Colombia: Peace At Any Price


December 19, 2015: Recent agreements with FARC on the amnesty issue means it is likely that the peace deal can probably be implemented on the target date; March 26 2016. Colombians are less concerned than the United States about some compromises the government made to get FARC deals on amnesty and other items. These included a halt to aerial spraying of coca plants (the source of cocaine) and an end of extraditing drug gang leaders to the United States for prosecution. To the Americans (and come Colombians) this indicates that many FARC members (and leaders) plan to continue working for the drug gangs after FARC is demobilized. To most Colombians these concessions, no matter how questionable, are worth it to achieve peace.

Foreign investors indicate that successful implementation of the FARC treaty could lead to much greater foreign investment. That is currently $12 billion a year but an end to FARC violence could see that double or triple and that would boost GDP growth to about six percent a year. Many Colombians believe this because as the successful offensive against drug gangs and leftist rebels began over a decade ago there has been more peace and prosperity as more areas have been cleared of outlaws.

In Venezuela the socialist government not only lost the recent legislative elections but the Democratic Unity Coalition (DUC) won a two-thirds majority giving it the ability to change the constitution and undo the changes the socialists made to help keep socialists in power no matter what. It was feared that the socialist government would try to defy the voters and establish a dictatorship but that did not happen. Apparently enough of the senior socialist politicians realized that with most of the population obviously against them and the economy a mess, losing power gracefully was the best choice, for now.

However the socialists are doing what they can to retain as much power as possible. After the election the socialists established a national assembly based on the local socialist groups the socialist government created over the last decade. These local socialist groups survive because the government provides cash and goods. That will disappear once the DUC takes power in 2016. In an effort to forestall that the socialist government is seeking to expand the Supreme Court with socialist judges who will veto constitutional changes that threaten socialist privileges and power.

Another bit of good news in Venezuela was that the military made it clear before the election that they would not back any effort to overturn the results of the vote by force. The generals noted the polls indicating a big loss for the socialist government and, despite many of them getting promoted mainly because of “loyalty” to the socialist party, they turned out to be soldiers first and socialists second. That may have been encouraged by the fact that is was now obvious that the socialist government had wrecked his armed forces along with the economy. The government has replaced skilled and competent officers with men selected primarily for their loyalty to the ruling socialists. These commanders were then ordered to forget about traditional military thinking and adopt bizarre doctrines invented by the socialists. Even many of the officers promoted for their loyalty began having second thoughts about all this. To deal with this the socialist government formed (and armed) a large civilian militia led by local socialist politicians. This upset the army as well, as did the fact that many of these militiamen were also gangsters and partly responsible for the sharp increase in crime.

The army leadership knows an armed insurrection by the socialist militias would be a problem the army would have to deal with. So the generals are telling the socialist president that the army defends Venezuela not the socialist party that just lost control of parliament and will soon lose the presidency as well. This has not stopped some factions of the socialist party from calling for radical (as in practical) economic reforms. Other factions are calling for an armed uprising but that is a vain hope considering the size of the recent anti-government vote. Then there is the economy, which nearly all Venezuelans agree is a mess and the main priority right now. Politics is one thing but getting enough to eat is a much more pressing issue.

What will not change in Venezuela is the popularity of politicians who get elected by promising more than they can deliver. When elected these politicians tend to spend more than they have and the economy is soon bankrupt and the spendthrift politicians discredited. More prudent government takes over to get the economy going again and soon, often in less than a generation, another populist shows up promising more than the nation can afford and gets elected. This is one of the major shortcomings of democracy and for several thousand years a solution has been sought, without much success. South America is particularly prone to this boom/bust cycle, more so than anywhere else in the world. The Venezuelan oil wealth makes it worse as does the popularity of radical socialism, which speeds up the destruction of the economy by depending on price controls and vain attempts to micromanage the economy.

December 17, 2015: Two nephews of the Venezuelan president were indicted for drug smuggling in the United States. They were earlier arrested in Haiti and extradited to stand trial for drug dealing. These two are actually nephews of the president’s wife (Cilia Flores), whose family is infamous for having received so many high paying government jobs since her husband became president in 2013. Flores is a lawyer and politician and even before her husband became president she was known to be corrupt. Flores is aware that the daughter of former president Chavez managed to build a fortune worth over $4 billion after her father came to power in 1998. Newly wealthy politicians are accepted by the government and resented by the increasingly impoverished Venezuelans. Those with education and skills have been leaving the country in greater numbers, either for Colombia (which has the highest economic growth rate in South America), other Latin American countries where their skills are needed or the United States. Before Chavez took over Venezuela had long been among the wealthiest (on a per capita basis) countries in South America. Now it is the poorest and most crime ridden, with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Colombians long envied Venezuela but they have come to fear it. Now there is hope that the DUC victory in Venezuela will soon result in an improved economy and better relations with Colombia.

December 16, 2015: Two senior Venezuelan army officers were accused by American prosecutors of working for drug gangs. That is not unusual and is becoming more common. The Colombian drug gangs found Venezuelan officials easier to bribe the more the socialist Venezuelan was in power. That was largely because mismanagement ruined the economy and that led to sharp increases in criminal activity at all levels of society.

December 15, 2015: FARC and the government signed an agreement to settle the amnesty dispute. In part this came about because of opposition from the many Colombians (about a third of the population) who believed FARC members were getting away with murder if the peace deal did not address their many crimes. This coalition threatened to block ratification of the peace deal. FARC long insisted it would not compromise on the amnesty arrangements already agreed to by negotiators from both sides. The new agreement replaces amnesty with special tribunals to decide the fate of FARC men accused of crimes. FARC may still have problems selling the compromise to its armed members. That is essential if FARC is to successfully demobilize its 7,000 armed fighters. The special tribunals deal also includes procedures for making reparations.

December 9, 2015: In the south (Caqueta province) FARC released a soldier they had kidnapped in November. The soldier was on vacation with his family but the local FARC accused him of spying. The government demanded that FARC free the soldier as taking him was a violation of the FACR ceasefire. The soldier was freed after two weeks of captivity.

December 6, 2015: Parliamentary elections were held in Venezuela and the socialists lost control for the first time since they get elected in 1998. Back then the socialists promised a better life for the poor but mismanagement of the economy has made life much worse for everyone and despite government propaganda (and control of the mass media) and intimidation the DUC won absolute (67 percent of the seats) control of parliament. There are still potential problems. First, the DUC is a coalition not a unified party and that means once the new parliament takes over coalition politics may cripple dealing with the fact that the socialists control the government until the next presidential elections in 2019. That can be changed if the DUC can change the constitution, which their majority makes possible, in theory. But in practice a lot can go wrong, especially since the majority belongs to a coalition.

November 30, 2015: The government turned down a FARC request for special demilitarized zones where the demobilization of FARC gunmen could take place in the presence of foreign observers. The government says it will enforce the terms of the peace deal and that includes the safety of FARC members being demobilized.

In the northeast (Norte de Santander) troops clashed with some ELN and after the battle was over found they had killed a notorious ELN leader (Jose Perez).

November 22, 2015: The government announced pardons for 30 jailed FARC members. This was a good will gesture.




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