News & Analysis
THE PRAGMATIST: Uribe's Policy Difficulties With Santos Are of the Most Significant and Serious Kind
Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe lashed out against his successor Juan Manuel Santos Monday over the government's decision to begin peace talks with the country's largest rebel group FARC. Before President Santos confirmed Monday that his government had begun "exploratory negotiations" of peace with the FARC, Uribe publicly wondered, "what is it that they are going to negotiate? Are they going to negotiate terrorism with the rural development? Can they negotiate the tax policy with terrorism? Can they negotiate human rights with terrorism? Are we going to negotiate with the fathers of violations of human rights, which are these terrorists? This is inadmissible, this is a democratic country." – Colombia Reports
Dominant Social Theme: FARC negotiations need to continue.
Free-Market Analysis: Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is picking up his war of words with the policies of current President Juan Manuel Santos – but to focus on personalities is to misread the state of affairs in Colombia.
Colombia is perhaps the region's third largest economy and a major free-market success story. But Uribe believes that his successor is not merely pursuing a strategy of failure with the FARC narco-guerrilla movement; he also believes that Santos is taking a much less effective economic approach to government generally.
This is a serious expression of a deep philosophical divide. To report or imply – as some of the local and even global press have done – that Uribe's concerns may stem at least in part from personal pique at being out of office is to do these concerns an injustice.
It is not a personal but a policy discussion. And it has to do with whether or not sovereign governments should negotiate directly with non-governmental adversaries ... and also with how governments should inter-relate with the larger marketplace.
Terrorism first. Governments DO negotiate with elements that are considered "terroristic" but often these are seen within the context of kidnappings and other fairly ephemeral occurrences.
What Uribe is objecting to is a fundamental change of procedure when it comes to how Colombia is treating its FARC adversaries. He has stated in the past that he finds the Santos administration's perspective to be unproductive.
Apparently, the Santos administration has decided not to pressure FARC leaders militarily. The military option is not finished entirely, as Santos is still bringing guns to bear on the cadres themselves. But Uribe was focused on attacking the FARC brain-trust and anything else is a fundamental policy mistake.
He also believes that Santos is likely to begin to jail those in the military OPPOSED to terrorism while placing those in FARC in positions of power. Here's some more from the article excerpted above:
While speaking at a public event in the city of Barranquilla, Uribe accused Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre of setting a bad example for Colombians and alleged that the country's highest prosecutor prefers the guerrilla leader "Timochenko" in Congress as opposed to involved in terrorism.
"It alarmed me to hear the Prosecutor General say that he prefers Timochenko in Congress than Timochenko shooting. It hurt me and I say this with all the respect for the Prosecutor General. This is what we are achieving in Colombia -- permissiveness, complacency with terrorism," said the former president according to news site El Universal.
"Prosecution has the obligation to bring these criminals to jail, [...] and the prosecutor offering indulgence to terrorists, this is a bad example to the country. This is not the justice that we want," said Uribe.
As the article points out, Uribe believes that negotiations cannot exist so long as criminality is present as well. While in office he made sure that Colombia and much of the rest of the world believed that FARC was a terrorist organization – and dealt with them as such. "With Santos as acting president, this idea is receding."
The economic issues are intertwined with the military ones. Uribe has pointed out the Santos peace process appears to favor the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is also sympathetic to FARC elements.
Santos has been gradually establishing better ties with Venezuela. Under Uribe those ties were badly frayed, again as a matter of policy.
There are those in politics and media that may misread Uribe's sentiments and believe they are motivated by personal or ideological issues. Again, this may be a misreading.
Uribe is a serious man who has moved in the top corridors of power. His regime was powered by serious philosophical beliefs much as Ronald Reagan's was in the US or Thatcher in the UK.
Conclusion: Such individuals often have strong effects on their countries and their influence can be powerful indeed.
Following is a message that Uribe (pictured below) has posted in several places regarding his concerns about Santos's direction.
Generals in Negotiation with Terrorism
The government has allowed our soldiers and police officers to be presented as equals when compared to terrorists.
Finally, the government has announced what it had been denying: the participation of retired Generals of the Republic [of Colombia] in the group of negotiators dealing with FARC.
I feel great respect and gratitude towards Generals Jorge Enrique Mora and Oscar Naranjo. However, I cannot hide my concern when I see our former commanders in negotiations with terrorism.
