Tag Archives inequality

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | COVID-19: solidarity as counter-narrative to crisis capitalism

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | COVID-19: solidarity as counter-narrative to crisis capitalism

The absence of serious measures to protect citizens from the COVID-19 virus in countries such as India and Brazil, as well as vaccine grabbing by countries in the Global North, ...

COVID-19 | Fighting pandemics = fighting inequalities: a business proposition

COVID-19 | Fighting pandemics = fighting inequalities: a business proposition

The most important lesson that we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that inequalities are the Achilles heel of a society that has been hit by a pandemic. Based ...

Positioning Academia | Reducing inequality should be our top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic—but it isn’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated income inequality all over the world. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of reducing inequality (SDG 10) is getting more and more off track. How are countries reacting to this worrying trend? This blog reviews how governments report on reducing income inequality to the UN, showing  that although attention to income inequality is increasing, strong policy measures to tackle the underlying structural factors that cause income inequality are often not reported and are still found wanting.

Through this series we are celebrating the legacy of Linda Johnson, former Executive Secretary of the ISS who retired in December last year. Having served the ISS in various capacities, Linda was also one of the founding editors of Bliss. She spearheaded many institutional partnerships, promoted collaboration, and organised numerous events, always unified in the theme of bringing people in conversation with each other across divides. This blog series about academics in the big world of politics, policy, and practice recognises and appreciates Linda’s contribution to the vitality of the ISS.

COVID-19 has been with us for around a year, and we can finally see what it’s doing based on the results of ongoing research. Such research on the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows that income inequality in low-, middle- and high-income countries is increasing: according to the ILO, poor workers are becoming poorer as some 600 million people work in sectors which are hardest hit and that pay poorly, while the informal sector where many of the poor work and lack any protection and public support is also severely affected. On top of that, the generation gap is increasing, with a greater number of younger workers being excluded from the labour market and having to work under precarious conditions, while relatively privileged workers are better sheltered from the COVID-19 economic outfall. Furthermore, as the value of global stocks has soared after an initial brief dip, the rich, and especially the super-rich, are getting richer during the pandemic.

It is in light of these worrying developments that a lack of progress in meeting the SDGs requires greater attention. The UN’s Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) discussed at its annual High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) can help shed light on how countries have been doing in meeting the SDGs during the pandemic. Every year a batch of 40-50 different countries provide the forum with an extensive report on progress on the SDGs in their country—the so-called Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). I have been involved in these discussions and in shaping an analysis discussed below.

According to a UN-CDP analysis published in 2019, SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) was the most underreported SDG in 2019 VNRs. However, a preliminary analysis of last year’s reviews shows that attention to this SDG has increased. This is a positive sign, as reducing income inequality, which is growing as mentioned above, is needed more than ever in a post-COVID-19 world.

But we also observe that those SDGs that echo the MDGs, such as the ones on health, education, and gender, still dominate in most of these reviews. The MDGs were concentrated almost exclusively on social issues, while the SDGs seek to include broader issues of economic, social, and environmental issues and the structural changes required to address these, which are necessary for real progress in reaching the social targets and in reducing income inequality.

The UN reports that increasing income inequality ironically not only moves the world further away from reaching SDG 10, but equally importantly also affects many other SDGs. Thus, that inequality still gets insufficient attention in the reviews remains worrying, especially in the gruesome times of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exacerbating social and economic inequalities due to the far-reaching effects of national lockdowns. The effect of inequality on efforts to address it now requires our attention.

Some 2020 VNR country reports do refer to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences, including its effect on income inequality, but fewer refer to policies on how to structurally redress increasing income inequality. In this respect, it is useful to recollect what happened to income inequality after the 2008 recession.[1] A striking factor of the 2008 global recession and its aftermath was that poor and unorganized groups both in developing and developed countries were thrice affected—firstly because they did not profit from the economic boom preceding the crisis, secondly because they profited less from income support provided after the crisis, and thirdly because they suffered more from an economic slowdown when restrictive monetary and fiscal policies were prematurely introduced in 2011.

