The victory of the right in Colombia

Iván Duque, candidate for the right and political protege of the former president  Alvaro Uribe, won the presidential elections in 06/17/2018 in which he defeated Gustavo Petro, candidate for the left. Duque was elected criticizing the agreement signed by president Juan Manuel Santos with FARC (“Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia” if translated to English from the original in Spanish). In 2016 the Marxism-inspired leftist guerilla group and Juan Manuel Santos, after four years of negotiations, signed an agreement that proposed to end an over five decade-long conflict.

The new president does not stand by an annulment of the agreements (legally they are protected from modifications until 2026), but he proposes changes as in adding greater criminal responsibility to the guerrilla fighters and raise questions regarding money and weapons that, according to him, wouldn’t have been handed over after striking the deal. He also criticizes the end of the policy to eradicate coca planting by aerial fumigation. The Colombian government  justified the measure as a public health issue, claiming that glyphosate – the herbicide used to kill coca plantations – is carcinogenic.

 A first version of the agreement with FARC was rejected in a referendum and adjustments were made to reach a deal that was less conceding to the guerrilla fighters. A second version, this time without popular consultation, was approved in congress, where Santos had the majority. Besides FARC, another guerrilla group of the left called National Liberation Army (“ELN” in Spanish), and also other groups like the Colombia United Self-defenses (“AUC” in Spanish), these being paramilitary groups of the right, are still in activity in the country. Duque, even if he is critical of the negotiations in the terms in which Santos accepted them, does not rule out the possibility of undertaking new negotiations. Regarding this topic, he has been somewhat more moderate in his statements after his victory if compared to the campaign.

As it happened to Mexico, Colombia had not experienced left governments after the 2000’s, as many other countries in Latin America, especially in South America. But it has seen the left grow very much these elections and get a very expressive result. Bogota’s previous mayor Gustavo Petro had 8 millions votes in the second turn (in Colombia second place gets a seat as Senator in the Parliament) and the efforts from the left brought in the best result in electoral history. Petro’s merit was swaying voters who are normally apathetic and don’t take part in politics.

This hegemony of the right made that Colombia had governments with a liberal orientation in economy, one that went after exploring the advantages of a country gifted with many natural resources, like oil (very important in the country’s economy), gold, silver, emeralds, platinum and coal. Besides that, Colombia is one of the main producers of coffee in the world. The country has sought free trade agreements as, for example, the Pacific Alliance with Mexico, Peru and Chile (all of which so far have also had a liberal leaning in the last few decades). With the exception of Mexico (that has maquiladoras of North-American industrial manufacturers), all of them also aim at exporting their raw materials. Benefited with the boom of commodity prices, the Colombian economy grew substantially starting in the 2000’s (even though the growth dropped 2 to 3% in the 2013-2017 period). Even so 40% of the Colombian population was still below the poverty threshold and most jobs created after the worker rights reform by Alvaro Uribe are precarious work. After the relative pacification (reduction in violence levels, even as they are still high, comparable to Brazilian key cities) obtained through cracking down on drug cartels in Medellin and Cali, the Colombian government decided to considerably increase the investments in infrastructure, especially in transportation and communication, both very lacking. The country remains with extraordinary inequality. It is not only the guerrilla and before them the cartels that harmed the GDP, so the end of the conflicts will not mean, on their own, an improvement in the economic situation of broad popular sectors in Colombia.

Colombia has been very close to the United States in the last few decades and a key part in the “war on drugs” promoted by the Americans. Launched in 1999, “Plan Colombia”, during the Clinton administration, was presented as a tool to fight the production and commercialization of drugs (however, the delivery of Colombian cocaine to the USA did not fall in the period) but ended up weakening FARC, which was, for many analysts of the issue, the real objective of the Americans.

The government recently announced adherence to the OECD and also, as “global partner”, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Brazil’s political weakness at the moment, in a way, explains these movements by Colombia, which has, as has Brazil, drifted away from Unasul (Union of South-American Nations). Regarding NATO, Colombia’s adherence may mean that there is disposition in the Europeans’ and especially the North-Americans’ part in interfering, militarily if a last resort’s needed, in the regional matters of South America.