Colombia Economic Conditions

Economic outlook

Since international oil prices fell by half during the third and fourth quarters of 2014, Colombia has had significant revenue losses. The independent research institute Fedesarrollo estimated the loss in state oil revenues with stable low oil prices in 2015 to 20 billion pesos, or 58 billion pesos. The low oil prices have led to a slowdown in investments in the oil sector. This is serious, considering that the country’s oil production in existing fields is only intended to be maintained until 2023. Colombia has been an oil producer since the 1950s, but offshore production has so far not been an alternative. In 2014, Statoil entered as one of the largest players in offshore production on the Colombian Atlantic coast through subsidiaries.

Revista Semana estimates that economic growth in Colombia was 2 percent in 2016 and estimates a slight rise to 2.4 percent in 2017. The OECD reports 2.5 percent. According to the World Bank, Colombia has remained relatively stable at between four and seven percent of economic growth from 2003 to 2014, with the exception of 2009: While Western economies have consistently had negative growth, GDP in Colombia rose by almost two percent that year. 2015 and 2016 were leap years, with 3.1 and 2.4 percent growth, respectively. The proportion of people who survive for less than two dollars a day has dropped from 20 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2013. According to national estimates, this proportion dropped to 8 percent in 2016. Interestingly, the country’s unemployment figures fall by about a third from January to December each year. It gives reason to doubt national unemployment figures. The long-term trend is more to be trusted and very good. The country had about 15 percent unemployment in 2010. This has fallen every year, to nine percent in 2016.

As a result of lower-than-expected growth and low oil prices, the Colombian peso depreciated from 2000 COP per dollar to 3000 COP per dollar between January and September 2015 and has remained there since. This leads to a loss of real income through the rise in prices of imported products, while also providing new opportunities for the export industry.

Colombia’s largest export goods are oil, coal, coffee, gold, flowers and bananas. Cocaine export is still an important, unregulated source of income. The country’s largest trading partners are the United States, the Cinema and the EU. Colombia had a trade balance of minus 5 percent in 2016.

Trade agreements

Since Colombia signed the Mercosur Free Trade Agreement in 2004, the country has been open to deregulation of trade with most American countries and Europe. The free trade agreement with the US entered into force in 2012, and in 2013 the agreement with the EU was finalized. The agreement with EFTA was ratified in Colombia in 2011 and in Norway in 2014. This is part of a long-term strategy where Colombia continues to open up international trade. The FTA with South Korea came into force in 2016. Among the countries Colombia is currently negotiating with, Japan and China are probably the most important.

The opposition to Colombia’s free trade agreements has been extensive both in Norway and in other countries Colombia has negotiated with, primarily because the agreements are weak in terms of protecting human rights. Free trade agreements with the US, EU and EFTA are much worse in terms of workers’ rights than similar agreements negotiated by other countries. The United States Congress first refused a free trade agreement, but approved it after Colombia implemented an action plan to improve labor rights.

One of the most serious aspects of the agreement with Norway is the point that Colombia can introduce a state of emergency to maintain peace and order without having any consequences for the agreement. The state of emergency has been used by the governing powers as a means of defining the rights of the trade union movement and the opposition. Civil society organizations in Colombia fear that the agreement will lead to increased poverty, further pressure on public services and greater social disparities. The organizations also claim that Norway, which is known for being good at human rights and for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, helps legitimize the governing powers in a country where people do not have legal security.

Those who have so far been most critical of the free trade agreements in Colombia are small and medium-sized agricultural producers. Colombia’s agriculture is underdeveloped and investment in the sector has long been a low priority by national authorities. Legal and illegal imports from countries where agricultural production is subsidized to a far greater extent than in Colombia place great pressure on the industries, and the free trade agreements are feared to aggravate the situation. In 2013 and 2014, coffee, potato and milk producers went on strike in collaboration with the Transport Workers’ Union and demanded strengthening of their financial framework conditions. The central government’s solution proposals have in most cases been short-term: such as price guarantees and increased state purchases of agricultural products.

Human rights violation

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia (OHCHR) and Amnesty International consider the human rights situation in Colombia to be extremely serious and alarming. The economic inequality between the city and the country is large and in many places the inhabitants do not have access to clean drinking water, proper schooling, functioning health care or legal apparatus. A large number of children still die from malaria and normal gastrointestinal disorders. Guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces have become rooted all over the country because the state has not been able to establish itself as a service provider and power officer.

Both the leftist guerrilla groups, the army and organized criminals have used abduction as a method of political or economic gain. Abductions are no longer a common problem for Colombians. There were 890 abductions from 2010 to 2012 and in 2014 the figure was down to 190. Although the numbers are still high, they represent a sharp decline from 2003, when 2122 people were abducted.

According to the Pulitzer Center, more than 2,800 Colombian trade union activists were murdered from 1986 to 2013. But not only are trade union activists exposed to serious human rights violations, but also people in the peace movement, environmental movement and war victims’ organizations are daily subjected to murder threats, persecutions, disappearances and killings, and many seem to have to flee. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 45 human rights defenders were killed from January to October 2014.

