Border regions need more attention
Border regions need more attention
Colombia’s Peace at Stake in Polarised Election
Colombia’s Peace at Stake in Polarised Election

Border regions need more attention

Today, the presidents of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are meeting at the presidential summit of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) in Bogotá. Among other topics, they will discuss Ecuador’s threat to withdraw from the regional club following a row with Colombian transporters at the border. The CAN governments should seize this opportunity to revise and readjust their border policies. Guaranteeing the free flow of goods and persons across borders is vital for both national economies and local communities. Border regions, in particular those of Colombia, need broader attention. Over the last 15 years, the porous borders, with scant presence of functioning public institutions, have offered strategic advantages to illegal armed actors and have facilitated illegal economies, including drug-trafficking and the smuggling of fuel and other goods.

The primary response from all sides to the worsening situation at the Colombian borders has been to reinforce their military presence. This has brought only temporary relief. Operations of illegal armed groups are increasingly concentrated in peripheral regions. Border regions, in particular in the south, remain highly exposed to coca-cultivation. On both sides of the border between Colombia and Ecuador, violence is far above the respective national averages. Fixing the borders is a priority for Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos. He has moved quickly to restore diplomatic relations with Ecuador and Venezuela, which had turned toxic under the previous government. Security cooperation is improving. But over a year into the term of the Santos administration, the diplomatic thaw has so far failed to change realities on the ground. Internal displacement continues unabated, and a high number of Colombians cross the borders seeking refuge.

What is needed to tackle such problems is not just a new drive of economic integration to broaden the access to formal sector employment and foster social mobility, but also responses to the ongoing humanitarian emergency. This includes effective attention to internally displaced people and to refugees, which can be domestically controversial. Tightening policies, as Ecuador has recently done with regards to refugees, risks aggravating the humanitarian crisis. All CAN governments must step up efforts to tackle the endemic capacity deficit of local and regional authorities. Ecuador’s grievances and its threat to withdraw from the CAN give the presidents of the club the chance to raise the plight of local communities exposed to an intense armed conflict, as well as the absence of public institutions and the lack of economic opportunities. Without a more integral approach, both on national, bilateral and multilateral levels, the troubled border regions will continue to fuel the Colombian conflict and endanger wider regional cooperation.

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