So, in order to not to repeat the mistake in the form of economic policies introduced after the 2008 recession, governments must foster structural changes to redress the growing inequality between incomes from capital and labour and to stimulate sustainable growth. Do we see in the 2020 batch of VNRs a strong tendency to undertake such policies?

Of the 40 reviews of last year mentioning SDG 10 explicitly, only 22 refer to Target 10.1 (increasing growth of the poorest 40% of the population faster than the rest[2]), while even fewer countries (19 and 12 respectively) refer to targets which have a bearing on fostering structural changes, such as Target 10.4 (improving fiscal, wage, and social protection policies) and Target 10.5 (regulation of national and global financial markets)[3]. And of these countries that report on these targets, less than half give sufficient details to gauge important changes in budget outlays and explicit policies. It therefore also comes as no surprise that special schemes and projects (including those to reduce gender inequality) dominate actions related to SDG 10 in the overview report of the 2020 VNRs.

Some 40 to 50 countries are now starting to prepare their reviews for this year’s High-Level Political Forum that will take place in July this year. One might hope and even assume that the continuous onslaught of the pandemic will result in greater attention to income inequality and to the necessary structural changes that are called for to achieve that. But policy change does not come automatically. It needs continuous efforts from progressive and concerned scholars and from civil society to push for structural changes.


Foot Notes

[1] van der Hoeven, R. 2019.  ‘Income Inequality in Developing Countries, Past and Present’, Chapter 10 in Nissanke, M. and J. A. Ocampo (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Development Economics, Palgrave McMillan, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14000-7_10

[2] Target 10.1 is in itself a rather weak target. See van der Hoeven, R. 2019.  ‘Income Inequality in Developing Countries, Past and Present’, Chapter 10 in Nissanke, M. and J. A. Ocampo (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Development Economics, Palgrave McMillan, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14000-7_10

[3] Some countries addressed income inequality and SDG 10 in the context of other SDGs, but as such did not focus on structural changes needed to reduce income inequality.

About the author:

Rolph van der Hoeven is Professor Emeritus in Employment and Development Economics at the ISS and a member of the UN Committee for Development Policy (UN-CDP).

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Positioning Academia | Development must change in the face of injustice and inequality

Positioning Academia | Development must change in the face of injustice and inequality

Inequality is growing in most countries and deep-seated injustices continue to pervade our world—from the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic groups and the tragic death of George Floyd in the ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

The COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil stretches beyond the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The inaction of the government over the past year to counter the effects of the pandemic has ...

Covid-19 | Worsening inequality in the developing world: why we should say no to a ‘new normal’

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, many of us living in wealthy countries are still struggling to get used to the ‘new normal’ of frequent regulatory changes that affect our freedom of movement and well-being. In developing countries, the negative effects of the pandemic move beyond the curtailing of movement to include increasing hunger, unemployment, and inequality. We can now witness some of these seemingly permanent changes that may take years or even decades to reverse, and we should not accept this as a ‘new normal’, write Shradha Parashari and Lize Swartz.

hunger food insecurity covid corona

Introduction

Over the past months, the world has come to experience the unthinkable as the Covid-19 pandemic has swept across the globe (Mahapatra, 2020). The overall outlook for world economy is bleak. According to Economist Intelligence Unit, as from March 17, global economic growth has slowed to just one percent—the lowest level of growth since the global financial crisis of 2008 (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). The pandemic has affected both the developing and developed world. However, instances of hunger, unemployment and poor access to virus testing and treatment facilities are more prevalent in developing countries (World Food Programme Report, 2020).

Developed countries are taking important measures to protect their people from the Covid-19 virus and consequent slowdown of the economy and life in general by providing unemployment benefits, measures for food security, and privileges such as facilities enabling employees and entrepreneurs to work from home or at a safe distance from one another (Mahapatra, 2020). This is a rare case in the developing world, where governments face challenges in ensuring that tens of millions of people already on verge of starvation do not succumb to virus and its adverse economic consequences, which includes hunger (Dongyu, 2020).

