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How will Colombia emerge from the current crisis? An interview with Pre-Presidential Candidate Camilo Romero


Original publication: The Bogotá Post

After several total lockdowns, a crushing recession, and nationwide protests, Colombia’s next trip to the ballot box is coming up next year. Current president Iván Duque has a disapproval rating of 77%, and by law, he can’t be re-elected in 2022. Álvaro Uribe, former president and the man behind Duque’s electoral success in 2018, is already contemplating right-wing candidates including his eldest son, Tomás. However, what other options do these hopefuls have for Colombia’s future politics? 

Camilo Romero is one candidate to be the center-left. He is running as a pre-candidate for the Alianza Verde party and has a good chance of entering the national presidential race next year due to his political success as former governor of Nariño, a department in southwest Colombia. Romero won popularity during his term by opposing fumigation using glyphosate on coca crops and the introduction of an alternative. anti-corruption initiative

Romero’s connection to politics began at a young age, when he’d accompany his father to seek votes for local office. According to the national daily El TiempoHe later founded student groups and while studying journalism in Cali, started a newspaper that students could use to voice their grievances.

His current role as a member Alianza VerdeRomero’s goals are to increase direct democracy in Colombian politics and boost tax reforms that include comprehensive measures. He also wants to combat climate change by taking more effective action.

The Bogotá Post caught up with Romero for an interview in October to discuss his view on the protests in Colombia, what fiscal reforms the country needs, and what he proposes for the country’s future development.

The Bogotá Post: You have been in the political landscape for quite some time. In 2015, you became governor of Nariño, and now you are aspiring to become the presidential candidate for the party Alianza Verde. Is there a political accomplishment that you are most proud of?

Camilo Romero : This was more than a feat. I also believe I helped to bring about political innovation through the introduction of discussion. This is what I call vanguard, because it brought new political ideas and actions to Colombia.

TBP: How do you define political innovation in Colombia?

CR: Our times are changing now. Each of us has access to an enormous world, and can communicate with others without borders from any part of our smartphones. The connected world offers a new understanding of citizenship. We’re no longer waiting to watch the news at seven o’clock at night. Our involvement is permanent, and gives us an insight into how government can work in our favor instead of against. The new citizen requires a different government.

When I was governor of Nariño, we introduced a social innovation laboratory. We organized a free course with the University of Nariño. Professors didn’t charge for teaching different subjects, and the students didn’t pay a cent. For 15,000, we achieved education free of charge.

Here is an example open-government, in which we all decided together on the urgent projects that should be carried out within the region. Such a government would be one that is in dialogue. With new communication tools, we can achieve higher legitimacy by observing the people’s discussions and considering them in decisions. My new policy for Colombia is participative and collaborative.

Camilo Romero. Image credit: Twitter

TBP. Colombia experienced several devastating events in recent years: a national lockdown and an economic recession. Colombia must make the necessary political, fiscal, economic and other reforms to end its current crises.

Colombia currently faces a socio-economic crisis. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported before the pandemic that if Colombia continued as it is now, 11 generations would be required to lift the country from poverty. This is a period of 330 years. Just imagine how dire the current situation.

Colombia must change its political orientation and its power logic. It is time for this state and that government to not seek the interests of just a handful of people to the exclusion of all Colombians. It will take a new fiscal moment. As they like to say, this requires shuffle the cards. As much as any other Colombian citizen, we need to guarantee economic growth for both businesspeople and trade union members.

Colombia today is among the least equal countries in the world and South America. These are the results of our efforts, these are what we’ve built. This is unacceptable for democratic societies.

TBP: Which actionable reforms would you recommend?

CR. We must achieve new tax legislation, or better yet, real tax reform. Although there’s always been a new approach to tax reform, no one has ever tried it.

We are calling for a society which does not exploit natural resources such as oil. Of course, this won’t happen in one day, and natural resources are important to stimulate growth. We know the government that will be next must be one of change. They need to stop the destruction of the environment and natural habitats. We must also talk about oil’s profits in Colombia while this government is in formation. It is important to talk about Colombia’s financial sector profits.

It is possible for the Colombian financial sector to make around 11 trillion pesos ($2.9 billion) in profits in an era of global pandemic and people starving.** Where is the social and human responsibility of these sectors?

Two decades ago, Colombia’s financial system was bankrupt. It was bankrupt. You know that the financial system couldn’t sustain itself. The tax was originally 2 per 1000 but later became 4 for 1000. It was a tax to help save the financial system.

The people can socialize losses but the profit-seekers privatize them.

They can earn but not at this level. Capitalism is a system that exists, however it does require market rules. The financial industry makes exorbitant profits, even though families have stopped eating three-times a days. They are not concerned about Colombia and the Colombian people.

