Venezuela and Colombia: Hopes Are Not Realities

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Jul 29, 2013, 4:27 pm

As expected, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro used their recent meeting to assert good will towards normalizing diplomatic relations. That has been paralyzed since June of this year by Maduro after Santos’s legitimate and sovereign choice to meet with Henrique Capriles Radonski, Venezuela’s top opposition leader and former presidential candidate.

However, beyond the good intentions and praises expressed by both leaders last week in Puerto Ayacucho — the capital of Venezuela’s Amazonas State that sits across the Orinoco River from Colombia — can we actually believe that bilateral relations will normalize?

Most likely, the countries will simply go back to the pragmatic understanding that existed prior to the Capriles-Santos meeting. In other words, don’t count on these neighboring nations reestablishing the level of commercial and political ties held between 2002 and 2008, when Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez were in charge — regardless of the verbal attacks and diplomatic breaches at the time.

Even during the “honeymoon” period of the relations between Santos, elected in 2010, and Chávez, when they would call each other the “best friends” of the continent, the commercial and diplomatic ties were never like the ones held before 2008, when Venezuela was Colombia’s second best trading partner.

Nowadays, the intrinsic weakness of these bilateral relations is that they are undermined by the political and ideological differences of the respective administrations and are subject to rupture upon any misunderstanding between the two. It would not be surprising if at any given time Maduro lashes out against his Colombian counterpart and its “oligarchy,” accusing them of conspiring with the  Venezuelan “fascist right” to jointly prepare a military invasion to overthrow Maduro’s government — or to announce again that there is a plot being prepared in Colombia to poison and kill him.

Also, it would not be surprising to hear Maduro accuse Bogotá of disrupting peace dialogues that he is heading in la Havana, Cuba, with the guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which Colombia labels a terrorist organization.

In fact, when the meeting between Santos and Capriles stirred new tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, the FARC immediately released a statement blaming Santos for interrupting the peace negotiations, while praising Venezuela saying it had been a “country that ha[d] facilitated the conversations and the peace process. . .  the main generator of trust, and therefore responsible [for] crafting the fundamental steps of the peace process.”

Any excuse is perfect for Venezuela’s chavista-oriented administration to attack its Colombian neighbor when it suits government needs. As in those directed at the United States, accusations against Colombia have been used to divert attention from the multiple problems and internal protests in Venezuela. The supposed threats also serve to unite party members and supporters and bolster chavismo at key moments, especially during election campaigns.

One should also note that Venezuela is immersed in a new campaign, this time for the regional elections set for December 8, 2013, this year — deemed particularly important for the government to achieve legitimacy, hold local power, and finally develop their communal state.

Just like Hugo Chávez did on various occasions, Nicolás Maduro could possibly invent a fictional war against Colombia in order to unite the “revolution’s” followers and defenders — towards eventually winning most of the municipal council and state seats in the upcoming elections.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.

Humans As Modern-Day Chattel

By: Ryan Hildebrand - Jul 29, 2013, 9:35 am

The United States remains the top country to which people wish to migrate, to the tune of approximately 150 million still to this day. As a brand, "America" has been wildly successful for a large portion (if not all) of its existence. The drive to succeed and do so in the United States is so great, many of the country's greatest business endeavors were started by immigrants and their children, in disproportionate numbers to those who are multi-generational natives in the country. Even after the recent restrictions on citizens' freedoms, such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, and the like, people throughout the world continue to scramble to come to "The Shining City on a Hill," legally or otherwise. At issue is the schizophrenic nature of the American psyche, where those who "get in" are often xenophobic to those who have not immigrated yet or who make it and are "different." This has led to highly-restrictive immigration laws, forcing people into hiding and relying on their traffickers for their well-being. These restrictive movement regulations are not unique to the United States, either. Because human traffickers work in the black market, which is not the most trustworthy state to have a business, many hopeful immigrants are taken advantage of by said traffickers. To put things into a nutshell, lack of free movement has led directly to modern slavery. The market has a demand for fresh labor in developed societies such as the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, not only because the economies are expansive in nature, but mainly due to aging of the populations endemic to those regions. Such aging not only takes workers out of the economy, but also strains the social welfare net foisted upon the populace by the government. There are but a few solutions to such a problem: either people start having more children (and quickly), people don't ever retire and work until they die, more automation of every facet of life occurs, or free movement of possible immigrants is allowed. The first option does not appear to be viable without coercion. The second is more distasteful — not all of the elderly can work their whole life. Automation is happening apace, but such takes time, advances in technology, and capital. It seems almost nonsensical to turn down the simplest of solutions — actual willing laborers who only wish to increase their standard of living. Hackneyed partial solutions, like those currently being debated in the United States Congress, are arbitrary in nature, when a more substantive overhaul is badly needed. The heavy-handed approach by the federal government of the United States is, per the norm, clumsy at best. Other solutions, predicated on the free market and "social enterprises", work at the local level, based upon local needs. This approach is the most reasonable, as it allows for immigrants to voluntarily take part in the betterment of both themselves and their adopted communities. Until such reforms are made to reverse the current immigration policy, which is contrary to the natural right of free movement, we will continue to hear of cases where the usage of modern chattel occurs, including in the United States, to the tune of tens of millions of individuals at any one point. Instead, we are left with the typical scare-tactic rhetoric of reactionaries and panderers hoping to rope new dependents for the state and voters for their cause. "Amnesty" is half-hearted and only a temporary fix. The better solution is true immigration reform that makes it easier for individuals to voluntarily move, based on need or inclination. Free movement is the most rational and moral take on immigration possible, and will obviate the need for traffickers and the ilk, just as the revocation of 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution led to the withering of the Mafia in that country.

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