A topic of conversation that has been coming up regularly the last couple of days, is the current safety level in Colombia. After many years of civil war, the fighting has ended and the country is safer than ever, say many people here. But not everybody agrees. Gunfire has come to an end, but drugs are still around.
I was at the official opening of Proflora today. The biennial Colombian floricultural trade show in capital city Bogotá. An opening ceremony wouldn’t be complete without any speeches, of course. For a brief moment, I feared that all nine people sitting behind the table on the stage were going to get up for speech. But luckily, that wasn’t the case.
The funny thing was – well, not that funny actually – that the first speakers all spent a long time extending the warmest welcome to each and every one of the other eight people behind the table. The really funny thing was that speaker Marjolijn Sonnema was introduced as the Dutch vice minister of agriculture. So, the Colombians had good news for the Dutch floricultural sector: the Netherlands apparently has a Ministry of Agriculture.
In reality, Sonnema is Director General Agro and Nature at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. In her speech, she touched on the ongoing peace process in Colombia and mentioned that it’s such a positive development and one of the reasons why the Netherlands is pleased to do business with Colombia. Including agribusiness: Sonnema pointed out that the Netherlands is willing to support the development of the agricultural sector in Colombia. Hence the recent appointment of an Agricultural Attaché in Colombia: Patricia de Vries.
Sonnema said that the business relationship between Colombia and the Netherlands has been excellent for a while. The 2013 free trade agreement between Colombia and the EU has also helped. The Netherlands is Colombia’s third biggest export country, after the USA and Panama. In 2014, exports to the Netherlands reached a total value of 260 million euro. In 2016, that was 415 million euro. Products included fruit and flowers.
The issue of safety kept popping up though. Colombia went through many years of civil war with guerrilla groups like FARC and ELN. We’ve all seen footage of the negotiations with FARC in Cuba, Dutch guerrilla fighter Tanja Nijmeijer was there, which eventually led to peace. FARC has been absorbed by the democracy and even has a few seats in the parliament. They’ve been forgiven their acts of violence – albeit under certain conditions.
More recently, truce has also been called in the conflict with ELN. Hopefully leading to peace in a couple of months. Many people claim that Colombia is safer now and that that’s good for the economy.
But I also heard other opinions today. “Yes, there’s peace for the time being.” Or: “There are still 15,000 FARC members out there.” And: “We may have peace, but drugs production in the mountains and the jungle is at its height.” With drugs no peace, because drugs lead to violence and crime. Which is true, I guess.
I’d better not mention who said what exactly. I don’t want to cause a fight between Colombians who disagree on whether their country is a safe place …