Thus, the pandemic, popularly referred to as the ‘pandemic of inequality’ (Mahaptara, 2020), has exposed existing inequalities and has given rise to new inequalities. According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres,

COVID-19 has highlighted growing inequalities. It has exposed the myth that everyone is in same boat, when the truth is, we all are floating in same sea; some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to drifting debris.

It is becoming clear that the pandemic is affecting the poor in both the developed and developing world more than wealthier groups, but it is especially the long-term effects of the pandemic in developing countries that remain a cause for concern. The pandemic has created a disruptive ‘new normal’ for everyone through government orders on social distancing and Covid-19 protection measures. Below are just some of the negative effects of this ‘new normal’ that support our argument that it should not be accepted as such.

First, for billions of poor persons, these guidelines are burdensome and impossible to comply with (Du et al., 2020). Poor informal workers in Asia, Africa and Latin America live in densely populated neighbourhoods with unreliable and shared access to water and sanitation facilities, making home quarantine or social distancing almost impossible. These workers lack access to bank accounts, insurance and secure employment that forces them to work on daily basis, defying lockdowns and creating an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission (Du et al., 2020). For them, a ‘new normal’ means not being able to work and meet basic needs.

Second, the hunger crisis is most evident in the central and western parts of Africa, where there has been a massive spike in the number of people facing food insecurity. Up to 90% of people living in Southern Africa are estimated to have become food insecure (World Food Programme Report, 2020). The closure of schools has further aggravated the hunger crisis in the developing world where children are highly dependent on meal programs at schools. For example, in Latin American countries and the Caribbean, the closure of schools during the pandemic has deprived around 85 million children of what is often the only (hot) meal they get daily (Dongyu Qu, 2020). This has led to surging hunger-related poverty during the pandemic. However, this is not the case in Global North, where school closures are simply an inconvenience for most parents.

Moreover, the lockdowns have left millions of workers jobless, especially the informal workforce in the developed and developing world (Daniyal et al., 2020). Workers in developed countries are still better off than those in the developing world as governments in US and Europe have pledged to pump trillions of dollars to support the unemployed workforce (TRT World, 2020). In contrast, the situation is grim in developing countries as informal workers are not covered by any social protection measures or proper employment contracts (TRT World, 2020). Millions of workers in Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India have faced unemployment as the market remains shut due to the pandemic.

Why we should resist a ‘new normal’

As the pandemic drags on, many people in wealthier countries or those in developing countries with secure jobs or livelihoods, especially those whose lives are disrupted but not severely negatively affected, especially in economic terms, are getting used to the ‘new normal’. For many people, a ‘new normal’ means working from home, not visiting restaurants, not going on holidays outside of our countries, and having to wear a face mask. For millions people who are less fortunate, a ‘new normal’ means a loss of jobs and the inability to secure new employment, going to bed hungry, and working illegally with an exposed risk to the virus.

We have to reject this ‘new normal’ characterized by worsening living conditions and increasing economic inequality before it becomes seen as accepted and a permanent feature of life among poor people in developing and developed countries alike. The search for a vaccine and its global roll-out may take many months still. We have to start think beyond the end of the pandemic to ensure that its negative effects, particularly for people in developing countries, are urgently addressed. If we don’t, the consequences can be far-reaching.

References:

Dongyu Qu, “Coronavirus could worsen hunger in developing world”, World Economic Forum, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-worsen-hunger-developing-world/

Economist Intelligence Unit, “Coronavirus what we expect for global growth”, accessed September 16, 2020. http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1849161968&Country=United%20States&topic=Economy&subtopic=Recent+developments

Jillian Du, Robin King and Radha Chanchani, “Tackling Inequality in cities is Essential for Fighting COVID-19”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/04/coronavirus-inequality-cities

Richard Mahapatra, “COVID-19: The Pandemic of Inequality”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/economy/covid-19-the-pandemic-of-inequality-72442

Oxfam, “Half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by coronavirus, warns Oxfam”, accessed September 14, 2020. https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/half-billion-people-could-be-pushed-poverty-coronavirus-warns-oxfam

