Each year, London-based news magazine The Economic selects its “country of the year,” and today it named Colombia as its 2016 honoree. “Our pick is Colombia, for making peace in 2016,” wrote The Economist. “This was a colossal achievement.”
In explaining its selection, the magazine looked back at the half-century of conflict between the state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This was a battle that, along with the rise of narco-trafficking powers in the 1990s, had the whole world wondering when — not if — the nation would turn into a failed state.
“The conflict between Colombia’s government and the Marxist insurgents of the FARC lasted for half a century and claimed perhaps 220,000 lives,” wrote The Economist. “At one point the country was on the brink of becoming a failed state — something that is now inconceivable. FARC guerrillas murdered with abandon, recruited children and occasionally forced girl soldiers who became pregnant to have abortions. They also ran drug, kidnapping, and extortion rackets to finance their war.”
“Government troops were brutal, too,” it added. “Some of them used fake job advertisements to lure innocent men to remote places. They then killed them and claimed the corpses were rebels, making themselves seem more heroic and increasing their odds of promotion.”
Colombia continues to have grave social issues, and its previously jet-fueled economic progress has been hamstrung by an unforeseen plummet that has created massive headwinds since late 2014. But the perspective offered here is telling. Colombia has come an incredible distance in a very short time.
“The nightmare ended in 2016 — touch wood,” wrote the magazine. “President Juan Manuel Santos thrashed out a peace deal with the FARC and submitted it to a referendum … Like most negotiated peace deals, Colombia’s is incomplete and involves ugly compromises. But the alternative is worse. Colombia is a worthy winner.”
Other recent “country of the year” winners have included Myanmar and Tunisia, which The Economist has recognized “for escaping tyranny and building something resembling democracy,” respectively. These countries, and Colombia, met the magazine’s key criteria: “We aim to reward improvement.”
Photo: Taken and modified by Martin St-Amant