In 2010 Alvaro Uribe handed on the presidency after two terms to Juan Manuel Santos, his former defence minister, whom he expected to continue his policies. ... A year and a half into his four-year term, Mr. Santos's predecessor has become his most powerful opponent. ... The tension between the two groups may yet break Mr. Santos's coalition apart. Even so, it is hard to see Mr. Uribe leading much more than a right-wing rump. When he was elected in 2002 Colombians felt that FARC attacks and kidnappings were destroying their country. In part thanks to Mr. Uribe's success at taming the rebels, Colombians now show signs of reverting to the traditional political moderation embodied by Mr. Santos. – The Economist
Dominant Social Theme: Santos is a visionary with his eye on establishing social justice and peace – a practical leader for practical times who respects his neighbors.
Free-Market Analysis: What a pile of hogwash. And go figure ... none other than The Economist to weigh in with "social" dribble that supports the alignment of a leader whose "soft" policies are clearly more aligned with other leftist-socialist leaning countries. But it comes as no surprise to regular readers of the Daily Bell that we would disagree with a position taken by The Economist.
The Economist, which referred to Colombia's most successful leader in history, by all measures, as a "right-wing-rump," clearly has an agenda to support their "golden boy from Bogota," who just happens to be a media mogul himself.
Until 2007 Santos's family managed the huge media conglomerate, Casa Editorial El Tiempo. Cozy relationships amongst elite publishers? Heck, there are even rumors circulating that Santos may be tapped for the highest office in the United Nations following his time running Colombia.
It's a time he has spent more often that not pandering to international political pressure to "kiss and make up" with neighbors, such as Hugo Chávez (who continues to provide refuge to insurgents with the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC).
Another stalwart international publication, Spain's El Pais, came out with their own endorsement of Santos's desire to "negotiate" with groups and leaders who have caused immeasurable loss – both personally and economically for millions of Colombians. Here's what El Pais had to say on July 19th:
"Although Santos' approval rating has dropped in recent months, the state of the economy is playing in his favor with continued growth. And according to polls, most Colombians favor Santos' conciliatory policies which have helped eased the tensions with Chávez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa..."
Really ... most Colombian citizens favor the policies of Santos? Really ... Santos is "responsible" for Colombia's "continued growth?"
How can El Pais, a paper that has done wonders to help the Spanish understand sound economic policy, possibly suggest that Colombia will be better off because of Santos's "conciliatory policies which have helped eased the tensions with Chávez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa"?
Have the editors of such "leftist" supporting commentary visited Venezuela lately and seen how much progress the middle class has made as a result of Chavez's policies?
Have they witnessed the outpourings of support from the international financial community for corrupt regimes that serve the interests of a few to the disadvantage of the majority of its citizens? Are these the types of stalwart examples we are to believe Santos should be lauded for "consoling"?
The "continued" growth and prosperity credited to Santos by The Economist and El Pais are simply the tailwinds of the real growth and prosperity developed under Alvaro Uribe. Plain and simple.
Sadly, the gains made in Colombia's security have begun to turn around drastically. There were 70 attacks – an increase of 35 percent – carried out by FARC in August alone. This past weekend, 35 people were killed in such attacks, in spite of Santos's announcement last week that "exploratory talks to end the conflict" are underway with FARC leadership.
Uribe's efforts to stamp out drug dealing involved using state power to take down FARC, the notorious left-wing para-military group. His successor, President Juan Manuel Santos has preferred the proverbial jaw-jaw to war-war.
These days, Uribe is making it clear that he believes much of the progress that Colombia made in counteracting drug-induced social instability is at risk.
Uribe, an early adopter of Twitter, at first used the facility to laud his own performance and Santos's continuation of it. But no more. Several years into his own term, Santos – Uribe's former defense minister – has made it clear he is his own man.
These days, Uribe's tweets are critical of Santos. And while Santos continues to be positive about Uribe's legacy – in public – the last time the two men had a friendly summit was over a year ago during lunch at Uribe's ranch.