Sara Christensen, “Hunger in Developing Countries: Five Facts You Need to Know”, accessed September 16, 2020. https://borgenproject.org/hunger-in-developing-countries-five-facts/

Shoaib Daniyal et al., “As Covid-19 pandemic hits India’s daily-wage earners hard, some leave city for their home towns”, accessed September 16, 2020. https://scroll.in/article/956779/starvation-will-kill-us-before-corona-the-covid-19-pandemic-has-hit-indias-working-class-hard

TRT World. “Coronavirus hits jobs, Millions face unemployment and poverty”, accessed September 15, 2020. Retrieved from TRT World: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/coronavirus-hits-jobs-millions-face-unemployment-and poverty-35294

Tasfia Jahangir, “The Moral Dilemma of Slum Tourism”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://fundforeducationabroad.org/journals/moral-dilemma-slum-tourism/ 

World Food Programme, “COVID-19: Potential Impact on World’s Poorest People”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114205/download/?_ga=2.261738637.121369336.1599543905-1508832003.1599543905

About the authors:

Shradha Parashari is an ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam alumna of the 2017-2018 batch. She is currently working as a Research and Operation Associate at PAD India.

Lize Swartz

 

Lize Swartz is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on water user interactions with sustainability-climate crises in the water sector, in particular the role of water scarcity politics on crisis responses and adaptation processes. She is also the editor of the ISS Blog Bliss.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

How COVID-19 is tragically exposing systemic vulnerabilities in Peru

How COVID-19 is tragically exposing systemic vulnerabilities in Peru

Despite early assessments that Peru was faring well in the COVID-19 pandemic and that its preparedness was due to its strict application of austerity and reforms over the last 30 ...

COVID-19 | How COVID-19 exacerbates inequalities in academia

COVID-19 | How COVID-19 exacerbates inequalities in academia

The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore gendered and racialised aspects of precarity that were steeping in academia long before the virus emerged. The increased burden of unpaid care ...

Marie Antoinette rules in Colombia as the masses protest against inequality

By Fabio Andrés Díaz Pabón and María Gabriela Palacio

Since late November, Colombia has seen unprecedented mass protests, the longest since 1977. These protests illustrate the awakening of a muffled civil society. Protests in Colombia are part of a Latin American “spring”. Demonstrations have, since September, swept across Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. But Colombia’s protests are not merely following a regional trend, nor can they be attributed to a single ideological leaning.


Who is protesting and why

Colombians are protesting against inequality, because the country has the most unequal society among the 36 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. In addition, recent government measures, such as cuts in taxes to wealthy investors and an increase in taxes for the middle classes, have generated a significant backlash in a failed attempt to implement “trickle-down economics”.

Though the Colombian economy has experienced resilient economic growth despite the fall in commodity prices, there is little to no redistribution taking place. The richest 1% of the population captures more than 20% of the total labour income.

Because measures recently adopted by the government probably exacerbate inequalities, peasants, student, urbanites, labour unions and indigenous groups have taken to the streets. Their grievances might differ but the persistence of inequality has led to a reduction of their tolerance to measures that maintain the status quo.

Protesters are demanding the implementation of the provisions signed in the 2016 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army Colombian peace agreement. For some factions in the government, demanding the fulfilment of the promises of the Constitution and demanding peace is seen as a subversive act. Yet Colombians are not demanding a revolution; they are demanding the right to a dignifying life and the fulfilment of the promises made by the government.

In a country that is in an armed conflict and is home to one of the highest shares of internally displaced populations in the world, the dismissal of protesters’ grievances constitutes a threat to civil society and democracy. The number of assassinated social and indigenous leaders and activists illustrate these risks.

The motivation for protests relates to the deepening of inequalities and levels of precarity in terms of access to education, health and social protection and the weariness of armed conflict. The strength of the protests can be explained as the result of the transition of the Colombia society towards peace — the peace accords with paramilitaries in 2006 and guerrillas in 2016 opened different venues for political participation — and the strengthening of social movements.

Government’s response

The response from the government of Iván Duque has been one of denials, accusations and failed attempts to regain control over public discourse.

