Colombia: When Reality Runs Into Fantasy


February 12, 2016: On February 16 th Congress begins a series of meetings that, by mid-March, are to work out what areas will be used for FARC rebels to assemble and disarm. That is supposed to begin after the final peace deal is signed on March 23 rd . The disarmament is the beginning of the process of implementing the peace deal. There is still opposition to the peace terms, which many Colombians consider too lenient. The month of negotiations in Congress are an effort to get around this obstacle. The government also wants to hold a referendum on the peace deal. FARC opposes have all Colombians vote on the peace deal, in part because FARC understands the degree of hatred many, if not most, Colombians feel towards the leftist rebels and their half century of violence that has left nearly a quarter of a million dead.

FARC is trying to convince its smaller rival, the ELN, to also make peace. The government says it will eliminate ELN by forces if the group does not agree to a negotiated peace. Many in ELN favor that but some hardliners insist they will never surrender while many others are willing to talk but only if ELN gets better terms than FARC. The two leftist rebel groups have also been rivals over the years. So far all ELN has done is send a team to Cuba to conduct exploratory talks.

Colombia also has to brace itself for known post-peace problems, especially the frequent transformation of demobilized rebels into gangsters. This is a widespread phenomenon, especially in recent South American history. That’s one reason why most Colombians are well aware of the problem and seeking solutions that work. There are no easy solutions, but dealing with this problem is preferable to dealing with more years of war.

In neighboring Venezuela the Supreme Court granted the president the power to rule by decree (without any involvement by the legislature) in order to deal with the economic crisis created by the president and his predecessor (and mentor) Hugo Chavez. The legislators pointed out that this was unconstitutional and now Venezuela is again threatened with civil war.

The recent parliamentary elections made it clear that most Venezuelans were fed up the ideas of radical populist president Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013 after he had trashed the Venezuelan economy and democracy. His handpicked replacement was even worse, as his recent attempt to rule by decree demonstrates. The old Chavez dream of Venezuela becoming a socialist dictatorship supported by oil revenue rapidly faded along with cash reserves and the national credit rating because of mismanagement of the economy and falling oil prices.

The recent national elections put the opposition (to the current suicidal economic policies) in charge of the legislature. With that most Venezuelans were looking forward to reconstruction (rather than civil war) under a non-socialist government. That is not going to happen as long as the socialists control the presidency (until 2019) and the Supreme Court. The leftist politicians of Venezuela paid attention to the opinion polls last year understood that they could lose control of the legislature and just before the elections used their control of Congress to appoint enough additional leftist judges to the Supreme Court to enable the government to block an opposition majority in Congress and doing anything else necessary to prevent the new legislature from fixing the economic crises.

In January the Supreme Court invalidated the election of enough opposition candidates to deny the new opposition Congress a two-thirds majority (and the power to change the constitution). This is seen as a justifiable delaying tactic by the leftists, who believe that if they apply some more radical solutions to the crises created by similar solutions they, and the economy, will be saved. Most Venezuelans believe this kind of thinking created the current mess and had hoped the leftists would accept electoral defeat and let someone else fix the economy. Now Venezuelans have to decide if they want to submit to a leftist dictatorship and permanent poverty in order to avoid civil war. Many of the Cubans the government hired over the last decade report that over half a century of leftist dictatorship has not helped the Cuban economy but did result in the creation of a very efficient police state. Many of these Cuban critics of Cuba then disappeared, usually because they had found someone to get them across the border to Colombia or Brazil.

Venezuela avoided civil war after the December elections crippled the ruling leftists. But now the leftist president still has to deal with an economic collapse largely brought on by government mismanagement and corruption. The situation was made much worse in the last two years by the collapse of the oil price which went from over $100 a barrel to less than $30. One of the worst fears of the leftist president and his cronies is that with the opposition in control of Congress a lot of the corruption among leftist politicians is going to get unwelcome publicity. While the president can continue blaming that on the United States and Colombia the recent elections made it clear that most Venezuelans no longer support the “foreign conspiracy” explanation for all the problems that are pretty clearly locally made. Currently the leftists are determined to hold on to the presidency and control of the government bureaucracy by trying to block anything the new Congress attempts. The new opposition Congress wants to remove president Maduro legally and by mid-2016. Maduro’s current term does not end until 2019 and Maduro wants until then to make things all better.

In 2015 Venezuela was rated as the world’s worst economy and it is on track to earn that dubious distinction for a second year in a row. Venezuela is also rated as the word’s unhappiest country, which is amazing considering the competition (North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Libya and so on) for the bottom spot. The majority of Venezuelans would like to believe in radical socialism and showed that by electing and reelecting Hugo Chavez. But as has often been pointed out over the last century radical socialism only works until you run out of other people’s money. A minority of Venezuelans still believe radical socialism will work if only the president can deal with foreigners and local criminals who are the real causes of the dysfunctional economy. But many of the local criminals are corrupt government employees who got the job by pledging to “defend the revolution” and then taking advantage of their new power to get rich. The president is reluctant to crack down on these corrupt supporters because it would be an admission that his government is corrupt and inefficient. The president could ease the crisis with some simple and available solutions (like eliminating the huge subsidies on fuel and encouraging rather than destroying private enterprise) but for ideological reasons this cannot be done. If Venezuela defaults on its foreign debt, which world debt markets consider likely in 2016, it will be the second largest default in history (second only to the recent Greek default) and do long-lasting damage to the economy. In government when reality runs into fantasy the people, as well as the bond holders and other lenders, lose.

February 10, 2016: In the east (Cucuta city) someone used a grenade to attack and wound eight police officers. The attacker was believed to be from ELN, which often retaliates when the security forces are particularly successful at doing some real harm to lucrative extortion efforts the leftist rebels use to finance themselves. This attack, and another on a nearby army base two days ago took place near the Venezuelan border.

February 8, 2016: In the east (Arauca province) ELN rebels made a pre-dawn attack on an army base using catapulted bombs. February 7, 2016:

In the northeast ELN is believed responsible for two bomb attacks on an oil pipeline.

February 5, 2016: In southwest Colombia (Cauca province) ELN attacked a police checkpoint killing one policeman.

January 21, 2016: The government released 16 of the 30 FARC members it pardoned last November. This was a good will gesture to speed along the peace negotiations with FARC.


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