Monday, April 19, 2010

The slow reduction in Colombian poverty

Colombia has been able to drop poverty levels, albeit slowly. Eight years of relative peace and a flurry of foreign investment has instead grown inequality in the nation. The inequality is highlighted by a farming assistance program that only gives grants to the big farms who are already well off.

An upcoming election might expose Columbia's poverty problem to the world. President Álvaro Uribe may be voted out by a frustrated public. The US has strong ties with Uribe, who uses US cash to fight the nation's drug trafficking.

From this Washington Post article, writer Juan Forero gives us some stats on Colombia's progress.

To its supporters in Washington, and to investors the world over, the Colombian government touts its success in delivering blows to a guerrilla movement that once seemed invincible, an effort carried out with $7.3 billion in U.S. aid since 2000. The economy has since flourished, more than doubling output since 2002, when Uribe took office. Foreign investment in Colombia is the fourth-highest in Latin America.

The other Colombia is one of rising inequality, the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America. The percentage of Colombians who are indigent also rose, from 20.2 percent in 2007 to nearly 23 percent in 2008, nearly double the region's average.

The guerrilla conflict, meanwhile, has uprooted 5 million people in 25 years and has helped ensure that more than 60 percent of rural Colombians remain poor, according to Ricardo Bonilla, an expert on poverty at Bogota's National University.

The number of Colombians in poverty did fall from 51 percent in 2002 to nearly 43 percent in 2008, according to the Economic Commission, but the contrast with big Latin neighbors is sharp. In Brazil, more than 32 million have joined the middle class since 2003, and in Peru poverty fell from 55 percent in 2002 to 36.2 percent six years later.

The Colombian government says that under Uribe, per-capita social spending has doubled, millions more children attend public schools, and a cash-transfer program went from covering 220,000 families to nearly 3 million.

"Now we are reaching millions of people that are under a well-structured and maintained social protection network," said Diego Molano, the government's top anti-poverty official.

Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank's director for poverty reduction in Latin America, agreed, saying that reducing poverty by more than 1 percentage point per year, as Colombia has done, "is respectable."

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