Colombia

Venezuela-Colombia border to gradually reopen

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 19 December 2016 agreed to gradually reopen the frontier beginning on 20 December. Maduro first shut down the border on 13 December for a 72-hour period to prevent alleged economic attacks from Colombia, and had stated the border would be closed until 2 January 2017. However, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López announced via Twitter that the pedestrian crossing, the Simón Bolívar International Bridge between San Antonio del Táchira in Venezuela and Cúcuta, Norte de Santander province, would reopen, followed by the eventual normalization of all border crossings (Efecto Cocuyo). Colombian Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also took to Twitter to report that the president instructed the Banco Central de Venezuela and Colombia's Banco de la República to discuss a solution to the problem of instability in Venezuela's money supply (Panorama). 

The border reopened after the Colombian Foreign Relations Ministry announced on 19 December it summoned Iván Rincón, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, to Bogotá to hand Rincón a statement. The declaration expressed the Colombian Government's disagreement with Venezuela's accusations that Colombia has caused economic instability in Venezuela (El Nacional). Santos commented on 19 December that Venezuela's economic problems are not on the Colombian border, and stated he would travel to Cúcuta on 20 December to speak with local authorities (El Nacional). Maduro's decision to blame "cash mafias" and currency exchange houses in Colombian border cities such as Cúcuta for soaring inflation and currency hoarding have led to strained relations with Colombia since 11 December, when Maduro announced that all 100-bolivar notes would be removed from circulation. Maduro has since reversed the policy, and the decision to gradually reopen Venezuela's border with Colombia could help to repair relations with its neighbor and ensure Venezuelans can cross into Colombia for much-needed supplies of food and medicine. 

Colombian Central Bank appoints new general manager

Colombia's Central Bank (Banco de la República) announced on 12 December 2016 that Juan José Echavarría Soto will take over as General Manager on 4 January 2017. Mr Echavarría is an engineer by trade who studied a Masters in Economics at Boston University and obtained his PhD in Economics at Oxford University. He brings a varied public and private sector experience, having held senior levels in the executive such as Vice Minister of Trade, or board member at the Central Bank (Noticias RCN). The main challenges facing the new General Manager will be controlling inflation - currently estimated at 5.5 percent for 2016 - while responding to calls from government officials and private sector to reduce the country's interest rate, which currently stands at 7.75 percent. Additionally, the country faces a slowing GDP growth and strong currency devaluation, coupled with lower than expected fiscal revenues because of the relatively low price of its petrol exports (El Nuevo Siglo). 

Bolivian, Colombian, and Brazilian prosecutors join in LaMia crash investigation

Attorney Generals from Colombia and Brazil arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on 7 December 2016 to meet with Bolivian Attorney General Ramiro Guerrero investigate the circumstances of the LaMia crash. The commission of attorneys decided to arrest the airline's General Manager, Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, after raiding the company's offices (Los Tiempos). The LaMia plane crash took place on 28 November and left 71 dead near Medellín, Colombia. Among the dead were members of the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense. In Bolivia, attorneys are investigating the crimes of breach of duty and threats against security from a means of transport. Several of the accused also include Celia C., a Bolivian aviation authority employee who noticed irregularities in the flight, but failed to report them to her superiors. In Colombia, officials have also initiated charges against airport operators for culpable homicide (La Razón).

Venezuela closes border with Colombia for 72 hours

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on 12 December 2016 the border with Colombia will be closed for 72 hours. According to Maduro, the measure is intended to prevent "cash mafias" from transporting 100-bolívar bills from Colombia to Venezuela (Tal Cual). Maduro stated government officials already seized 64 million bolívares along the border, and said Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López and Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas were coordinating their respective armies to combat cash mafias on both sides of the border (Panorama). The President added the Right in Venezuela is behind the cash mafias, and Interior Minister Néstor Reverol claimed an NGO hired by the U.S. Treasury Department was responsible for the outflow of 300 billion bolívares from Venezuela (Panorama). 

Maduro's announcement of the temporary border closure is adding to the daily chaos in the country, as Venezuelans are facing long lines at banks to exchange or deposit their 100-bolívar bills in compliance with a presidential decree on 11 December. The President ordered Venezuelans to turn in six billion notes, which represent 47.55 percent of the nation's money supply, within a 72-hour period beginning on 13 December (Efecto Cocuyo). Maduro last decreed a closure of the border on 28 August 2015, citing paramilitary activity in the region, and the border was reopened partially on 8 July 2016, allowing thousands of Venezuelans to cross into Colombia to seek food and medicine, which are scarce in Venezuela (Globovisión). Maduro is again militarizing the border area and contributing to tensions with Colombia with his call for involvement from the Venezuelan and Colombian armies. Furthermore, by accusing alleged cash mafias of manipulating the bolívar, Maduro is attempting to foist the blame for rampant inflation and fiscal mismanagement onto unknown criminals, NGOs, the Venezuelan opposition, and the U.S. government, exposing his government's desperation and lack of control over the economy.

