Uribe’s non-military budget The DAS scandals
Apr 092006

“Colombia needs and deserves peace, but Uribe represents the exact opposite,” reads a February communiqué from the FARC. “What is at stake in these elections is the future of Colombia.”

If the FARC leadership really wishes to prevent Álvaro Uribe from being re-elected in May, though, it has a strange way of showing it. If anything, the FARC are making Uribe’s job easier.

Look at some of the guerrillas’ actions just over the past week or so. They seem tailor-made to benefit Uribe, even though he is the candidate who promises to hit the FARC the hardest.

  • On April 2, the FARC killed a town councilman in Arauquita, Arauca. On April 3, the FARC killed a councilman in Coromoro, Santander. On March 31, a councilman in Milán, Caquetá, narrowly escaped a guerrilla assassination attempt.
  • More than 80 members of the Nukak Makú, a nomadic Amazonian indigenous group first discovered only 40 years ago, have emerged from the jungle and are now in refugee camps outside San José del Guaviare, apparently fleeing FARC threats. “Go, walk there … guerrilla very angry,” one of the displaced Nukak told an AP reporter in broken Spanish.
  • In the wake of a March 30-31 FARC murder of two teachers from the Wanaan indigenous group in Chocó, more than 1,000 indigenous people from the surrounding area have displaced.
  • An April 6 bomb attack on two Transmilenio buses in a poor southern Bogotá neighborhood killed two boys aged 10 and 11.
  • Meanwhile, a new book by journalist Jorge Enrique Botero claims that Clara Rojas, the running mate of former presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt and a FARC hostage since February 2002, has had a child in captivity. In addition to revealing this rather prurient rumor, Botero’s book reminds voters once again of the dozens of prominent figures the FARC has held hostage for several years.

This wave of violence against some of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens earned the FARC three condemnations in four days from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a strong statement from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

The incidents of the last four weeks have involved bombings and armed attacks on vehicles transporting people and food; bomb attacks on campesino homes; the massacre of municipal councilmen; and the murder of a former indigenous governor and his wife, among others. These acts have left a death toll of dozens of men, women and children.

What purpose could this campaign of violence against the weak possibly serve? How can the FARC possibly view these attacks as benefiting its self interest?

One common response is that the guerrillas intend to hurt Uribe at the polls by discrediting him on his signature issue, security. By this reasoning, the guerrillas seek to sow doubt about Uribe’s security strategy by creating a situation of generalized violence in which citizens do not feel that their government can protect them. If they feel unprotected, Colombians will vote against the president-candidate who promises war, and turn to those who back negotiations.

If this was the FARC’s intent, they have mostly failed. The very nature of the guerrilla offensive makes that clear. It is true that the pace and scale of guerrilla activity has risen over the past year or so, including in zones central to Plan Colombia and “Plan Patriota.” And this has certainly damaged Uribe’s claims that his “Democratic Security” strategy is weakening the guerrillas.

However, the FARC has failed to create an atmosphere of generalized insecurity. The guerrillas’ actions are mainly affecting only Colombia’s poorest, least powerful citizens. The attacks of the past week are perfect examples.

While the headlines in Colombia tell of assaults on indigenous people and poor kids on buses, the rising guerrilla violence has hardly touched more prosperous citizens. With kidnappings way down, travel on principal roads safer and urban violence lower, wealthy and middle-class Colombians are more secure than they’ve been in years. The FARC resurgence has not made a dent in that sense of security.

“Democratic Security” is failing in the country’s vast rural areas where 25 percent of the population lives. But if a shopkeeper in Medellín is less afraid of being kidnapped, he is unlikely to vote against Uribe just because things are getting worse in Chocó or Putumayo.

Could it be, then, that perhaps the FARC actually wants Uribe to win? Could their goal be to, in Marxist terminology, “sharpen the contradictions” by ensuring that the regime is ruled by the most nakedly plutocratic, militaristic president possible? Do the FARC secretly prefer a president who will concentrate wealth while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, thus (they hope) winning new converts to the guerrilla cause?

Whatever the reason, to most Colombian voters the guerrilla strategy looks like mindless nihilism, likely fueled by the imperatives of the drug economy. Worse, it distracts from several very real issues that work strongly against Uribe in this election: the growing power of supposedly demobilized paramilitaries, the disastrous results of demobilizations so far, a big and growing narco-paramilitary-corruption scandal in the presidency’s secret police (DAS), the persistence of the drug trade, an unpopular free-trade agreement, and perceived government neglect of non-military needs.

These issues, among others, should be at the heart of Colombia’s national debate as the presidential elections draw nearer. Instead, the voting public is being distracted by the FARC, who have bizarrely chosen to affect voter preferences by repeatedly attacking some of the poorest, most marginalized Colombians.