**  According to Camilo Romero, the financial sector reached 11 trillion COP profit during the first year of the pandemic. The sector made 11. trillion COP profit in the first year of the pandemic, according to La Republica statistics. 25 trillion COPBetween January 2020 and September 2020

TBP: Colombia protested in the streets a few months back. While the revolution has subsided, many still desire political change. These demonstrations are you seeing them as a demand for a more progressive solution or as exhaustion over the current circumstances?

CR: “Paro nacional” (English: national strike), to me is a very unfair name for what Colombia is going through. It’s very old-fashioned and is a remnant of the past. These aren’t national strikes. These are national sentiments that have been expressed before an inept government.

It is tired, frustrated, and in search of a better future. However, violence was retaliated against peaceful demonstrations of young people who were resisting violence. Colombian citizens fled from the streets after the strike appeared to have turned violent. 

What message is being sent? We support peaceful and democratic changes and are open to a transition. It is clear that this country has decided to make a change and to end the logic of power as represented by Uribe, current President Duque.

TBP: The Colombian Public Prosecutor’s Office admits that 129 people have disappeared, although other investigations put the figure at 470 since the protests began in the country. There were more than 50 people killed and nearly 2,000 injured. What is the role of President Iván Duque in the actions of the police forces?

CR: It is grotesque and shameful what has been done by the national government of Iván Duque, it can only be qualified as criminal. Colombians sought to achieve democratic change by seeking peace, determination, and democracy. 

They responded with violence and they were the ones who ought to be the guarantors for the rights of their people. Although this public force was supposed to win over the respect of Colombian society it failed Colombian society. Because cell phones make it possible to be the most respected journalist, we have witnessed the brutality of the suppression.

Camilo Romero. Image Credit: Twitter

TBP: On September 14, 2021, Colombian President Iván Duque sanctioned the new tax reform, known as the Social Investment Law, which was approved the previous week by the Congress of the Republic. Does the new reform make Colombian society more prosperous?

CR: Former president Álvaro Uribe was capable of labor reforms, which harmed Sundays, the holidays, the working people in Colombia, and increased overtime in this country.

This is the reality of current politics: Let’s give more benefits to those who have everything so that they, in their immense generosity, can give back to the rest of society and generate more work. It didn’t work. However, that logic is what they continue to use for tax reform.

A reform that was implemented a few years back would need to be eliminated immediately. It had huge benefits for businessmen. The average citizen in this country pays higher taxes than the wealthy or businessmen. 

Next reform must be a social agreement. A citizen agreement. Many Colombian businessmen will contribute, which is a good thing.

TBP. The biggest failing of FARC’s implementation has, so far, been violence against disbanded ex-combatants. This is despite the fact that 286 people have been killed in combat since its signing. There are still frequent assassinations and attacks on civilians in the country. Were we able to have an agreement with FARC in an ideal world? 

CR: Colombia should be on the path to total peace and complete peace.

Understanding that peace doesn’t belong in the flag of any political party is essential. It is also a shared purpose for democratic societies. We must not allow an armed section to profit from peace.

TBP (Teachable by Permission): Again, do you want to maintain the agreement as is?

CR: Some claim that complete peace cannot be reached because FARC will take control in Colombia. This is absurd.

Are you aware of the fate of FARC? In a country of fifty million, they went looking for votes and got support from 50,000 Colombians. The reality is far more frightening than the fear that they created. 

It is essential to end lying in order to achieve peace and stability in Colombia. It is important to tell things the way they are. How dangerous is it for democracy that an armed group enters into a democracy and gets 50,000 ballots? 

We only need to create democratic spaces and conduct an immediate and essential educational exercise. Finally, we must comply with the peace agreement and be fully compliant with it.

TBP. The international climate agenda in Colombia is not well-received, despite the fact that Colombia has been a country of high risk, with severe weather and polluting. What’s your take on climate change policies?

CR: I’ve heard it said that the problem isn’t here and that it is only a problem in industrialized nations. But, this logic is completely different. Statistics show that Colombia is not contributing too much global greenhouse gasses. But it’s not about comparing yourself with others. No matter our location or how much we contribute, we have to take responsibility for our environment. We have the legal and institutional responsibility to ensure that nature is protected.

Practice by example is key and we must teach others. In Nariño, we created the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development. An integrated plan for managing climate change in the territory was achieved. In no other department does this exist. Public policies were made in support of the environment and recognized the nature’s rights. 

TBP: Colombian peso records a devaluation of about 11%In 2021. How will it affect the economy and politics in the future?

CR: It is because of our dominant logic of power. Inequality. Colombia is a poor country, with many millions living in poverty. 42% live in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty.

The pandemic forced us to face our fears and learn from them. Now, we face a more difficult reality. It is clear to me that this won’t change unless there are changes in the logic behind power.

Consider therefore a fundamental change in logic and government.

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