The Colombian Government and the FARC recently agreed to consult Colombia’s Constitutional Court whether the peace agreements in Havana could be ratified by a referendum. The Court said yes and Colombians will now go to the polls to vote on accepting or rejecting the agreement.

 
For as long as anyone can remember, the FARC have been the focus of Colombian politics. That’s about to change.

We are looking at an unprecedented vote. Early indications are that, even though people aren’t happy with the way Santos has handled the whole thing, they’re likely to back the deal in the referendum. Colombian politics is going to fundamentally change and that could have deep implications for the Colombian government’s attitude towards Venezuela and Maduro.

For as long as anyone can remember, the FARC have been the focus of Colombian politics. They’ve been the main the ballot-box question in most elections, whether it’s supporting peace efforts or tougher military action. That’s about to change, because the FARC are going to fundamentally change. Maybe they’ll demobilize, maybe they’ll atomize into smaller gangs —probably both— but FARC as we know it will be no more.

To understand how it could all shake out, you need to have a sense of the main players.

Planet Uribe

Álvaro Uribe’s presidency was primarily focused on security, by increasing the military offensive against the FARC and promoting investment to spur the economy. Nonetheless, uribismo’s popularity has always been founded on Uribe’s personal appeal. Uribe has been a vocal critic of the peace process since the beginning, so it’s no surprise they’re campaigning for a NO vote. One relatively new ally to this effort has been Andrés Pastrana. Of course, the two are strident opponents of Maduro.

The Santos Governing Coalition (a.k.a. “La Unidad Nacional”)

In the 2010 presidential election Santos ran as Uribe’s successor, following his record as his Minister of Defense, though he wasn’t Uribe’s first choice. Unlike Uribe, nobody is actually Santista, so he formed a traditional government coalition with different parties, promising bureaucratic positions and various concessions on policy. There are many competing partisan, regional and economic interests within the coalition but it is, at least on the surface, united in promoting the peace process.

The VP Wildcard

Vice-President Germán Vargas Lleras is a key player, simply because he’s the frontrunner for the presidency in 2018. He served as Minister of the Interior early in Santos’ first term. Later, as Minister of Housing, focused on building 100,000 free homes for poor Colombians. He was elected VP in Santos’ second term and has been mostly focused on infrastructure development (roads, housing, aqueducts).

More importantly he has kept quiet about the peace process so he’s sidestepped the poisonous politics of the whole affair . His party has said that they will campaign for a YES vote but in an autonomous way, whatever the hell that means.

Independents and the Left

It’s hard to define this group as we’re lumping everyone else into one category. It includes independent voters (neither Uribistas nor Santistas), the centre-left Greens and traditional left-wing parties and movements. While they are not Santos supporters, they were essential to his victory in the 2014 runoff election, voting for him to stop the Uribista candidate and to keep the peace process going. These votes will once again be key source of YES votes. Attitudes to chavismo within this group mostly range from critical to neutral but a handful of prominent members have more favorable views, including Gustavo Petro and Piedad Córdoba.

Cool, but What Does it All Mean for Venezuela?

Venezuela is one of the accompanying countries of the peace process, along with Chile, but its relevance transcends that. We all know Chávez was in contact with the FARC and that Venezuela probably provided logistic support such as transporting the guerrilla’s leaders. This is why Santos is cautious in dealing with Maduro, which has cost him popularity in Colombia. Once the peace process comes to an end, success or failure, Venezuela’s influence over Santos is going to decrease.

Likewise, Santos cannot afford to antagonize the left by taking a harder line on Venezuela. He knows well that Piedad Córdoba’s grassroots support and experience within different pro-peace associations will be important in getting out the vote for a YES win. Sure, being soft on Venezuela may cost votes on the right, but right now he needs Piedad to pick up the phone.

 
You know what would be great for the Colombian economy? Venezuela opening up the border.

With FARC out of the picture, other problems are going to take center stage and cause a massive shift in the country’s politics. Perhaps foreign policy will be more prominent or there will be a new look at drug trafficking now that the FARC boogeyman is out of the picture, both of which could impact Venezuela.

Most likely the main issue will be the economy, now uribistas’ second favorite line of attack against Santos. The economy isn’t growing as fast as it once was and inflation has been relatively high by Colombian standards — 8.9% over the last 12 months, pass the smelling salts!

Santos has argued that peace will spur economic growth, but that won’t happen immediately. A tax reform is coming but the government is deliberately waiting until after the referendum to implement it.

You know what would be great for the Colombian economy? Venezuela opening up the border, loosening controls and starting to recover macro stability. Venezuela was only second to the US as a destination for Colombian exports in 2008, by 2015 it had fallen to sixth place.

Economic considerations could push the government to take a harder line against Maduro.

Here’s where the VP comes in. Germán Vargas Lleras wants to run for the top job in 2018, but what’s the point of him cutting ribbons on highways and bridges to Venezuela if you can’t export anything there? Vargas Lleras also knows his path to victory goes through  right-wing voters: he can’t compete if he doesn’t get at least a few uribistas who aren’t happy with Santos to vote for him. Again, an incentive to take a harder line against Maduro.

