Juan Forero at the Washington Post looks at the persistence of poverty in rural Colombia, something that is too rarely mentioned in the drug/guerrilla war context.
The other Colombia is one of rising inequality, the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America. The percentage of Colombians who are indigent also rose, from 20.2 percent in 2007 to nearly 23 percent in 2008, nearly double the region's average.
The guerrilla conflict, meanwhile, has uprooted 5 million people in 25 years and has helped ensure that more than 60 percent of rural Colombians remain poor, according to Ricardo Bonilla, an expert on poverty at Bogota's National University.
I suppose one could argue that you have to address the violence before you can really tackle poverty. However, those government policies aimed at rural development consciously ignore the poor because they aren't sufficiently productive.
But even government officials acknowledge that poverty remains widespread in the countryside. Indigent sharecroppers are relegated to the poorest soil, working land without title, while a swath the size of Virginia is in the hands of drug traffickers and corrupt politicians, said Alejandro Reyes, an expert on land and author of a recent book, "Warriors and Peasants: The Plundering of Land in Colombia."
Reyes said the Uribe administration places a priority on funneling aid to the biggest farms because the government thinks they are best suited to revive the rural economy. "The government thinks that the peasantry are not good producers, that they don't know how to save, how to assimilate technologies," Reyes said.
That philosophy was crystallized through the Insured Agro Income program, which provided most of a $250 million annual fund to sugar, palm oil and other large agricultural sectors.
In this desperately poor state of Magdalena, four families received most of the $10 million provided in 2007 and 2008, records show. Among those that benefited were various branches of the politically influential Vives family, which received $6.5 million.
What Forero should also have mentioned is a historic lack of state presence in the countryside. This is not just a matter of aid or spending, but a commitment to connecting far-flung communities to the rest of the country by working on infrastructure, effective local public administration, etc.