ECLAC forecasts Colombia's GDP will grow by 2.7 percent in 2017

The UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released its end of year economic report for Latin America as well as updated 2017 projections on 14 December 2016. The institution estimated Colombia's economy would close 2016 with a 2 percent GDP growth (0.3 percent lower than previous estimates), and that 2017 would bring a GDP growth rate of 2.7 percent - a full 0.5 percent lower than projections released in October 2016 (El Colombiano). The report also noted Latin America as a whole faces important challenges regarding economic growth, most importantly the uncertain global economic climate, which will lead to slow growth rates for the region's countries in 2017 (El Tiempo).

Maduro to speak with Santos about resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on 8 December 2016 he will speak with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 9 December about the resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia. During an event to commemorate former President Hugo Chávez, Maduro stated he will urge the Colombian government to punish those who smuggle bolívar bills to Colombia for later resale (El Nacional). Maduro said the lack of paper money in Venezuela led to a cyber-attack on 2 December that caused a partial shutdown of the country's electronic banking system. According to Maduro, Venezuelan bills were stolen at Cúcuta and Maicao, Colombian cities on the border with Venezuela (Globovisión).

Colombian unemployment rate fluctuates

Colombia's National Administrative Department of Statistics reported the national unemployment rate leveled out at 8.3 percent during October 2016. Due to differences in rates between major Colombian cities the August 2016 trimester had a 9.5 percent unemployment rate (El Tiempo, 30 November 2016). Quibdo had the highest rate at 17.1 percent, while Barranquilla represented the lowest with 7.8 percent (El Pais).

Honduran navy buys US$13.5 million boat from Colombia

President Juan Orlando Hernández, along with National Defense Minister Samuel Reyes and other officials, signed a purchase agreement on 22 November 2016 to buy a boat from Colombia for maritime patrol (La Prensa). El Heraldo reported on 27 November the total purchase amounts to US$13.5 million, which includes the boat, maintenance and training (La Prensa). Hernández emphasized Honduras' obligation to protect its territory, which includes a maritime territory double the size of the country, as drug traffickers and criminals have taken advantage of the state's current inability to patrol its maritime territory (La Prensa). According to El Heraldo, the boat, to be delivered in September 2017, has the capacity to be out to sea for 40 consecutive days and carry fifteen people.

Cotema to build new Puerto Antioquia in Colombia

Puertos Inversiones y Obras S.A.S. (PIO S.A.S.) General Manager and Partner Óscar Isaza Benjumea confirmed on 25 November 2016 plans for the construction of a new Antioquia port on Colombia's northern coast (Portafolio). Cotema consortium (Italian - French firm Saipem and Termotécnico Coindustrial) was selected to build the port, which provided improved access to the Atlantic for Bogotá and Medellín – requiring a US$600 million investment (El Espectador). Ground is expected to be broken by July 2017, and the finished port will have the capacity of 7 million tons and 1.2 million TEUS.

Colombia facing problems with de-mining campaign

On 22 November 2016, Director of the Norwegian Popular Help Organization, Vanesa Finson, said Colombia will not be able to meet the proposed 2021 deadline for anti mining campaigns. A total of 192 municipalities represent the focus of international aid and de-mining efforts (RCN). However, 2015 saw 32 percent less mine victims than 2014, dropping down to 222 victims (El Tiempo).

Colombian imports fall by 19.6 percent

According to a report by Colombia's Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) on 18 November 2016, Colombian imports fell by 19.6 percent from January to September 2016. During the same period in 2015, Colombia imported more than US$41 billion in goods, compared to imports of US$33 billion in 2016 (RCN Radio). The DANE also reported that from January to September 2016, Colombia's trade deficit was US$9.3 billion, a decrease of nearly US$2 billion from the same period in 2015 (El Colombiano). 

New peace accord with FARC to be signed in November 2016

El Colombiano reported on 20 November 2016 that the signing of the new peace deal with the FARC rebels could take place in Bogotá on 22 or 23 November. According to President Juan Manuel Santos, the accord will first have to be reviewed by Congress, which will decide what path will be chosen to approve the new deal (El Tiempo). FARC Commander-in-Chief Timoleón "Timochenko" Jiménez told news agency RCN Radio on 20 November that he will be traveling to Bogotá to sign the accord. 

