Leadership: Guns and Butter

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September 15, 2011: The new president (Juan Manuel Santos) of Colombia has increased the military budget by 8 percent, to $12 billion. President Santos has also replaced the Minister of Defense and the head of the military. All this is in response to an unexpected increase in casualties among the security forces (military and police.) The leftist rebels and drug gangs are suddenly becoming more aggressive. Perhaps out of desperation or because of support by the leftist government in neighboring Venezuela, or perhaps just by chance. In any event, shaking up the senior military leadership and providing more money for equipment, weapons and training seems like a good idea.

Santos knows that his predecessor (Alvaro Uribe) is a tough act to follow. Uribe defeated leftist rebels and forced drug gangs out of the country. Most importantly, Uribe had, since 2002, sharply reduced the crime rate. The number of kidnappings was cut by over 90 percent. The murder rate (people killed per 100,000 population) has fallen to about twice that of the United States. Five years ago it was at 80, over ten times the U.S. rate. That was among the highest in the world, now it is one of the lowest in South America.

Santos had been Minister of Defense for Uribe, so he knows that it takes time to reduce the crime rate, and keep the rate down. He also knows that this is what people want most. That’s because less crime means more economic activity and more prosperity. It’s a rare case of Guns and Butter, rather than Guns or Butter.

 

 


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