13 Responses to “Uribe’s campaign managers”

  1. Saudade Says:

    I cannot agree more with your opinions. The presidential debate should be focused in more topic than only FARC.
    Unfortunately, it seems that Uribe is the most convenient president for FARC; and a insane guerrillas is the greatest motivation factor in voting for Uribe…

  2. jcg Says:

    “Sharpening the contradictions” sure seems like their current strategy.

    Unfortunately for them, the success of that strategy is rather questionable in today’s context. More Colombians might eventually want to vote for a decidedly left-inclined candidate in 2010 or so, but that hardly means that the FARC will get direct benefits from it all. At least not on a huge scale.

    As militaristic and neoliberal as Uribe may be to many, he’s not seen as a dictator. Authoritarian yes, dictatorial no. Unless something very unexpected happens, I don’t really see that many Colombians, especially among a predominantly urban population, suddenly deciding that the FARC are preferrable to Uribe.

    The continuation of the opposite trend, on the other hand, seems much more plausible in the short term, as long as the FARC’s attacks keep following the same pattern.

  3. Rainer Cale Says:

    Histroically, the left ends up carrying out the policies of the right, and vice versa. George Bush has done more to radicalize the world than any communist since Lenin. But this happens in spite of best intentions. I don’t think it’s intentional either in Bush’s or the FARC’s case. “Mindless nihilism, likely fueled by the imperatives of the drug economy” sounds more like it.

    Has the April 6 bomb attack on the Transmillenio been decisively attributed to the FARC? I think that’s still a matter of speculation.

  4. Rainer Cale Says:

    Histroically, the left ends up carrying out the policies of the right, and vice versa. George Bush has done more to radicalize the world than any communist since Lenin. But this happens in spite of best intentions. I don’t think it’s intentional either in Bush’s or the FARC’s case. “Mindless nihilism, likely fueled by the imperatives of the drug economy” sounds more like it.

    Has the April 6 bomb attack on the Transmillenio been decisively attributed to the FARC? I think that’s still a matter of speculation.

  5. Ines Says:

    The Farc, yes, they have done a great job,” just killing many inocent Colombians and killing our land; they allways want the power because they don’t have enough capital with all of what they have steal from Colombian people. They only think in them but they ever would think in the people.
    Uribe is the only president with guts that I have known on my life.
    God help him in his goals. and We the people should help in order to have a better country.
    We should allways remember that the president alone can not do the job.
    we must help each other and also have patience because to clean Colombia it will take several years.

  6. Rainer Cale Says:

    Ines,

    Lee un periodico por favor. Por dios, cuantos Colombianos seran que no saben que esta pasando fuera de Rosales?

  7. javier Moreno Says:

    Just like in the US, I don’t think reading newspapers helps much to get a grasp of what is going on.

    The April 6th bomb attacks have not been directly/officially attributed to FARC and they would probably never be. Part of their strategy depends precisely on denying their participation. Their theory, I suppose, is that by bombing innocent civilians they will convince the people that Uribe’s policies have been ineffective and so a change must be done. However, as Adam points out, the general reaction towards the attacks is precisely the opposite: each bombing is an extra reason to perpetuate Uribe four more years because people feel just like Ines up here: “Uribe is the only president with guts that I have known on my life.” Most of the people who called to participate in the recent BBC’s “Have your say” expressed more or less what Ines said (some of them even identifying themselves as closer to the left) assuring that everything that matters in Colombia right now is security. It seems that Uribe’s roadway fake security is enough for them. That’s pretty sad, actually.

  8. Daniel Says:

    Confusion, Adam. The Farc has arrived to a point where it doesn’t know anymore how to even legitimize their existence. Their “social” speech is been carried out in a much more effective way by left wing candidates: is the Farc necessary for Colombia? Which is their current role now? They have lost connection with the vast majority of the population: only violent acts remind us of their existence.

    Their curse has been the drug business: by achieving their economical autonomy, they had forgotten to gain social and popular support; they can’t careless if people support them or not, if people approve their actions or not. The question is what can we do about it?

    At this point, when there are several candidates pro-social and economical change, what is the saying of the Farc in Colombian politics? Should social and economical change be motivated by their bombs or by committed participation in democracy, like Gaviria and other left wing members are doing now? Frankly, its becoming every day more difficult for the Farc to justify with nice and sweet ideology their terrorist acts.

  9. Durandal Says:

    Several million people voted for Uribe in the last election, Rainer. I know that Los Rosales is one of the more densely populated districts in Bogotá but I assure you that as a voting block it is not that powerful.

    By the way, did you notice how the Conservative Party made significant inroads in areas previously dominated by the FARC? Maybe people of all socio-economic levels generally dislike being threatened by the local goon with the AK-47?

  10. Rainer Cale Says:

    When I was in Parque Tayrona a few months ago, I heard poor farmers say things like, “Uribe is the only president who has ever helped the poor.” “He’s the next Fidel Castro,” etc.