He took office thanks to the political backing of politicians and sectors in society who opposed the peace negotiations with guerrillas and the state reforms taking place since 2010. Once in power, Duque found himself having to comply with state policies his support base did not agree with.

But these groups do not represent the majority of the population. Because of this, Duque faces a 70% disapproval rate and only 24% approval rate, according to a recent Gallup poll. This also means he has no control over the congress, posing a dilemma to his government. Either Duque tries to clear his policies to receive the broader support of society and face the alienation of his core supporters or he loses the capacity to lead the country. Because of this, media such as The Economist have depicted Duque as a president without direction.

Given this limited political space, the government attempted a propaganda campaign that tried to cast protesters as not contributing to the development of the country and drove Duque to plan the first meeting after the national strike with the industrials and business people rather than with the protestors.

This illustrates that the government cannot see that the protests span across race, location and class. Protests have brought together diverse actors that have found in the streets a space of encounter. Social groups are refusing government measures concerning social security, pensions and labour reforms, because they would have a pervasive effect on the livelihoods of the majority of the population. This explains why protests are supported by 74% of the population.

The disconnection between self-interested elites and the rest of society is evident. The proposal for a tax break, such as allowing consumption without value-added tax for three days a year and an extended “Black Friday” as a solution to the protests illustrate how little the government understands its citizens. Initiatives such as these reflect the aloofness of Maria Antoinette; a “let them eat cake” response.

Economists have opposed other proposals tabled by the government as lacking any technical basis. Populist economic measures aim to increase the acceptability of Duque’s government but can drive inequality and further grievances. The elimination of a 2% tax for buying houses worth more than $260 000 shows that the government is not undertaking reforms to improve the livelihood of the majority of Colombians, neither are improving state revenues.

Policy challenges

The debate can be framed about the availability of public resources and how to spend these, but data shows that the country is growing faster than any other OECD country. Nevertheless, the gains of growth are not evenly distributed, because the cost of living for the middle class is growing faster than their incomes.

The state is facing a long-standing problem of export-dependent economies. As the global economy cools down, the demand for Colombian exports has declined. In response to an imminent trade deficit, the state must increase its revenues but is afraid of taxing the wealthy — its remaining support base. This scenario takes place in a country in which informal employment is rising, and the size of industrial production is declining. The country is also going through a demographic transition, with an ageing population adding pressure to the pension system. As the population grows older, fewer contributors can sustain the social security system, and the costs for public health and pension fees increase.

One of the government proposals was to reduce employment costs and make youth employment flexible. Driving the most significant segment of the population into precariousness cannot be sound politics or economics, especially if the government is thinking about financing the pension system for future generations. Duque’s government praises the discourse of innovation and entrepreneurship, but it should consider that people in insecure employment are less likely to take risks and innovate.

Policies need to tackle the sources of inequality in Colombia and work to the benefit of the growing youth and middle class. The policy dilemma the government has is either to increase taxes to the bulk of the population, or reduce exemptions to wealthy citizens. Given the little political capital that the government has, increasing taxes for the wealthy might mean the government could run out of support. But failing to create the fiscal space that could sustain the economy and redistribute income might exacerbate inequalities in the future.

Moving towards an equal society is not only an ethical response to the grievances of diverse social groups but also a necessary condition for accelerating economic growth. Structural changes should be considered. The government should shift its attention towards innovation and industrial policies that can internalise and disseminate technological gains while driving domestic demand towards the local industry. Redistributive reforms are a prerequisite for progress because they help to close structural gaps and lead to higher levels of productivity, full use of capacities and resources, a fairer distribution of income and wealth and provide all citizens with the right to embark on the plans that they consider worthwhile.

Transition from violence

Protests remain spaces of uncertainty and crisis, but they also are spaces of representation, democracy and opportunity. Protesters bypass the structures of representation and send signals to institutions when they do not work. Furthermore, they allow governments to hear different voices and provide valuable feedback on the workings of the economy. Yet privileged actors invest energy and resources in preventing positive dissent and protecting the status quo.

