Vote Presages More Instability
held legislative elections over the weekend, a preliminary to presidential
elections later in the year. President Andres Pastrana, who has
functioned as the U.S. government's "partner" in the ostensibly
anti-drug campaign dubbed "Plan Colombia," cannot run
for another term.
candidate who now appears strongest is Alvaro Uribe, who is generally
considered more hard-line toward the leftist guerrilla group FARC.
Horacio Serpa, who has questioned Plan Colombia and the drug war
in general, looked to be a strong candidate a few months ago, but
seems to have faded lately. Uribe hasn't said much about Plan Colombia lately. Presumably he would want to resist complete domination by
the United States but would welcome money and military materiel
so long as they were delivered on his terms.
upshot of the elections over the weekend is that the traditional
political parties got routed. The Conservatives of Andres Pastrana
lost ground severely, as did the Liberal Party. The two parties
traded occupancy of the presidency for most of the 20th century.
REJECTING PLAN COLOMBIA?
analysts – notably Al Giordano of narconews.com
– have suggested that the results of Colombia's parliamentary election
this past weekend indicate a firm rejection not only of the two
major parties but also of U.S. involvement in that country's civil
war, which has been compounded in the last decade or so by narcoterrorism.
A closer look suggests dissatisfaction, frustration and disillusionment,
but something less than a clear direction among Colombian voters.
outcome still suggests that the United States should reconsider
the ambitious Plan Colombia initiated by the Clinton administration
and continued under President Bush. It is difficult to see a clear
path to a result most Americans would find satisfactory.
REJECTING THE ESTABLISHMENT
weekend's result did indicate frustration with current conditions,
which include an intensified civil war that has heated up even more
lately in the wake of recently collapsed peace efforts. The leftist
rebel group FARC had called for a boycott and only about 44 percent
of Colombian voters showed up. That is actually not much lower than
is relatively normal in Colombia, but still a symbol that the FARC
has some influence. It probably helped itself, if anything, by not
precipitating violence during the balloting.
voters who did turn out were not happy but may have been understandably
confused. They reduced Pastrana's Conservative Party from
17 seats to 13 in the 100-member Senate. The establishment opposition
Liberal Party lost 19 Senate seats, reducing its representation
from 48 seats to 29.
both the 100-member Senate and the 175-member House of Representatives
small independent parties now hold majorities. But they are split.
Supporters of independent presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe, generally
described as a hard-liner who would intensify the war against FARC,
did best. But followers of Antonio Navarro Wolf, a former guerrilla
from the demobilized M-19 group, came in second.
the voters seem impatient with the two parties that have dominated
Colombian politics, but split between what could be called far-right
and far-left alternatives. This suggests that the instability that
has characterized Colombian politics for some time is poised to
become even more unstable.
U.S. mission, consisting mostly of military aid and military advisers,
was sold to Americans as a battle in the drug war, but it was recently
expanded to include guarding a pipeline owned by Occidental Petroleum.
It has not stemmed the flow of cocaine and it has not brought stability.
Republicans recently pushed through a resolution urging the president
to support our noble Democratic allies in Colombia with even more
aid and possibly more military power. That would probably make the
situation even worse. Continued U.S. aid increases the resources
the two sides – well, actually there at least three and probably
more sides in a devilishly complex political landscape – have available
and reduce any incentive for the Colombians to handle the problems
ABOVE IT ALL
talked to Sanho Tree, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies
who has traveled to Colombia many times in recent years. He explained
that the elite in Colombia, such as it is, is reasonably well insulated
from the violence afflicting the country – although they do have
to invest in extra security precautions and sometimes in personal
bodyguards. But at least they don't have to worry about their sons
being put in harm's way.
Colombian military is one of the most top-heavy and bureaucratic
in Latin America, which is saying something. There are 13 desk jockeys
for every soldier in the field. Anybody with a high school diploma
is excused from combat. "So the elites are more than willing
to keep the civil war going, fighting to the last peasant,"
as Tree put it to me.
it would be virtually impossible to keep the war going without money
from Uncle Sap. The Colombian government collects about 10 percent
of GDP in taxes, and about 2 percent of GDP is used for the military.
Without money from the United States the war would have to be de-escalated – or left to the guerrillas and quasi-private right-wing paramilitaries
to battle it out among themselves.
SUBSIDIZING BOTH SIDES
the United States subsidizes the Colombian military directly, however,
its policies lead to huge quantities of money being available to
the guerrillas and the paramilitaries. This is because the vaunted
Holy War on Drugs profitizes an otherwise marginally profitable
crop like coca, making large quantities of money and weapons available
to those willing to protect growers and traffickers from generally
ineffective but nonetheless pesky enforcement efforts.
observer of Colombia has noted that both the leftist guerrillas
and the paramilitaries (originally formed to protect landowners
from guerrilla attacks) are increasingly financed by drug money.
Intensifying the drug war has never yet stopped the flow of drugs,
but only increases the advantage and the profits of those skilled
at violence, blackmail, concealment and intimidation.
U.S. taxpayers' money flows to the Colombian military, and active
drug war measures make cocaine more profitable for guerillas and
best bet would be to end U.S. intervention and end the war on drugs
so we can concentrate on the struggle against terrorism. The Colombian
civil war would probably continue, but neither side would have as
many resources for killing.
an outcome is unlikely; instead, despite a few budding questions
among Washington policymakers, the likelihood is that U.S. involvement will increase, which will almost certainly only increase the level
of violence and instability.
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