Since 2008, a practice has been uncovered in which soldiers in the army abduct civilians, most often youths, dress them as guerrillas and kill them. These falsos positivosThe “false evidence” makes it look like the soldiers have succeeded in killing a guerrilla soldier, which is often appreciated by the army with more pay or more days off. Cases are constantly emerging from the previous year, but it seems that this practice was started in 2006 and has now ended in the army. Women are the sole caregivers for half of all families run on the run. At the same time, abuses against women and young girls have been a deliberate war strategy among the armed groups. A major challenge is the widespread impunity for sexual abuse, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Violence against women is still considered a secondary problem in public policy. According to the first study of the incidence of sexual violence in the context of armed conflict in Colombia in the years 2001-2009,


Since the Civil War in 1948-1958, leftist guerrilla groups have existed in Colombia. For a long time, right-wing paramilitaries have to varying degrees interacted with the army to fight the guerrillas. These groups are and have been very violent and were responsible for the majority of the massacres in the country in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Álvaro Uribe Vélez was elected president in 2002 after the peace process between President Pastrana and FARC was stranded. In a high-level political context, the Uribe government created peasant armies, arming poor peasants. A network of one million civilian informants was created to silence and there was widespread use of mass arrests, which has helped draw civilians directly into the conflict. It is highly uncertain how large the extent of the paramilitaries’ criminal acts are. In 2011, prosecutors had documented 173,183 killings by paramilitaries over a twenty-year period. From 2003 to 2006, a so-called demobilization process was carried out by the paramilitary umbrella organization Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). This process did not lead to a real liquidation of the paramilitary groups, but they have been redefined by the governing powers and are now called “criminal gangs”. Many operate under new names and are behind massacres, killings, threats, rapes, abductions and extortion against civilians. As the UN and Human Rights Watch have pointed out numerous times, the Colombian government does little to investigate such abuses and to protect vulnerable groups in the population. There are also several instances where state actors have been shown to tolerate or assist in the abuse of civilians. In 2013, Luis Alfredo Ramos, former congressman and governor of Antioquia, arrested for cooperating with paramilitary groups. This issue is currently being debated in Congress and is part of the “umbrella politics” scandal that started in 2006, when relations between paramilitaries and politicians were revealed. According to the Colombian organization Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, as many as 91 politicians in the Senate or Congress during the period 2006-2010 were under police investigation or convicted of ties to the illegal paramilitary groups. The scandal is extensive and includes many local and regional politicians.

Internally displaced

During 2012, Colombia received as many as 262,000 more internally displaced people, according to Various numbers exist for the total number of internal refugees in Colombia. El Tiempo reported 6.9 million internally displaced people by the end of 2015. In addition, around half a million Colombians have fled the country, mainly to neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador. The number of people on the run increased by around three million since the war against the FARC guerrilla was escalated after Uribe came to power in 2002. Indigenous peoples and peasants make up most of the internal refugees in the country. They are displaced from the land and the abandoned land is opened for industrial agriculture and economic development projects, often with multinational companies at the forefront. Internally displaced Colombians do not move back to where they fled and the number of internally displaced people in Colombia remains high, even when the level of conflict in the country is on the decline. Afro-Colombians, Indigenous peoples and women are particularly vulnerable to abuse and are over-represented among people on the run.

“Law on Victims and Land Restitution “, Ley de Víctimas and Restitución de Tierras, came into force in 2011. It stated for the first time that there has been and is ongoing war in Colombia and that the state is responsible for maintaining human rights for its citizens, including victims of war. According to the law, victims of acts of war after 1985 have the right to economic recovery and victims of acts of war from 1991 may in addition apply to recover lands they have been stolen or had to flee. According to Amnesty International, many victims of war will not be able to make an impact on their applications, due to problems in obtaining documentation, because their recovery requirements are outdated or because they have been a victim of criminal gangs the authorities do not consider to be involved in the war. The land return unit has received 1,9175 applications from mid-2011 to December 2016.

Norwegian organizations in Colombia

Since Norway became the guarantor of the peace negotiations between Colombia and the FARC in 2012, Norwegian organizations have gradually become more active in the country. Norwegian People’s Aid will lead the national mine clearance work in collaboration with the Colombian army and FARC celebrities. The Norwegian Red Cross, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Missionary Federation and FOCUS are all active in Colombia. The Norwegian embassy in Bogotá was closed in 2011, but reopened in 2013.

[1] Juan Manuel Santos’ position is strong internationally and the Peace Prize awards have received relatively little criticism. This despite the fact that Santos was Minister of Defense in Alvaro Uribe’s last government from 2006 to 2009. The army’s practice of executing civilian dressed as guerrillas, so-called “falsos positivos”, should have started in 2006.)


Capital: Bogotá
Population: 47.22 million (2016)
Life expectancy: 75.7 years (2016)
Infant mortality: 14.1 per 1000 (2016)
GDP per capita (PPP): US $ 14,300 (est. 2016)
Religion: Catholicism 90%, other 10%
Official languages: Spanish
Currency unit: Colombian pesos
Export items: Oil, coal, emeralds, coffee, nickel, flowers, clothing and bananas.
Regional relations: Member of Mercosur (associate member), CELAC, UNASUR, OAS