More questions, more answers!
In today's blog post, I'll be answering another question that I received from a reader via the "Ask me anything" post.
Keep the questions coming! They're an absolute pleasure to answer.
Q: "If you could ask a question of any living politician, in any country, currently in office, who and what would you ask?"
My pick for this is Juan Manuel Santos, current President of Colombia and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 (although he will be replaced by President-elect Iván Duque, who will be sworn in on August 7, 2018). I know that you said "a question", but it's not often you get the chance to talk to the President of one of South America's most populous nations, so I would take the opportunity with both hands and throw a barrage questions at him about the following topics.
For the last roughly 60 years, Colombia has experienced a devastating civil war that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions displaced. As with any (civil) war, the causes for it are extremely complex, which means that I don't have enough knowledge on the matter to perfectly explain every facet of it. This is exactly why I would like to talk President Santos, the man who was instrumental in negotiating a peace deal with one of the biggest players in this war – the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), also known as the FARC.
What were the most difficult aspects of the peace negotiations?
Did you ever fear that the negotiations would fail?
Which factor was most important in making the peace negotiations a success?
Did you think you were betraying the people by being too lenient on the FARC? Or were the terms of the deal too harsh on the group?
What now for Colombia? How do you envision the nation's path to healing?
Following from #5, how would you compare Colombia's process of achieving peace with South Africa's experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after the end of apartheid?
What will be the most important factor in making peace a reality in Colombia rather than just an agreement on paper?
Which do you think is greater at the moment: the Colombian people's desire for reconciliation or its desire to get revenge/punish the members of the FARC?
How is Colombia going to deal with the reintegration of former members of the FARC into society? Do you think that the group having seats in Congress is enough to further this cause or will more need to be done?
What do you think was the most important systemic cause of Colombia's civil war?
Now that most of the problems with the FARC have been resolved, what do you think about the potential threat of the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional or National Liberation Army, another armed guerrilla group), given that the group did not participate in the peace negotiations?
About a year ago, I read an economic report by the OECD on the state of Colombia's economy. I feverishly scoured through the archives on my computer to try to find it but, much to my disappointment, it somehow seems to have disappeared. Unfortunately, web searches for this document are also proving unsuccessful. Anyway, I remember one key challenge that was frequently stated in that report: low tax revenues due to Colombia's informal sector.
Colombia, like many Latin-American countries, has a large informal sector that is composed of very small, cash-only entities (e.g. street vendors) that are neither taxed nor monitored by the government. Therein lies exactly the problem: they're so small that they don't register with the government because they don't want to pay taxes. While this does allow them to avoid this expense and the bureaucracy that comes with an official legal status, it does come at a cost. Namely, they forgo the benefits that come with such a status, such as access to credit and social security, the ability to expand your business, social security benefits, legal business protection and insurance, and much more.
Furthermore, not only does the government miss out on sorely needed tax revenues, but it also has to find a different source for tax revenues to compensate for the fiscal shortfall from this problem with the informal sector. Naturally, this has led to it increasing the tax burden on (legally-registered) corporations and private citizens because, quite frankly, what else could it do?
This creates a vicious circle of the formal sector becoming overburdened with taxes because only a small share of the population is participating in the generation of tax revenues. Moreover, the government then lacks the funds to finance social programs (e.g. education, healthcare, benefits) that could help low-wage workers in the informal sector escape poverty and thus never need to seek employment there.
All of this leads to the question I would ask President Santos: How would you (or President-elect Iván Duque) solve this problem of the informal sector in Colombia, a problem that could make or break the nation's future economic growth?
Less preamble required for this question: How do you deal with – and what do you think of – the way in which the international community constantly labels Colombia as a dangerous cocaine country run by criminals and drug addicts?
The Beautiful Game
Last but not least, I would be remiss to not ask President Santos this question: who do you think is/was the greatest Colombian football player of all time?
I have a slight suspicion that he might just pick the eccentric Carlos Valderrama, but who knows?
Thanks for reading!
And like I said, keep the questions coming!
See you, Space Cowboy.