The Libertarian Case against the Santos-Farc Agreement in Colombia

Without drug legalization, there will be no peace in Colombia. (YouTube)

EspañolContrary to what the Colombian and international news media want people to believe, the very flawed deal between President Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will not bring peace to the country. Regardless of the result of the upcoming referendum, in which citizens will decide whether or not to ratify the Santos-FARC agreement, the armed conflict will continue for a very simple reason which almost all Colombian politicians prefer to ignore.

Why does no one mention the supposed peace deal’s Achilles’ heel? Santos and his followers are busy using taxpayer funds to peddle the fallacy that a vote against the Farc deal is a vote for war. The chattering classes also maliciously suggest that “no” voters must all be rabid followers of conservative former President Álvaro Uribe, whose Democratic Center is the only political party to have openly opposed the Santos-FARC stitch-up, mainly because the guerrilla leaders accused of crimes against humanity won’t spend time in jail.

Nevertheless, the libertarian or classical liberal argument against the government’s deal with the guerrilla group should be a part of the national and global debate about Colombia’s future.

For over three decades, the illegal drug trade has been the main force propelling violence in Colombia. As Professor Camilo Echandía has shown, the FARC entered 1982 after a long period of stagnation; counting with no more than 1,600 men in arms dispersed across a country over five times larger than Great Britain, the “people’s army” (ejército del pueblo) was a marginal force incapable of posing a serious threat to the Colombian government.

In 1982, however, FARC leaders took the strategic decision to enter the illegal drug trade. By the year 2000, they controlled much of the business which Pablo Escobar brutally dominated until his death in 1993; this allowed the FARC to increase their troop levels drastically. By the end of Andrés Pastrana’s presidency in 2002, they had over 20,000 men in their ranks, their salaries paid with the cocaine dollars which flowed endlessly into their coffers. The formerly weak and peripheral Marxist guerrilla group had become a formidable fighting force with the firepower to challenge the Colombian state itself for military and hence political supremacy.

After being elected president in a landslide election in 2002, Álvaro Uribe carried out a merciless offensive against the FARC during his eight years in power. Uribe’s policy of “democratic security” undoubtedly weakened the FARC, which was left with some 7,000 members in 2010. Nevertheless, the FARC, despite losing many of their leaders to the military onslaught, were not annihilated, and their control of the drug trade was a main reason for their survival.

Due to market forces far beyond their control, Uribe and his ministers failed at the task of leaving large areas of Colombia “without a single coca leaf,” as they had naively promised.

Cocaine and Violence


Returning to the 2016 peace negotiation with the FARC, the leaders of the guerrilla’s first front recently announced that they would not demobilize despite the negotiations with the government, which are taking place in Havana, Cuba. The FARC’s first front operates in the south-central department of Guaviare, a strategic area for producing and exporting cocaine.

Even a complete FARC demobilization, a very unlikely scenario, will not bring an end to violence in Colombia. In the last month, dozens of families have fled their homes in the Chocó region after combats broke out between the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, traditional FARC allies who are not part of the Havana peace talks, and a neo-paramilitary narcotrafficking group known as “Clan del Golfo,” which counts with 2,000 active members according to the authorities.

The simple reason why Colombia won’t achieve peace regardless of the Santos-FARC deal is that the illegal drug trade will continue to fuel violence. As economist Luis Guillermo Vélez Álvarez writes, the government’s agreement with the Farc to “solve the problem of illicit drugs” is mere hot air. The Havana deal won’t bring an end to Colombia’s drug trafficking problem because the sale and production of drugs will still be forbidden, thus motivating armed, violent groups to elbow their way into the business.

Now is the time for Colombians —and any foreigner truly interested in peace in the country— to heed the words of Milton Friedman: under prohibition, “the government’s job is to protect the drug cartel.” This is inevitably the case since

In an ordinary free market business… there are thousands of importers and exporters. Anybody can go into the business. But it’s very hard for a small person to go into the drug-importing business because our interdiction efforts essentially make it enormously costly. So the only people who can survive in that business are these large, Medellín Cartel type of people, who have enough money so they can have fleets of airplanes, sophisticated methods…

In addition to which, by keeping goods out, and by arresting local marihuana growers, the government keeps the price of these products high. So what more could a monopolist want?

As Colombians well know, illegal drug monopolists can only be violent monopolists, like Pablo Escobar or the FARC’s bloodthirsty leaders. Therefore, the Santos government’s deal with the Farc will only create a power vacuum for new drug lords and new public enemies to arise. The doors of the Temple of Janus might as well remain open.

Immediately after Pablo Escobar’s death in 1993, his widow, María Victoria Henao, told a group of reporters:

Do not think for one moment that (Escobar’s) assassination means the end of violence in Colombia. Don’t be so naive.”

She then predicted— correctly, as it turns out— a long life for narcoterrorism in the country.

In 2016, there is no reason to take political decisions based on ruinously naive illusions. The Santos-Farc deal will grant power and privileges to a criminal group, but it won’t bring peace to Colombia.

In order to end this war, we must legalize drugs, thus cutting off the lifeblood of violent cartels of all kinds.

Subscribe free to our daily newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special reports delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time