Inequality and precariousness hinder economic growth and social cohesion. The mass protests, in the Colombian case, not only demonstrate how public voice emerges when violence is declining, but also how inequalities can be exposed once violence decreases, because people demand basic rights for the losers of development processes. As the country tries to leave violence behind, the nature of the conversations changed from armed conflict to citizens’ rights. Nevertheless, Colombia is a country that remains in fear of violence, the legacy of a 70-year war. The leadership of the government or its lack thereof remains central in blocking the transition away from violence.


Picture credit: Roboting on Wikimedia Commons


This article was originally published by Mail and Guardian.


UntitledAbout the authors:

Fabio Andrés Díaz Pabón is a researcher at the African Centre of Excellence for Inequalities Research, a research associate in the department of political and international studies at Rhodes University and a researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands.

200x200María Gabriela Palacio is an Ecuadorian political economist interested in social policy, inequality and exclusion, who works as an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University. She holds a PhD in Development Studies by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).

 

EADI/ISS Series | Rethinking inequalities, growth limits and social injustice

EADI/ISS Series | Rethinking inequalities, growth limits and social injustice

By Rogelio Madrueño Aguilar, José María Larrú and David Castells-Quintana Inequality is above all a multidimensional problem. Yet, the key question is whether it is possible to reduce inequality and to ...

Governance in the Colombian Amazon: Heavy-handed and lacking coherent policies by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

Governance in the Colombian Amazon: Heavy-handed and lacking coherent policies by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has been at the forefront of the critiques for his dismissive attitude towards the fires in the Amazon. Although a significant portion of the ...

The Netherlands and Colombia: A Blurry Alliance by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

The Netherlands may have found in Colombia a strategic partner to help expand its commercial activities, but Colombia’s complex social context needs to be carefully considered. Whether this alliance will benefit both countries, or will reinforce the dynamics of the longest conflict in Latin American history, will depend greatly on the Dutch stance towards very sensitive issues that affect the Colombian rural sector.


The Netherlands has found in Colombia a strategic partner to expand its commercial activity in Latin America. In 2017, the exports of the South American country to the Netherlands amounted to 1.542 million US dollars, situating the Dutch economy as the fourth most important destination of Colombian products worldwide, and the first within the European Union[1].

This partnership is presented as a win-win scenario. While the Netherlands could benefit from Colombia’s 40 million hectares of land suitable for agriculture[2], Colombia could fully develop its rural potential through an alliance with the world leader in agricultural innovation. This cooperation holds a great deal of promise. Thus, there are grand expectations regarding the meeting that took place last November in Bogotá between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and President Iván Duque, who came to power in August 2018.

However, some caution is needed. The Prime Minister’s visit occured in a context of uncertainty and digression given Duque’s lack of political will to comply with the peace agreement reached between the former government and the FARC, as well as his dismissive attitude towards structural problems of the rural sector such as the excessive concentration of land, extreme poverty, and inequality.

In this regard, a study conducted by Oxfam in 2017[3] revealed that currently, concentration of land in Colombia is much higher than it was in the 1960s when the conflict started. The statistics show that while 80% of rural land in the country is controlled by 1% of the large estates, small farmers have lost most of their territory. As evidence, 80% of small peasants have a landholding smaller than 10 hectares, which do not occupy even 5% of the census area. Moreover, official data shows that the Gini coefficient of rural property is 89,7% (with 0 corresponding to complete equality and 100 corresponding to complete inequality)[4].

The government’s approach, however, has been to neglect the multidimensional character of the rural problem. Since his presidential campaign, Duque has been skeptical of the peace process. Therefore, although the first point of the peace agreement is to push forward a comprehensive agrarian reform, the policy of the new government has focused mainly on supporting agro-business, implementing modernisation measures, and protecting the property rights of large landowners[5].

This official position has raised a deep concern among many civil society actors who have fears pertaining to the success of historical compromises reached in La Habana. The initiatives that are at risk include: the creation of a Land Fund for the distribution of land that was illegally acquired; the development of procedures to formalise property rights of small and medium farmers; and the establishment of ‘Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation Spaces’ (ETCR in Spanish), which are places dedicated  to training the former members of the FARC for their reincorporation into civil life through productive projects[6]. To this day, the government has not shown a serious commitment to advance any of these strategies, threatening the future of the post-conflict phase.