Right now this is speculation but what we can say confidently is that the internal forces that shape the Santos government’s attitudes to Venezuela will be re-aligned. How? We’ll just have to wait and see.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Chavismo’s relationship with the FARC served three aims. It was part of a strategy to develop paramilitary support in the face of a potentially unreliable or ineffective military, the FARCs activities have been something of a cash cow for leaders in various institutions, and it gave Hugo Chavez’s personalist authoritarian project some Marxist street cred.

    I know many Venezuelans with opposition leanings are frustrated with Santos’ reluctance to pick a fight with chavismo and it has certainly infuriated me at times but on the other hand, political and economic stability in a large neighbor will be of great assistance in any recovery phase from the current nightmare.

  2. Talk about the red spread……its hard to tell and who knows..but…Santos is about to find out how close venezuela is….the farc is a cuban organization…supplied by vzla…profited by also..when they dont disband…and dont drop their arms…..and travel even more freely…Hey maybe Santos is a willing participant…..chavez was.

  3. Santos is a political clown. Uribe was the real deal. When Santos worked for Uribe, he swore the FARC would be demolished. Now he’s buddies with them.

    Has the violence stopped in Colombia? The drug trade and drug assassinations? Maybe a little, but not for long. You cannot make pacts with those thugs, drug dealers. Sooner than later they will go back to their old drug deals and betray you.

    Uribe was the one who cleaned Colombia, and should be thanked for today’s better conditions. Santos is slowly reversing all of that, and Colombia will be a violent, drug infested mess again.

    • Nope, Uribe is the boss of the paramilitaries and he was not able to win the war against the guerilla. He has no perspective for Colombia besides continuing the war for more decades.

      Santos at least offers a perspective, though not without risks.

  4. It was because Uribe demolished FARC mlitarily that they were willing to seek negotiations with the Santos government , Not only that but the cruelty of many FARC activities were making it very hated by the mass of Colombians , so not having a chance of toppling the system militarily and engaged in activities that alienated them from the mass of Colombians the smart thing for the Farc leadership was to go for somekind of peace in which they could refashion themselves as a Conventional Political Group which could then from the inside stirr up people against the ruling system of traditional political groupings ……!!

    Besides they may get to keep their covert bases in Venezuela under the protection of the current regime if at any time they decide to return to their former guerrilla activities ……..!!

    One thing is clear , the Venezuelan regimen is heartily hated by the mass of colombians , Santos may play the innocent friendly role in his relationships with Venezuela , but thats only for convenience sake , behind the fachade of friendliness there is a wary and hostile stance of condemnation , Colombia was one of the countries signing the recent OAS communique putting the limelight on Venezuelas current situation and the need for a democratically ordered change of regime…!!

    • I’ve just watched that interview with Uribe. It would be hard to imagine a more fawning,sycophantic interviewer than that, who openly declares he is a devoted admirer of the ex-president. It is an official Centro-Democratico publication, for God’s sake

  5. Uribe has never subjected himself to a normal tv interview where he is asked tough questions. Santos has many times- BBC’s hard talk for instance. All of Uribe’s public appearances are carefully stage-managed to avoid any awkward moments. He would not last 5 minutes in any other democratic country. At his first tough tv interview he would be destroyed, never to return. He just would not have any credible answers. Sadly, the reality in Colombia is that nearly all journalists are terrified of Uribe – with good reason. But the day will come, probably in the next year or so, when that will change, and Uribe will be finished

    • Thanks for mentioning the Hard Talk interview, I had not seen it till now. Somehow Santos keeps afloat during the interview, of course he is a politician pursuing his objective but at some point somebody had to venture into such agreement. It won’t be easy and it will take time, but rather starting soon than late.

  6. “a normal tv interview with tough questions?” Dunno what that means but Uribe has been interviewed by everyone through all these years hundreds of times. You obviously have some beef against him, for personal reasons I guess.

    All I know is that Uribe fought a strong war against the drug dealer terrorists, while Santos gave them a pass, money and visas. And when I hear Uribe talk, the dude sounds way more sincere and competent than his former fake employee named Santos. Now how much $$$ did Santos get from the FARC drug dealers he set free? We”ll never know.

    • Colombian military have been fighting this war for more than 40 years without being able to win it. There will allways bee a fountain of young people having nothing to lose to fill the ranks of the guerilla as long as the economic situation doesn´t change. At least they get something to eat …

    • As you say, Uribe is a smooth talker. He looks like your friendly next door accountant who says a cheerful good morning every day and asks how your mother is getting on. But this guy is a wholly malevolent figure in Colombia life over the last 15 years. My “beef” against him is that he is a war criminal, responsible for untold thousands of deaths of innocent men, women and children, and millions of displaced. His first attempt at a deal with the AUC, “drug dealing terrorists” as you would call them, before the constitutional court overturned it, was almost laughable in it’s degree of impunity. Paramilitaries of the AUC did not need to confess, did not need to make reparations to their victims, did not need to return any of the money they had accumulated, could spend the 5-8 years of their sentence on their rural properties, and were free from extradition. Uribe even flew the AUC chief, Mancuso and two other paramilitary leaders to Bogota to address Congress to argue their case against extradition, We are still living the consequences of this disastrous demobilization.Almost everything he says is a lie or a distortion, but sadly millions of Colombians regard him as a semi-God.

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