While a law-and-order approach to government may often devolve into authoritarianism, Uribe's firm approach when it came to FARC was welcomed by most Colombians, who had lived in constant fear from decades of violence. Uribe's "Colombia First" policies also translated into a wave of capital and financing from abroad.
Once Western money saw that Uribe was serious, Colombia's business success was triggered. The results have been emphatic, by any standard. Not only did Colombia improve its reputation for drug-related violence but Colombian officials now claim that the economy has surpassed Argentina as the number three economy in Latin America, second only to Mexico and Brazil.
Given that Colombia has a population of fewer than 50 million people while Mexico has over 100 million and Brazil some 250 million, this is quite an accomplishment.
It is even more compelling when one considers that only 20 years ago the only outside publicity Colombia received was for its drug-related violence. In 1993, Colombia's most famous insurgent, Pablo Escobar, was shot dead in Medellin. The news was a worldwide sensation.
The war between the state and the cartels, including FARC, sputtered on for another decade or so before Uribe's rise to power in 2002. Moments before he was sworn in as president, FARC explosions devastated parts of Bogota, killing 20 people. Only a few days later, Uribe declared state of emergency.
This would prove to be Uribe's way. He believed that FARC had to be defeated militarily before its participants could be successfully reintegrated. As Uribe's defense minister, Santos supported this security build-up. He was a proponent and implementer. This only makes his current apostasy worse, from Uribe's point of view.
Santos has blurred the line between various kinds of Colombian violence. His offer of reparations and land is available to those victimized by FARC but also by "right wing" paramilitaries. Uribe saw the threat primarily as coming from FARC terrorists. Santos has made it clear that he sees Colombia's violence in shades of gray.
These days, the Colombian military is focused on reducing guerrilla groups rather than on removing senior FARC commanders. Santos wants the senior FARC commanders healthy and available for negotiations. Uribe had focused on taking the fight to the leaders as the most effective way of sapping morale and creating general chaos in the ranks of FARC.
Under Uribe, FARC-related violence plummeted, FARC forces were halved to their present 8,000, On the other hand, the "bacrim," right wing paramilitary groups, have increased in numbers – and violence – under Santos's less hard-handed dealing with illegal drug trafficking.
Bitterness is increasing as Santos continues to go his own way. An aide to Uribe reportedly called Santos' actions a "total betrayal." It is even hinted that Uribe could run for Senate again, putting himself in the position of being a king-maker ... potentially selecting a presidential candidate to run against Santos in the next elections.
Colombia has prospered tremendously as the FARC threat diminished under Uribe. The resultant peace, uneasy though it may have been, gave Uribe the political currency to initiate various free-market strategies, including most importantly the cutting of taxes and the shrinking of bureaucracy.
Uribe is a force to be reckoned with. It is quite possible we are seeing a reconfiguration of Colombia's political system – ironically, one that is being driven by two men who were once allies.
Santos, for better or worse, will continue to gamble on Colombia's future security and pursue a "softer" approach when it comes to FARC. Uribe fears this undermines the very foundations of Colombia's current prosperity.
The ramifications of these competing visions are not restricted to Colombia but likely have an impact on South America as a whole. The larger continent is divided between competing visions held by the current leadership of Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador and the more market-based approaches of Colombia (under Uribe) and Chile, which remains under the sway of the free-market "Freshwater" Chicago school.
Conclusion: Time will tell whether Uribe is concerned enough to come out of retirement. But his current rhetoric and the sincerity of his vision for Colombia may well propel him back into the political ring. If so, it would be a significant event not just for Colombia but also for the larger political scene throughout South America.
Editor's Note: The Daily Bell has recently established on-ground editorial presence in various countries throughout South America, Colombia included. As part of our efforts to better understand the reality of the world around us, editorial direction will increasingly include practical solutions that can be utilized by free-market thinking people to protect and expand their wealth, maintain control of their individual liberty and add enjoyment to their lives. Along with you, I have the same goals as my dear departed friend and mentor, Harry Browne, who wrote a book I strongly recommend: "How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World."
Anthony Wile, Chief Editor, The Daily Bell