2024: Colombia’s year ahead

By Oli Pritchard December 29, 2023
Photo by Jorge Gardner on Unsplash

It’s business as usual in Bogotá and Colombia for 2024, with ongoing political back and forth, economic worries, and rumblings about corruption. Paz Total may or may not progress, though it’s unlikely to live up to such an ambitious name in such a short space of time. And there’s all kinds of sport, music, and culture to look forward to.

Petro might pass a reform

On the political stage, we have a president who promised a lot of change but has so far struggled to deliver much of it. Indeed, the big danger for President Petro is not that he will be too divisive or radical. The first is nothing new for Colombia and the second is why he was elected. 

Rather, the danger is that he will simply be even more incompetent and ineffectual than previous heads of government. He needs a big, clear win, ideally before the halfway point of his presidency in August.

It’s entirely possible that one or another of Petro’s proposed reforms might go into law this year. Then again, they might simply collapse. It all depends on how willing the sides are to compromise. Health looks like it might be able to get through, though heavily modified.

If none of these changes or reforms get anywhere in 2024, patience may be in short supply for Petro from his base. If elected on a platform of cambio, it’s pretty much a necessity to get some change underway. Expect to see him proclaiming anything and everything as the wind of change.

Worrying economic indicators

Little is being said about the future of the economy, which is strange, as there are some worrying indicators. Construction, a large sector, is slowing alarmingly. Elsewhere, high oil prices are failing to bring up the GDP. Energy inflation is also slightly under the radar despite being sky-high.

On the other hand, generalised inflation is slowing down and the central bank has agreed to lower base interest rates. The minimum salary is likely to increase over inflation again, which is probably for the best. It’s hard to predict where the economy is going, but probably won’t be dramatic in either direction.

Ironically for Petro, getting his reforms through would likely damage the economy. One that he’s managed reasonably well so far. The political success he needs would probably lead to economic uncertainty, a difficult circle to square.

Corruption and scandal are generally political constants and Petro’s been no exception. It’s hard to guess what will pop up, but loose threads to keep an eye on include Arturo Char-manda and the Aída Merlano affair; Laura Sanabria and the not so naughty nanny; Benedetti; Nicolás ‘not really my son’ Petro; and of course the ever-present Uribe.

Finally, will we see protests returning to Bogotá? It’s been quiet for kicking on two years now as the rightwing opposition aren’t used to protesting and going out on the streets. Instead, the only large recent mobilisations have been by supporters of the government. That could change in 2024 and there might also be protests from disgruntled lefties wanting results.

Peace sells, but who’s buying?

Yes, Megadeth has two dates in the capital next year, but this is a reference to Paz Total, another cloud on the horizon. So far, that’s been chugging along as a nice feel-good slogan, but sooner or later it will have to be explained in detail. Worse still, it won’t even function as propaganda if the crime rate doesn’t come down and/or peace talks with either the FARC dissidents, ELN, or some of the bacrim (armed groups) don’t bear fruit.

The guerillas really should stop dragging their heels: Petro is by far and away their best shot at a friendly deal. Dawdle too long over negotiations and they may well find themselves sitting down at a table with a rebound right-winger in a couple more years. However, both the ELN and FARC EMC are erratic operators at best, so nothing is clear.

Negotiations with bacrim are even more precarious. For all the lack of discipline in the two guerilla groups, the armed gangs are far worse on that front. Worse yet, they don’t have even the cloak of political legitimacy. They are simply and purely criminal actors. Negotiating with them sets a worrying precedent.

Finally, day-to-day crime continues to be a big problem in Colombia, with around three murders a day in both Bogotá and Cali. They’re not even the worst offenders on a per-capita basis, either. Things might be better than in the 80s, but that’s a low bar. Not only that, but the figures are going in the wrong direction.

The generally upward crime line seems as though it will continue, with nothing really to suggest it might come down. The ELN has promised to stop kidnapping for money, so that’s good, but the main economic drivers of crime remain firmly in place.

Local politics for local people

Locally, we say goodbye to Claudia López and g’day to Galán. The incoming mayor has a lot on his plate, to say the least. It’s a tricky time to take over, as he will have all the joy of a city ripped apart for four years to build a Metro that someone else will open.

Crime is at the top of most people’s agendas and he’s promised to crack down. That’s all very nice and well, but easier said than done. He will need lots more coppers and it’s not clear where they will come from. Worse yet, the legal system is slow at the best of times and totally blocked right now. Plus, there are not enough jail cells to put criminals in.

His ideas are good, but high-tech surveillance costs money while better links with the general public require trust that’s in short supply. Low-hanging fruit is perhaps best found in a special unit for the TransMilenio. That’ll be high-visibility and popular, as petty crime and disorder are constant. Fare evasion is absolutely chronic. It might even claw money back through fines. 

It’s unclear whether the city has enough money to implement Galan’s plans. Some of them are ambitious and potentially very costly, while others may require central government assistance. That may not be forthcoming, sadly. The reason? He may not have political support from the Palacio de Nariño. 

The president has been playing silly buggers with Bogotá for a while over the Metro plans and retains ultimate control over the police, who are all national rather than local forces. He can also muck about with funding if he wants to.

Metro changes afoot?

One of the many unresolved issues in the Colombian political landscape is something that really should be cut and dried: the Bogotá Metro. Building work has already started for an overground system. The president has always favoured an underground Metro though, and is promising/threatening to make that happen. Watch this space.