Such decision accepts the wrong thesis that Colombia has not had a narco-terrorist challenge against democracy and the people in general, but a war between armed forces and the guerrilla, which, when made equals as legitimate contenders, calls them to overcome conflict through negotiation between them.
Many analysts, who have ignored the suffering of the citizens, who believe that the FARC does not kidnap or is no terrorist, have reduced this painful violence to a social and political confrontation, expressed as the combat of soldiers and police officers against heroic guerrillas.
But the issue is different: Whereas the guerrilla has been an executioner that kills and kidnaps, the armed forces fulfill the constitutional function of protection of the citizens. To sit them to negotiate together has allowed FARC to say they are equals, legitimate antagonists.
The sign has practical effects that transcend symbolism and abstraction. What will soldiers, policemen, sub-officers and officers say when they see their commanders negotiating with whom until yesterday were considered terrorists and keep acting as such?
To involve the generals in this negotiation process, which is accepted to be done without a cease fire from the terrorists, introduces another factor of disorientation into soldiers and policemen, who will not know if to protect their lives and the citizens' or to step aside and concentrate in the expectation of the negotiation carried out by their former commanders.
The President of the Republic got the Retirees Association to accept the participation of the generals, previously decided by the government, with names already defined, the fact that it had previously denied it for a time notwithstanding.
But when the communiqué from the Retirees (ACORE) is read, it can be found they are in disagreement with the impunity and eligibility of the terrorists and approve to participate on the table in order to protect their rights. And they may be right in fearing the negotiations can harm our soldiers and policemen even further, since the so called "Framework for Peace" conditions the solution of so many injustices affecting them to an agreement with the guerrillas. In order to better understand, let us take a look at this paragraph of the Framework: "...a statutory law may be able to authorize that, WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF A PEACE AGREEMENT, differential treatment is given to the various armed illegal groups that have been part of the internal armed conflict as well as for the AGENTS OF THE ESTATE, in regards to their participation in said conflict"
The Framework for Peace, as well as the Havana Agreement, causes us a valid motive for concern: government has allowed our soldiers and policemen, on one hand, and the terrorists on the other, to be treated as equals.
And what will the generals think of legitimating as contradictors and favor with impunity the very same terrorists they were fighting the day before in order to protect the citizens?
And what will generals think about negotiating with those who continue to fight against police officers and soldiers, whose lives are as valuable as the civilians?
Let forgiveness not be confused with impunity. Forgiveness is the absence of hatred and spirit of vengeance, it's required for conciliation. Impunity is the bad example that encourages the continuation of violence due to lack of punishment.
I read this week: "We all want peace. We differ in how to achieve it. We prefer to disarticulate terrorism to award it with impunity and eligibility."
Disarticulation of terrorism was what Generals Mora and Naranjo commanded. This disarticulation implied authority without ambiguity, generous reinsertion without impunity (53 thousand terrorists were reinserted) and social politics to avoid recruitment of new youngsters into criminal groups.
Disarticulation [is] very different from military radicalism with which many proselytes of this uncertain dialogue confuse it.
Really, how many of those who have supported this negotiation and its conditions would have accepted to negotiate with Al-Qaeda under terms other than submission to justice?
And, what's the difference between the Colombian narco-guerrillas, protected by Chávez who, today, a month away from elections appears as peace composer, and the sinister Al-Qaeda?
Posted by laceja on 09/11/12 07:23 PM
Great article. But, you miss one hidden point, relative to Chavez. Chavez has ALWAYS had designs on Colombia. He has stated many times, that Colombia is really part of Venezuela and I think he's figured out a way to bribe Santos into going along with the idea. What many fail to make clear is, Santos comes from a background of privilege. His family is rich and has always tended toward the progressive side (being charitable here). One small point, that very few North Americans know is, Santos speaks far better English than Spanish. My wife (a Colombian) hates to watch him on TV, because she says he cannot speak decent Spanish. Colombia, having Santos for a president and sandwiched between Venezuela and Ecuador, worries me a lot.
I've lived in Colombia for nearly six years now, and I can tell you, it has become far less secure, since Santos was elected. There is far more violent crime, especially in Bogota and Medellin, where progressives, like Santos, are now in "power". And, I've heard many people saying they wished Santos hadn't been elected. But, they also complain, all the other choices were even worse... far more progressive. Mokus is an outright socialist, and he was the other finalist in the final vote.
