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Colombia’s “Brexit Moment” and the Childish Reaction against Democracy

By: Daniel Raisbeck - @DanielRaisbeck - Oct 19, 2016, 11:33 am
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The Colombian “Occupy Movement” should demand an agreement that reflects not the utopian visions of the 1960s, but rather the reality of present and recent violence in the country (Twitter)

Hyperbole is rife in Colombia after the referendum held on October 2nd, when a small majority of voters defied the opinion polls and the bien-pensant consensus by rejecting the deal between President Santos and the Marxist FARC guerrillas.

“Young people are giving Colombia a masterclass in democracy and peace,” writes a journalist on a site called Fusion. He refers to a group of activists who have been camping in Bogotá’s main square (Plaza de Bolívar) for several days, demanding that, despite the referendum’s results, the government implement a deal with the FARC immediately (#AcuerdosYa, #AgreementsNow, is their puerile slogan). This, according to the author, is Colombia’s version of the “Occupy Movement.”

Semana, a weekly magazine, has referred to the demonstrations as “the Colombian Spring,” a reference to the youth-led protests that convulsed several Arab countries some years ago, often with nefarious results in terms of democracy and human liberty.

I even read a post on social media comparing the current student protests in Bogotá and other Colombian cities to Leipzig’s Montagsdemonstrationen, a series of peaceful gatherings against the communist German Democratic Republic (DDR) in 1989 shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The author failed to realize that, toward the end of the Cold War, East German citizens protested in order to demand democracy from an authoritarian regime controlled by a single party. Having endured decades of political repression, their sole aim was to have the chance to choose their own destiny at the ballot box, just as Germans living west of the border had done since 1949.

In other words, the brave East German protesters who exposed themselves to retaliations by the feared Stasi in 1989 were demanding the same political freedom that Colombians exercised on October 2nd, when President Santos summoned the nation for what he called “the most important electoral choice that each of us will have to make in his entire life.”

While East Germans marched for democracy, those in charge of Colombia’s “Occupy Movement” seem to demand that the government ignore the results of a democratic election. Lefty intellectuals and sycophantic politicians, desperate after suffering a defeat they never considered possible, are trying to discredit the referendum’s result, claiming that the vote should be repeated since it rained on October 2nd or that their side lost due to Colombians’ supposed ignorance or lack of sophistication.

Foreigners have also had their say. Jody Williams, an American who has jetted across the world as a peace activist and received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, refuted Benjamin Disraeli’s theory that travel teaches toleration (now a backpacker shibboleth) by stating that a majority of Colombian voters were “incredibly stupid” for rejecting the Santos-Farc deal.

The referendum brought us Colombia’s “Brexit moment,” as much of the national and foreign media noted in outrage, not only because voters dared to defy the entire establishment, the large news organizations, the claims of state propaganda, the wisdom of supposed experts, and a string of open government threats. In the Colombian version of “Project Fear,” President Santos warned during the campaign that rejecting his deal with the FARC would lead to an immediate “urban war.” After his defeat, however, he extended the bilateral ceasefire until December 31. Post-referendum Colombia, like post-Brexit Britain, has also witnessed a wave of childish reactions against democracy itself. Perhaps Santos supporters simply should declare, as Daniel Hannan suggests, that, as in Bertolt Brecht’s poem Die Lösung, the citizenry, having lost the government’s confidence, should be dissolved and replaced.

Contrary to what many hacks are suggesting, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Santos, which he deserves for his efforts (just as Barack Obama and the European Union deserved the award), does not change the referendum’s results. Nor does it change its meaning. The prize is yet another slap on the president’s back from an international institution with much prestige in certain quarters but very little at stake in Colombia. The same applies to the US State Department, the IMF, the United Nations, and the other international bureaucracies which ill-advisedly intervened in Colombian politics during the campaign leading to the referendum. In an admirable display of independence, the silent majority of Colombian voters appreciated their advice but said: “No, thank you. We can determine our country’s future on our own.”

In terms of Colombia’s “Occupy Movement,” their insistence on an immediate agreement between the Santos government and the Farc is particularly wrong-headed. It was Santos’s haste, in fact, which led the president to rush a signed agreement— any signed agreement, it seems— before voters prior to implementing an unpopular “tax reform,” his euphemism for a drastic tax hike which he considers necessary to cover the immense fiscal deficit his own government created. As a result, Santos and his negotiators made a number of excessive concessions to the FARC such as giving them ten guaranteed seats in Congress for eight years, excessive concessions which 50.2 percent of voters rejected the day of the referendum. “Celerity is never more admired than by the negligent,” says Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play. Or, as people say in Colombia, “only fatigue results from haste.”

More than celerity, the Colombian “Occupy Movement”— and it’s a good sign that a portion of the youth is leaving behind its political apathy— should demand an agreement that reflects not the utopian visions of the 1960’s generation to which Santos and his chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, belong, but rather the reality of present and recent violence in the country, which has been fuelled by drug trafficking during the last three decades. Calling for the complete legalization of marijuana (which is not part of the Santos-Farc agreement) as a concrete step toward ending the devastating War on Drugs in the country— a measure already taken in Uruguay, Canada, and several US states— would be an excellent starting point.

Daniel Raisbeck Daniel Raisbeck

Daniel Raisbeck is the PanAm Post's Chief Editor. He ran for Mayor of Bogotá in 2015 as an independent candidate. Follow him @DanielRaisbeck.