    The paramilitaries of the zone (Bloque Tayrona under the infamous butcher Hernan Giraldo), were characterized as generous caretakers with a progressive agrarian reform program, dividing fertile unused land among the poor. You can hear stories like this all over Colombia.

    Uribe’s base of support is without a doubt wide, and includes not just the rich, but massive sections of the poor, dispossesed populations which are the traditional constituency of the left.

    One accepts all of this. But as for WHY, I don’t think anyone here has yet set forth an explanation that is even remotely satisfactory. As Adam’s post suggests, the answer probably has almost nothing to do with substance, and just about everything to do with political conjuring.

    If I’m not mistaken, Durandal, the conservative party won just two seats in the House of Representatives–in Huila and Narino. The other nine seats were won by candidates from parties supportive of Uribe, in zones of strong paramilitary predominance (as mentioned in a previous post). There is no basis here for an argument that people were tired of the FARC. On the contrary.

    By the way, I’m quite impressed with the Colombian press. It’s not perfect, and most killings and massacres in the countryside go unpublished (see Prensa Rural for that), but in the mainstream US media you would never see such open discussion and criticism of the President’s shortcomings and mistakes, nor about corruption in high places like the DAS or state financial institutions.

  11. YaNoAbogado Says:

    Daniel responds: “Confusion, Adam. The Farc has arrived to a point where it doesn’t know anymore how to even legitimize their existence. Their ‘social’ speech is been carried out in a much more effective way by left wing candidates . . . .”

    Have any left-wing candidates *voluntarily* carried out anything like a FARC-related agenda? Or has FARC used their massive hoard of wealth to bribe left-wing candidates and politicians for control of their campaigns or votes on legislation?

    El Tiempo ran an article a month or so ago regarding allegations against political candidates who supposedly cooperated with FARC on some level, no? It’s unclear to me how extensive this cooperation went, or even if the cooperation was substantiated, but it could point to a new path that FARC has taken in terms of legitimizing its existence.

    I respectfully disagree with Daniel’s assessment that FARC doesn’t know how to legitimize itself anymore. FARC dreams of becoming a legal political entity and it knows that a considerable amount of its financial resources can be funneled into an under-funded left-wing candidate’s pocket in order to use them as a marionette, or a FARC mouthpiece. If done subversively enough and on a substantial scale, this could even give FARC a political foothold in the Senate or Cámara. Bribery is already a FARC pattern and practice, right?

    Even if FARC does not bribe or levy a death threat to force cooperation, the socialist Liberal Party candidate would be more “amenable” to legislating the FARC’s Marxist ideology. There is a cross-section of political values.

    Finally, Adam asked a great question about FARC’s failure to deny involvement with the TransMilenio bombing. I have no idea why, honestly, but I don’t think it’s because they’re confused.

  12. Mariela Says:

    The media does not tell the truth, why? because the worst news is what it sells.
    if in reality you go to different places in Colombia you will find out that Colombia has change a lot since Uribe’s presidence took place. at least people on the country are able to send kids to school, agricultores are receiving great education on how to improve the way of producing, fertilizing, etc.
    in the other hand the big business in Colombia know that Uribe has done a great job internationally, he has open doors in the area of importations and exportations. This helps Colombia to grow economically. Colombia have a richeness of great resources that has a lot of value in the rest of the world. hoping Colombia receive more technology support from other countries so we can cope with the international standards and we are able to compete internationally with our products.
    We don’t have space for the Farc, they should disarm and instead of killing many inocents every day, work for peace and try to clean their name, if they actually wants to have a seat in the government.
    They should know all the pain that they have caused Colombia for these 40 years. killing and expropriate people from their belongings are not the way to go.
    it means that they don’t love their own country.

    you can talk this way if you have known what hungry means.. so before we believe in media we should go and see the improvements in our land.
    of course you can not fix 100% on four years, changes take time and the president cannot change the people and the way of doing things just in four years. it will need time but for some place one’s has to start.
    not everything is perfect this is why we are humans.

    again, God protect our President and give him wisdom on how to govern our country.

  13. Durandal Says:

    About the American/Colombian press issue: Seriously. Have you read the New York Times lately? Please take a quick look at its editorials and articles and then come back and tell me that it isn’t incisive and investigative like their Colombian counterparts. The Colombian press is brave and praiseworthy but it’s also fickle – SEMANA, the magazine whose virtues you are currently extolting, simply served up excuses for Lucho’s poor handling of security issues in Bogotá. Not once, but in a series of shameless propaganda articles (in which they even said that the worsening of the security situation was caused by “people’s perceptions” as opposed to a measurable increase in the number of crimes committed). Their investigative spirit only goes as far as their political preferences, I suppose.

    Well, I guess that does remind me a lot of the New York Times. So there you have it.

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