If and when Colombia's FARC guerrillas stop fighting and peace comes to Colombia, the socio-economic benefits will be multiple and unstoppable. There is only one choice.
BOGOTÁ — Colombians still remember Jan. 7, 1999, the date when their high hopes of seeing decades of civil war ended were dashed. There were to be talks that day in the southern department of Caguán, but one of the chief negotiators, the head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ultimately failed to show up. Then President Andrés Pastrana was left to attend the now notorious event next to an empty seat.
Something similar is happening today, with different participants. The two sides are represented by President Juan Manuel Santos and the man dubbed Timochenko — Timoleón Jiménez, supreme leader of the FARC. After this week's historic handshake in Havana and vow to end the 50-year conflict, the heady expectations have returned, though we all hope the results will be different this time.
We dream of what nobody in this country has been able to enjoy: a country at peace, whose people can move freely, where tourism and national investments will grow and foreign investment will arrive without fear or restrictions. A country where displaced peasants can return to their lands, where the countryside will recover its splendor and where farming and industry will flourish.
The country's image has improved markedly in the last decade: The fight against drug trafficking, checks on money laundering, reduced terrorism and curbs on illegal trafficking have enhanced our international standing. But none of these will have the impact of signing a peace treaty, which would unleash a chain reaction of social and economic benefits.
A safer country would reduce its military budget, and redirect the money toward education and health care, leading to overall lower public spending in the process. Money that has been funneled for so long into the war machine can now be invested in removing social inequalities and solving urgent problems of infrastructure, which could impact the production costs of goods and services. Trade processes would accelerate, making Colombia more competitive at home and abroad.
The end of this absurd war will facilitate economic growth and boost living standards. The distribution of property will become a little more balanced, as territories held by armed gangs can be restored to their legitimate owners.
An increase in available resources could also reduce external debt and strengthen the economy and the financial system that fuels it. War, to put it simply, is a grand waste of resources.
Of course the efficiency of any change of policies will still depend on how the money is invested elsewhere. But what we need now is an international campaign to change our image, and convey the idea that Colombia, with its 50 million inhabitants, its natural resources and a strategic position, is the perfect home for investments and tourism.
A recent UN study showed that it would take 18.5 years for Colombia's current GDP to double, under present conditions — including the war. With the same resources and no conflict with FARC, that number is down to 8.5 years. Colombia is facing a huge opportunity to boost its position in the world. The only option for our country is peace.