Notes from last week in Colombia Uribe’s campaign managers
Apr 072006

Álvaro Uribe’s critics in Colombia often charge that his strategy is too heavily weighted toward the military. They argue that his “Democratic Security” plan has neglected the social and economic dimension, and that sharp increases in military spending have come at the expense of essential non-military services, including aid to the poorest. For his part, Uribe responds to these critics with statistics showing that, in fact, social expenditure has increased since he took office in 2002.

The Colombian government’s comptroller, Antonio Hernández Gamarra, has strongly questioned the Uribe administration’s claims. Speaking before Colombia’s Restrepo Barco Foundation in Bogotá on Tuesday, Hernández acknowledged that government social expenditure has indeed risen, both in peso terms and as a percentage of the national budget. However, he cautioned, this increase owes mainly to one type of spending: the rising cost of pensions for retirees. Worse, Hernández added, when one defines “social expenditure” more strictly as funding for poverty reduction, income redistribution or “human capital formation,” the amount spent each year is up to 20 percent less than the official government estimate.

(The PowerPoint slideshow Hernández used for his presentation, which mainly provides aggregate figures with little explanation of how they were derived, is available on the Comptroller’s website.)

If the comptroller is correct, then, Uribe has done little or nothing to increase the sort of social investment most necessary to improve the country’s security situation. In the parts of Colombia where armed groups and coca thrive – beyond the relatively prosperous cities, where at least a threadbare social safety net exists – there is still a severe unmet need for the basic governance on which a legal economy depends. This means roads, clean water, a functioning judiciary, guarantees of property rights, and much more, including the physical presence of government representatives.

If most of the recent increase in social expenditure owes to pensions, then we can safely conclude that Uribe’s military effort is far, far ahead of any attempt to consolidate a real government presence in zones said to be “re-taken” by the armed forces’ recent offensives. If the soldiers are still on their own because there is no money to bring in the rest of the government, the guerrillas and paramilitaries need only wait until the soldiers move on, as they inevitably do, and re-establish themselves.

In one of a series of interviews in Medellín’s daily El Colombiano that resemble fawning campaign ads more than journalism, President Uribe responded to the comptroller’s critique. His words were disheartening:

“I haven’t included investment in Democratic Security as social investment, but it is, because security attracts resources.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. That may be true on the most macro level: if there is greater security, then private investment flows likely increase. But even then, we have to ask for whom security attracts the most resources. While Colombia’s stock market index has enriched investors by increasing almost ninefold since Uribe took office, incomes remain stagnant in poor, violent departments like Chocó, Guaviare or Caquetá (and of course, where coca has been eradicated with insufficient attention to alternatives, incomes are depressed).

Colombia’s conflict will be won or lost (or stalemated) on the micro level. As we’ve seen over and over again, sending the troops into a zone with a history of government absence does nothing to “attract resources” to that zone. To do that, you need to establish at least the rudiments of a functioning civilian government. But if the comptroller is correct, the Uribe government’s budgets have not made that a priority.

3 Responses to “Uribe’s non-military budget”

  1. kevin sherry Says:

    absolutely correct. i couldnt believe my eyes when i read uribes respnose! It was as if he was admitting that he is powerless against ‘corporatacry.’ Security atrracts the very same investors that keep him in power: Multi-national corporations who displace entire communities, export colombia’s resources, and then give nothing back to the country. I guess he fears going down like Torrijos, Allende, Roldos, etc…

  2. Durandal Says:

    You have that, but on the other hand you have programs that are making a big difference on people’s lives such as Familias en Acción, which condition aid on school attendance, vaccination and regular medical check-ups for children.

    Multinational corporations, Kevin, pay millions of dollars in royalties and taxes to the communities where they operate. The interesting fact is that those communities still remain amongst the poorest in the country and lag in the provision of basic services such as education and infrastructure. Maybe you should shift your accusing finger elsewhere – I would suggest either the guerrillas who siphon off those royalties from local governments, or the local governments themselves, who seem to operate without any accountability whatsoever. I can’t speak for my Latin American “cousins” but this is the case in Colombia.

  3. Alejandra Says:

    I think you should read more about Alvaro Uribe’s government before starting to critize him. Its government has had great sucess in tackling inflation and promoting economic growth (GDP grew at 7.7% in 2006). Furthermore it has made programs such as proinvestment which attract investors in to Colombia. The reason why he is spending so much on security is because guerillas need to be dealt with so that investor confidence can grow thus increasing investment. Finally, once investor confidence has been resintated and the economy recuperates, the government can work on spreading the wealth. If on the contrary the government did not spend on security, all that we Colombians would be sharing would be poverty.

Leave a Reply