Most worryingly, the Office of the Ombudsman in Colombia reported that 331 community leaders were killed between January 2016 and August 2018[7], and that the number keeps growing[8]. The seriousness of the situation led the UN[9] and IACHR[10] to urge the Colombian government to strengthen protection measures to guarantee the integrity of social leaders. Although the government has denied the systematic character of these killings,  in the face of strong national and international pressure, the creation of an integral policy to tackle this urgent situation was announced[11].  It is worth noting that 80% of the leaders that have been killed were involved in the defense of the territory and restitution of land efforts[12].

 

In this regard, on 5 April more than 500 Colombians gathered in The Hague to march peacefully from the Colombian Embassy to the Headquarters of the ICC[13]. Their aim was to denounce that the lack of action of the Colombian State is leading to impunity of crimes against humanity, and to raise awareness among the international community[14].

This complex social context must be seriously considered by the Dutch commission that will advise the Prime Minister on his negotiations with Colombia. Whether this alliance will foster both countries, or will reinforce the dynamics of the longest conflict in Latin American history, will depend greatly on the Dutch stance towards these very sensitive issues that affect the Colombian rural sector.


References
[1]http://www.mincit.gov.co/loader.php?lServicio=Documentos&lFuncion=verPdf&id=80988&name=OEE_MA_JM_Estadisticas_de_comercio_exterior_ene-ago_2018.pdf&prefijo=file
[2] https://www.elespectador.com/economia/colombia-tiene-40-millones-de-hectareas-para-producir-alimentos-articulo-795814 and http://es.presidencia.gov.co/noticia/180621-Gobierno-definio-Frontera-Agricola-Nacional-para-avanzar-hacia-el-desarrollo-rural-sostenible-y-proteger-la-biodiversidad
[3] https://d1tn3vj7xz9fdh.cloudfront.net/s3fs-public/file_attachments/colombia_-_snapshot_of_inequality.pdf
[4] https://www.eltiempo.com/economia/sectores/desigualdad-en-la-propiedad-de-la-tierra-en-colombia-32186
[5] https://lasillavacia.com/silla-llena/red-rural/historia/los-programas-agrarios-de-los-candidatos-en-campana-un-analisis  and https://semanarural.com/web/articulo/elecciones-presidenciales-2018-las-propuestas-para-el-campo/504 and https://www.portafolio.co/economia/propuestas-de-los-candidatos-presidenciales-en-el-agro-y-lo-rural-son-incompletas-517480
[6]https://semanarural.com/web/articulo/que-le-espera-a-la-colombia-rural-en-la-presidencia-de-ivan-duque/550 and https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/08/30/planeta_futuro/1535660220_091882.html
[7] https://colombia2020.elespectador.com/pais/agresiones-contra-lideres-sociales-antes-y-despues-del-acuerdo-de-paz
[8] https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/durante-el-gobierno-duque-22-lideres-sociales-han-sido-asesinados
[9] https://colombia.unmissions.org/en/un-rejects-and-condemns-killings-human-rights-defenders-and-leaders-colombia
[10] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2018/065.asp
[11] https://www.elheraldo.co/politica/no-podemos-decir-que-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-sea-sistematico-mininterior-543998 and https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/gobiernos-de-santos-y-duque-coinciden-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-no-es-sistematico-articulo-813250
[12] https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/durante-el-gobierno-duque-22-lideres-sociales-han-sido-asesinados
[13] https://paxencolombia.org/la-cpi-recibio-documentacion-sobre-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-en-colombia/
[14] https://www.resumen-english.org/2019/04/march-to-the-international-criminal-court-to-stop-the-murders-of-social-leaders-in-colombia/

Ana Maria ArbelaezAbout the author:

Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo is a recent graduate from the Erasmus Mundus Program in Public Policy. She is a lawyer and a specialist in Environmental Law. Her research interests are the political economy of extractivist industries, environmental conflicts, and rural development.

 

 

 

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