Whatever happens, there will continue to be chaos on the streets. Important roads such as the 15 from 72 are already shut and will stay that way for years. Furthermore, deaths from traffic incidents shot up in 2023 and that is certain to continue. Motorbikes in particular are a menace to themselves and others – Galán needs to get on top of this fast.

At the end of the year, the city’s famed Ciclovía will hit 50 years since its first iterations and there will be celebrations all through the year to build up to that. Expect lots of cycling events and celebrations in the city, from ride-in theatres to art shows and mass rides.

El Niño is going to be a naughty boy

Get ready for things to be dry this year. El Niño was announced at the tail end of this year, but will really take hold in 2024. The climate event rolls around every few years and in this part of the world means hot and dry conditions. You might think that’s great for us in la nevera, but it’s problematic for a lot of the country.

Plants need water, after all. When the reservoirs run low, times are hard for campesinos. Hot weather also damages many crops, amplifying the problem as does hard, cracked earth. Livestock, too will have a heavier demand for water and the chances of wildfires will ramp up. You may see prices rise and controls on energy use, water use, or certain products. 

There will likely be a heavy human toll too, especially in La Guajira. One of Colombia’s poorest departments, it already faces a growing malnutrition crisis. A lack of potable water will exacerbate this. Heat itself kills as well, and temperatures are likely to hit high thirties and low forties in large swathes of the country.

International affairs

To prove that lusting after other countries’ oil isn’t just for running dog capitalists, Nicolás Maduro has been sabre rattling with Guyana over their resource rich border territory. Petro has been largely friendly towards Caracas, but this will bring fresh tension. It’s unlikely to lead to a hot war, but that’s not something we want in the neighbourhood.

Elsewhere in the region, his incautious diplomacy has led to fractious relationships with a few leaders. Hopefully, that’ll get reined in a bit, especially with Argentina. It’s one thing to berk off El Salvador, but Argentina and Colombia have important links.

Expect Petro to get abroad somewhere between 25 and 30 times in any case and to give at least two bizarre rambling speeches that go viral on the internet after his media team rework it. He’s also likely to get around all 32 departments twice over.

Music, theatre, art, and more 

The truly game-changing news is that Festival Estéreo Picnic is coming home to Parque Bolívar. This has been announced by both the incoming mayor Galán and the festival organisers, although details are not fully confirmed as yet. The headliners are though: Sam Smith, Blink-182, Feid, nu-metal cockroaches Limp Bizkit, and Placebo.

There will be another Festival Cordillera to celebrate vital Latin talent. This is fast becoming the hipster festival to be at in Bogotá. Rock al Parque has been in decline post-pandemic but will have plenty of clout, especially if the new mayor will put it back onto a sensible summer schedule. 

As mentioned earlier, Megadeth are coming to la nevera in April (21st and 22nd). Fellow 80s metal legends Iron Maiden also sold out fast for their show in the cold November rain (no, that’s Guns N Roses – ed). Mon LaFerte is popping up from Chile, too (20th April) and her bookshop singing mate Juanes coming home from Miami in May (24th). 

Karol G will bring her hit show Mañana Será Bonita to the capital at the start of April (5th and 6th). Her polar opposite musically and in personality, grumpy racist uncle Moz out of The Smiths will grace us with his presence and gladioli (10th Feb). 

There’s also (deep breath) FilBo in April; FiTB in March; ExpoPet in August; ARTBO at the end of the year and ARTBO weekend in the spring; ExpoArtesanias in December; SOFA in October and much more besides, such as the coffee, chocolate, wine and cheese expos.

For art lovers, Open San Felipe will run every month and you’ll find all kinds of visual stimulation at the city’s big galleries. MAMBO, MAMU, and FUGA are always worth a look, while work is due to finish on re-modeling the Bronx – Bogotá’s new creative district.

On the stage, the aforementioned return of the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá (FITB), a biennial citywide festival, takes precedence. The event in 2022 was controversial, with high prices and low visitor numbers. Hopefully, it will be a different story this time round. 

Yet another Copa America

This one, the fifth in nine years, is an expanded version, with strong CONCACAF representation. Colombia is in a  group with Brazil, Paraguay and ‘CONCACAF 6’. The matches are southwest USA, Texas, Arizona and California, with the last a likely decider against Brazil on July 2nd for top of the group.

Last time round, Luis Díaz was the breakout star of the tournament as Colombia went out on penalties in the semi-finals to eventual winners Argentina. Coach Nestor Lorenzo has the team playing well, so they may well arrive in good form for the first time in a few years. Having beaten Brazil last month, there will be no fear in the squad.

The women’s game continues to grow, with a league that will run from February to September with breaks for the men’s Copa America and the women’s U-20 World Cup. The latter is a big draw for the development of the game after a successful campaign Down Under last year.

Nairo Quintana may race at the top level of cycling again, having re-signed with Movistar. He’s generally considered long past his peak, but it’s a funny sport and we’ve seen plenty of late-career comebacks over the years. The team see him as co-leader in the Giro and to compete in the Vuelta. Anything could happen.

Bullfighting won’t take place in the 2024 season, but may yet do so the following year. At least for now there’ll be no more revelling in animal torture down at the Plaza de Toros. With ever-dwindling support for the ‘cultural’ practice, its days are likely numbered one way or the other. There’ll also be no Tigre, as Falcao has turned down Millos, citing crime in Colombia.