Colombia faces more than one threat to public safety, but the fight against the FARC insurgence is the most burdensome for the military budget, which surpassed 3.7% of GDP last year.
The war has left tens of thousands of victims, and the monetary losses are calculated at around $114,472 million, in the past ten years alone. That figure includes military expenditures, losses related to attacks on infrastructure, and relief for people affected by the conflict, according to a study by the Liberal Party and the Polytechnic University of Colombia.
So it is not strange at all that Colombians are crossing their fingers that these talks will work, in spite of a lack of confidence from the failures of past talks. But there is one important detail that often gets lost: peace is not free, and Colombians will have to finance it.
First of all, there should be no expectation of a reduction in military expenditures. Experience in other countries, and in previous peace processes in Colombia, has shown that it is important to maintain a military presence to control people who, in the end, do not demobilize. That is especially the case in Colombia, where in addition to the FARC there is also the ELN guerrilla group (the National Liberation Army, another communist revolutionary armed group), criminal gangs, narco-traffickers, and delinquents.
“Since we are a country that is growing, with more international potential, that growth should be accompanied with a greater capacity to maintain peace and security,” explained Roman Ortiz, a security consultant. “That is why the military budget has to stay where it is now, at the very least.” In fact, an analysis by market research firm Raddar expects that at the most, the Colombian military budget would be reduced by 5%.
But the real cost is in disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation. According to Raddar’s analysis of the Colombian peace process, if you take those costs into account, the government will need to invest $556 million in the next five years.
The government already has programs to reintegrate former fighters into civilian life, for those who have individually chosen to give up their arms. This also includes paramilitary forces demobilized between 2005 and 2006.
Recent studies from the Colombian Reintegration Agency show that each demobilized fighter costs the government an average of $10,000. The process involves psychological and medical support, as well as basic education, which can range from primary-school level to technical skills. The program lasts an average of seven years.
In addition to this, there are grants, for professional projects or seed capital for rehabilitated fighters, of up to $4,400. In addition, when fighters leave halfway houses they are given $300.
If you add up all of these expenditures, assuming FARC has 9,000 members, according to official figures the expenditures could reach roughly $102.6 billion.
Then there is the other side: victim reparations will involve a huge financial effort. To cite just one example, last year the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES) appropriated a large amount of money to apply the Law of Victims and Restitution of Lands, which is intended to return two million hectares of land to families displaced from their land by conflicts, as well as provide other types of restitution.
Where is the money?
The obvious question is: where is the money is going to come from? Camilo Herrera, president of Raddar, says that better security, resulting from the end of FARC’s activities, will create better economic growth. “Will we be more competitive and more productive? The costs, and risks, of operations will drop and investment will increase,” he says.
According to the School of Advanced Administration Studies (CESA), in the medium term, economic growth related to peace with FARC could mean between two and three more points in the GDP. Other estimates place the peace dividend closer to between one and two points of growth.
Since Colombia also has other armed groups, what guarantees that they will not affect the security situation? “Demobilizing the guerrillas could be economically advantageous, but the important thing is that we are not going to have just one demobilization process, because we have these other groups," Ortiz explains.
The business sector also wants to weigh in on the debate. Rafael Mejía, president of the Society of Agriculturalists in Colombia, is an optimist and prefers to see the glass half full. For him, it’s a process that all Colombians, in accordance with their economic resources, will have to contribute to.
“The private sector is ready to do what it takes to finance it, but I hope we will be united. For this to work we need to have the whole country participating,” he said.
Mejía goes even further, pointing to the responsibility that all people have in relation to narco-trafficking, which bankrolls most of the subversive activities.
“When will there be a substitute for growing narcotics? When people in the cities understand that the agricultural sector also has a right to be profitable, that it’s not just about buying cheap food,” he explained. “If we want people to stay in the country and not grow narcotics, agriculture has to be profitable.”
Another advantage for businesses would be the increase in labor that would be available thanks to the demobilization. But that is also a challenge, because not everybody will be able to join the local business-stimulating projects that the government set up for former FARC fighters.
“The question is whether the FARC will be willing to take the jobs,” Mejía said, explaining that life in the working class can be difficult.
In addition to signing a peace agreement and its potential economic consequences, Colombia is faced with another major challenge: demilitarizing people’s hearts. Half a century of war has left gaping wounds, and reconciliation is not an easy task. Will people employ someone who, years ago, attacked the capital or extorted businesses? Will they accept a commander who was responsible for kidnapping politicians? Will we see a mid-level FARC fighter as a cashier in the supermarket? That will be the real challenge for Colombia.
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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