Colombia: Having The Most Miserable Nation On The Planet As A Neighbor Is Not A Good Thing


June 3, 2014: The peace talks with FARC are now threatened by the few remaining (and very contentious) issues (weapons surrender, victim compensation, how to ratify the agreement) and a presidential election where one candidate (Zuluaga) is leading largely because he opposes the peace talks. The peace negotiations began in late 2012 and many Colombians oppose this effort. They want FARC crushed by force and, in effect, “punished” for the half century of murder and disorder they have caused. This is reflected in the current presidential election campaign where the incumbent got 26 percent of the first round vote versus 29 percent for the main challenger. The May 25 vote was declared inconclusive as no one got over 50 percent. The chief challenger (Oscar Ivan Zuluaga) has drawn even in the opinion polls and that vote because of his hostility to the negotiations. That is an attitude shared by most Colombians, many of whom also believe that FARC is just using the peace talks as a ploy to get the government to ease up on the military effort against the leftist rebels and their drug gang allies. Yet many Colombians do support the peace talks and that is one reason why Zuluaga has retreated from earlier vows to end the FARC negotiations if elected and now says he will demand FARC stop fighting if they want the talks to continue. That might cause FARC hard-liners to get their way and continue the war. The runoff election is June 15 th and currently polls show each candidate has about 38 percent of the vote with nearly a quarter of the voters still undecided.

The strength of the challenge to Santos was visible during t he March elections for the Congress . There p resident Juan Manuel Santos’s party los e some support, getting only 47 of the 102 seats in the upper house of Congress. The FARC peace talks are not the only thing that got Santos into trouble.   In 2010 newly elected president Santos made peace with Venezuela, whose president Hugo Chavez had become very angry when accused, by Santo's predecessor (Uribe) of allowing Colombian leftists and drug gangs to hide out on the Venezuelan side of the border. Santos and Chavez initially said nice things about each other and planned free trade and such. This didn’t last because of the worsening economic and social situation in Venezuela and the need to blame it on Colombia.

Santos headed the Defense Ministry for former president Uribe and Uribe backed Santos in his initial run for president. But once elected Santos and Uribe disagreed about how Santos handled the peace talks with FARC. Uribe accused Santos of a “peace at any price” strategy and many Colombians agreed with that. At the same time Santos sought to rebuild relationships with other South American nations. Uribe was disliked by other South American leaders who tended to be leftist and in favor of more state control of the economy. Uribe used a system more like what is found in the United States, and China. Most of Colombia was pacified during the eight years of Uribe's rule, and Colombians were allowed to go about their business. Crime and terrorist violence declined more than 50 percent in that eight years and the economy flourished, far surpassing growth in neighboring countries. Even international tourism was up in Colombia. That's a sure sign that the rest of the world believes what is happening in Colombia, despite the paranoid fantasies of the leftist neighbors. Economic growth has continued under Santos, as has the war against FARC and the drug gangs. Despite all that Santos is taking a lot of heat for the FARC peace talks and popular distrust of the leftist rebels. Former mentor Uribe is backing presidential candidate Zuluaga against Santos and both candidates are accusing each other of dirty tricks and desperate measures to win.

Then there is Venezuela. A recent survey to measure unhappiness in countries (using things like unemployment, high crime rates, economic growth rate, inflation, shortages, high prices, political strife and so on) ranked Venezuela as the most miserable country in the world. The other nine nations at the top of the most miserable nations are Iran, Serbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Egypt, Spain, South Africa, Brazil and Greece. Japan is the least miserable (out of 89 nations ranked) followed by Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. The U.S. ranks 71st, Colombia 38th and China 82nd. Misery often leads to instability and an atmosphere where criminal activity flourishes. This is what concerns Colombians the most about Venezuela, which has become a sanctuary for leftist rebels, drug gangs and all sorts of Colombian criminals. Venezuela has become a main way station for Colombian cocaine heading for North America and Europe. Worse, Venezuelan politicians like to stoke anti-Colombian attitudes. Colombia and the United States are blamed for all of Venezuela’s problems and that merely intensifies the toxic political atmosphere in Venezuela. Having the most miserable nation on the planet for your neighbor is not a good thing.  

June 2, 2014: The head of FARC openly spoke out against the drug trade. Making money from working with the drug gangs is a contentious issue in FARC. Two months ago FARC proposed legalizing production of coca leaf (for cocaine), opium poppies (for heroin) and marijuana as a way to deal with the drug problem. Many in the government were sympathetic to this but realized that the U.S. and European countries on the receiving end of these powerful narcotics are not. The legalization of drugs proposal was set aside despite the fact that many in FARC are desperate to maintain that source of income (which has also made some FARC commanders rich). Once the peace deal is done the government expects FARC to exit all its criminal activities (drugs, extortion, theft and kidnapping.) That will mean FARC will lose most of its personnel, as many members are mainly in it for the money.  But if some of FARC’s drug operations were legalized the leftist group would be much better off. The government is offering alternative economic opportunities while senior FARC leadership appear to accept as preferable to trying to keep some of the drug business. As with past peace deals (with the anti-leftist militias) some FARC members will not surrender but will go total gangster (with the drug trade) and leave their leftist politics behind.

May 16, 2014: FARC and ELN announced a ceasefire from May 20 to the 28th to facilitate the upcoming presidential elections. In the past the leftist rebels have tried to disrupt elections but now war-weariness and a different mood in the country has the leftist rebels looking for some new directions. Thus ELN is considering peace talks, especially if FARC succeeds in getting a deal.

At the FARC peace talks an agreement was reached on how to get the leftist rebels out of the drug business.

May 15, 2014: So far this year attacks on oil pipelines are down by half (from 78 to 39) and that is the result of better security and leftist rebels concluding that these attacks were costing them public support (something they don’t have much of these days.)

May 12, 2014: Peru and Colombia have agreed to cooperate in efforts to shut down illegal gold mining that straddles their border. These illegal operations are controlled and exploited by criminal gangs.

May 8, 2014: Venezuela introduced electricity and water rationing in some parts of the country. This is a result of not investing in infrastructure for over a decade. During that time the current socialist government diverted money normally spent on infrastructure and economic development to subsidies for the poorest Venezuelans (and a growing incidence of corruption among senior officials) to create enough votes to keep the socialists in power. That strategy is unsustainable (as the Soviet Union discovered in 1991) and the damage is starting to be noticeable.  





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