990 found that flower workers had a higher rate of miscarriage, premature birth and babies born with congenital effects. Workers also face low pay and repetitive stress industries. To combat these dismal circumstances, many have begun to organize unions including UntraFlores. UntraFlores is a collection of unions that fight for recognition, good contracts and a right to safety. Policy suggestions for the future include the provision of safety gear, maternity leave for pregnant workers and national safety standards for the flower industry.
Our presentation was also strengthened by Alejandro Ossa from Proexport, an organization that is designed to attract Foreign Direct Investment in Colombia. During his address, Mr. Ossa discussed the many gains of the Colombian economy and the future gains to be made in health tourism, chocolate production, shrimp farming and cosmetics, amongst other fields.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

IEDP Environment Looks at Biofuel Policy in Colombia

In Colombia, biofuel production is a mandate—a 2007 law called for a minimum blend of 10% ethanol (E10) and 5% biodiesel (B5), and the Transmilenio mass transit system in Bogotá has been running on mixtures of between B5 and B50 since then.  Biofuels burn clean and are often seen as part of the solution to overreliance on fossil fuels and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The Colombian government is also promoting palm plantations as a way to eradicate coca production while providing poor farmers with a lucrative alternative.

However, biofuels have a dark side. Though low-carbon on the tailpipe end, biofuels can actually be a large source of carbon emissions on the production end, if forests are cut down to make way for monoculture palm plantations. In Colombia, these palm plantations have not only displaced carbon, but also people—mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous people. And with the government aiming to expand the land area used for export crops, including palm oil, to seven million hectares by 2020, these deforestation and land rights issues will only become more acute if not addressed soon.

How can biofuel policy in Colombia promote economic development and climate change mitigation without compromising the environment or human rights? The IEDP environment team has been trying to untangle this issue for the last two months, and on Friday, we’ll present some preliminary ideas to the class. Mike Dwyer, Director of Global Policy Analysis at the Foreign Agricultural Service of USDA, along with biofuel experts Renee Schwartz and Paul Trupo, will join us for an overview of U.S. interests in Colombian biofuel production.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Human Rights in Colombia: Past and Present

On Friday, the IEDP Human Rights group (pictured below) presented an overview of historical and contemporary challenges pertaining to human rights in Colombia. The group presentation was a prelude to a conversation with Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International - an organization that works to assist and advocate for human rights defenders.

The group first overviewed human rights reporting and documentation of human rights abuses and violations by quasi-state and state actors. The group then traced human rights abuses by paramilitaries and left-wing insurgencies, as well as the legal framework that facilitated impunity. In 1994, the demobilization process officially started and culminated in the codification of Law 975 (Justice and Peace Law). The group explored the origins of the law, the resulting procedural and institutional reforms, and enduring problems with human rights and reparations. In this regard, the Colombian truth and reconciliation process was compared to other Latin American initiatives. Finally, the group introduced the historical memory (Memoria Historica) project and emblematic cases.

Moira Birss, as guest speaker, provided further clarification of the nature and history of human rights problems in the country, including land reform and rehabilitation, environmental justice, and economic rights. She highlighted the realities of and challenges for human rights work in Colombia, and the role of the now defunct agencies in impeding progress in this context. Ms. Birss also highlighted the work of NGOs and landmark achievements in human rights advocacy in Colombia.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Human Rights, Truth and Reconciliation in Colombia

Transitioning from our conversation about security imperatives in Colombia, we will be examining human rights issues this week, focusing in particular on the processes for demobilization and reconciliation. Human rights issues in Colombia cut across civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. We will begin by looking at the history of human rights abuses and violations by participants in the violence - paramilitaries, security forces, and rebel groups - and examine emblematic cases such as the Trujillo massacre and the targeting of union leaders.

In 2005, Colombia passed the controversial Justice and Peace Law (Law 975) to strengthen the reparative justice mechanisms within the demobilization process. The landmark legislation created the Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación. Paramilitaries, however, continue to use violent tactics, and progress on victims' rights to reparations has been slow. Our discussion will cover the institutional and structural reforms established by the Law, and the problems that have arisen as a result in the truth and reconciliation process. We will discuss, in this context, what Colombia can learn from truth and reconciliation efforts elsewhere. Finally, the Human Rights Group will introduce its research topic - Memoria Historica, a research group and effort that seeks to give voice to the stories of victims and formulate policy proposals for the safeguard of human rights. The creation of a rights-based narrative of the armed conflict is seen as essential to the process of reconciliation and peace in the country.

We will later be joined via Skype by Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International's Colombia team. A Michigan alum, Moira spent two years in Colombia as a Human Rights Accompanier with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Moira will speak about her experience with human rights organization and provide a general context for human rights work, comparing progress on the issue under Santos regime with the performance of the Uribe administration. The conversation is open to members of the Ford School and University of Michigan community.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Squeezing the Balloon" in Colombia

Squeezing the Balloon: Applying pressure to one region of Colombia only to see the problem expand and burst in another region.  In this clip, Amb. Melvyn Levitsky discusses how tackling the narcotics problem in Colombia caused potential instability in other regions of the country.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Security and Counternarcotics in Colombia: Group Presentation and Ambassador Levitsky Lecture

For the first round of group presentations for IEDP Colombia, the Security and Counternarcotics group discussed the armed conflict in Colombia that has occurred for decades as well as the drug trade that fuels it.  The group briefly discussed the history of the armed conflict from "La Violencia" in the 1940's and 1950's to the formation of the leftist guerilla groups such as the FARC and ELC, and the opposing paramilitary groups.  The group also discussed the incorporation of the drug trade including the Medellin and Cali drug cartels.  It described how Plan Colombia was a U.S.-funded initiative to eliminate illicit narcotics and guerilla groups in Colombia and the results of the initiative.  Lastly, the group introduced recent Colombian presidential administrations and their policies toward security and counternarcotics in Colombia.

The Security and Counternarcotics group was especially thankful to have the Ford School's own Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky add to the discussion in the later half of the session.  A former ambassador to Bulgaria and Brazil and Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters, Amb. Levitsky is the resident expert on counternarcotics policy in Colombia.  In addition to his commentary on security and counternarcotics issues including the drug production cycle, drug-control tactics (including interdiction, eradication, demand side, and alternative development), and major developments in drug control in Colombia, he also provided parallels to counternarcotics issues in Afghanistan, Mexico, Peru, and other regions, and open the lecture for discussion.


In his presentation on Colombia's drug trade on January 27, 2012, Ambassador Levitsky included interesting details on the cocaine production cycle and trends in trafficking across Latin America over time. The class engaged in an interesting discussion of policy options, including alternative development.