The problem with Santos isn't limited to security. It goes far deeper than that. For example, he has also managed to have the government take over the health care market here. Now, it is far more difficult to get proper treatment and medications. Up until January of this year, it was possible to get an appointment with a doctor within a day. Now, it's at least a week. And, getting medications is near impossible. All doctor prescriptions must be approved by medical board of clerks and they do everything possible to delay or deny it. Have you heard such potential horror stories of what's to come up north? Well, get ready.
Also, to say that Colombia is about free markets is simply naive. Try to start a business and expect to pay a 35% income tax, and all personal income taxes, health care insurance (paid to the government - EPS), along with mandatory vacation pay. In then end, the owner winds up with far less than the government. And, if you want to bring (invest) more than $5000 (USD), you have to provide documentation on the origin of every dollar. Not such an easy place to get a business started. I suppose that's why most workers and businesses are "informal". Oh, we must not forget the 3% wealth tax. It's no wonder banks are avoided, whenever possible. Forget free checking, it doesn't exist. You're even charged a monthly fee on a savings account, which is usually more than the interest earned, but still far cheaper than a checking account. Most Colombians, who do have a bank account, have a savings account, with a debit card... and they take out every peso, when their paycheck is automatically deposited. This all happened with Uribe as president.
And, of course, as in all Latin American countries, everyone must have a "cedula"... the national picture identification card. There is, however, one positive thing about it. When a citizen goes to vote, the only need to show their cedula (issued in the same municipality) and they can vote, and to avoid anyone casting more than one ballot, on dips their index finger in indelible ink. All ballots are paper and marked by hand.
Nevertheless, all I can say is, I truly hope Uribe, with all his faults, is able to promote another candidate, who will get Colombia back on track to security and freedom.
Posted by helena gallo on 09/11/12 07:20 PM
Ojala no nos vendan nuestro Pais, hay delitos tan graves que no tienen perdon politico... La Paz seria lo ideal pero no quiciera saber cual es el costo que debemos pagar
Reply from The Daily Bell
Hopefully we do not sell our country, these are such serious crimes that have no political forgiveness ... La Paz would be ideal but I would love to not know what cost we will pay.
Posted by helena gallo on 09/11/12 07:18 PM
Espectacular el articulo dificultades politicas Uribe con Santos!!!!! Ojala no vallan a vender el Pais
Reply from The Daily Bell
Article is spectacular at illustrating Uribe's political difficulties with Santos!! Hopefully no fence to sell the country.
Posted by goldandsilverbug on 09/11/12 07:00 PM
DB thanks for following this story. I said in another posting 'You don't know what you've got until it's gone" meaning freedom in relation to this situation. The tensions that are brewing in Colombia must be causing some form of panic for the people. What will it take for them to say no to this direction. It is hard to know the sentiment not being in the environment but imagine it must be worrisome. Having said that, look how many Americans are not paying attention to the major moves being played by the leaders? We, like the Colombians, need to be paying more attention and make changes that will allow our freedoms not to fade away. It's not impossible but must be done now.
Posted by lefty on 09/11/12 06:34 PM
This situation seems to be heating up. Uribe's understands where this FARC marriage is headed. Chavez and the rest of the break away counties are influencing Colombian leaders to disengage with Americana capitalism and the free markets. Santo's is moving in the direction of the radical socialist movement taking over South America. The unified electronic currency in development headed by Chavez needs Colombia's participation, it would give it world wide consideration.
Uribe is making a move, lets hope he has the country behind him or its over for Colombia, the exodus of foreign investment will begin.
Chavez has influence with Santos with Cuba sitting shot gun.
Let us hope that the Colombians are able to prosper under a Uribe's guidance or they will live in a world of poverty, stagnation and despair, like their neighbors. .
Posted by Jaque on 09/11/12 06:26 PM
Great article and thanks for translating Alvaro Uribe's wonderful and accurate assessment of the true state of affairs. FARC is a criminal organization. The financial, physical and psychological damage they have caused millions of Colombians is on such a magnitude that it boggles the mind. Uribe is correct, you can forgive but best not to forget. And impunity is no solution for this situation.
Posted by mine4gold on 09/11/12 04:04 PM
Excellent article. Next you should address the issue of permitting the FARC to run for political office as early as 2014. This is now being proposed to Congress and as I understand it will require a constitutional reform. What is Santos thinking! In addition the FARC are proposing that Piedad Cordoba be involved in the negotiations. I think not.