Shootout leaves two FARC soldiers dead

A clash between the Colombian Army and the 37th front of the FARC, left two FARC combatants dead (RCN, 16 November 2016). The firefight took place in the Santa Rosa municipality in the southern region of the Bolivar department, only 68 km from a previous concentration zone used during the 2016 failed peace attempt (Espectador). After the battle, government forces found three firearms, ammunition, a grenade launcher, and a communications radio. In light of the incident, Humberto de la Calle remarked that the cease fire is fragile and the peace process can not afford to be delayed (Espectador). 

Colombia reaches new peace deal with FARC rebels

On 13 November 2016, lead government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, announced that after nearly two months of negotiations, the peace deal with FARC has once again reached an agreement. While the official document is yet to be released (El Pais), local news agencies El Pais and El Tiempo have reported some of the changes. In total, 56 of the 57 changes proposed by the "No" campaign had an impact over the re-negotiations. For example, the new agreement more strictly defines the zones to which the guerrillas will be restricted as a alternative to jail, the limitation of political participation by former FARC members, the denial of FARC participation in the Protection and Security Commission, and the removal of foreign judges in the penal process.

 

Medellín sees a rise in street level robberies

El Tiempo reported on 13 November 2016 that Medellín is in the midst of an uptick in robberies. So far in 2016, there have been 8,910 robbery victims. This number represents a 35 percent increase over 2015. The majority of incidents have take place in the La Candelaria, Laureles, and El Poblado neighborhoods (El Tiempo). Well known local musician Andrés Cepeda reported on his twitter that he also fell victim to a robbery on 12 November (Colombiano), demonstrating that the instability in Medellín can affect anyone in the city.

Venezuelan government to enforce currency exchange regulations at Colombian border

Foreign Trade and International Investment Minister Jesús Faría announced on 8 November 2016 that the Venezuelan government will soon enforce currency exchange regulations at the border with Colombia. According to Faría, the exchange of Venezuelan bolívares for U.S. dollars at the Colombian border city Cúcuta contributes to inflation in Venezuela's foreign exchange rate system (La Patilla). Faría stated Colombian authorities have not addressed currency speculation, which has destabilized the economy and driven down the value of the black market bolívar (El Nacional). 

ELN negotiations with the Government slowly move forward

On 7 November 2016, the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN) announced the release of former Congressman Odín Sánchez is dependent on the Government releasing two rebel prisoners (El Tiempo). Peace talks between Colombia's second largest rebel group have stalled, as the Government refuses to continue talks until Sánchez is released. ELN Commander Nicolás Rodríguez, alias 'Gabino', insisted the Government has neglected its agreements while trying to impose conditions the group has not agreed to (Espectador). Even though negotiations are under way, rural areas still see the effects of the drawn out conflict. Rebel sniper fire claimed the lives of two soldiers in Colombia's eastern department, Norte de Santander on 7 November (El Colombiano). 

Colombia looking to move forward with legal cannabis cultivation

The southern Cauca department will see a development in legal, medicinal, cannabis production. On 6 November, the One Colombia business, lead by Carlos Silva, along with a nearly US$1.5 million investment began to construct a processing plant. Associated with the Israeli Mycolovia firm, the plant will be able to process up to 300 tons a year (El Pais). Locals in the Cauca region say the project will not only bring health benefits, but also job opportunities to the area. Caucannabis Cooperative member Albiero Ciclos explained part of the motivation for developing a plant in that part of the country is to give more than 1,500 rural farmers a chance to legalize their crops. Northen Cauca represents 50 percent of the illegal cannabis production in Colombia (Caracol).

Colombian Commerce Minister to visit Panama to address tariff dispute

Colombia’s Commerce, Industrial and Tourism Minister María Claudia Lacouture will visit Panama on 22 November 2016 to negotiate with the Panamanian government over Colombia's plans to reduce tariffs on products imported from the Colón Free Trade Zone (ZLC) (La Prensa, 3 November 2016). The tariffs, which previously failed to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) standards, were reduced as part of two separate decrees, including one to combat contraband (Publimetro). Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced he will address the tariff crisis with Colombia during a Cabinet meeting on 8 November (La Prensa). In 2012, Colombia applied a 10 percent tariff on footwear and textiles from the ZLC, leading to a lawsuit from Panama, in which the WTO ruled in Panama's favor (Publimetro).

Colombian gas prices to increase in November 2016

Gasoline and diesel prices across Colombia will experience a small jump in price as of 3 November 2016 (Portafolio). Prices will increase about 3 cents a gallon (El Colombiano). According to the Colombian Petrol Association, gas prices have slowly risen over the course of 2016. The association's report indicated that between January and October 2016 prices rose by 1.4 percent. In contrast, diesel prices have dropped 0.5 percent (RCN).