The Triumphant Return of Álvaro Uribe in Colombia
By Manuel Malaver
Little is known about the friendship that existed between Álvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos. We do know much about the fratricidal political warfare they have had since Santos decided to break up with Uribe, the day after the former was elected President of Colombia on August 7, 2010, despite the seven million votes that the latter gave him.
It was a historical rupture with the most surprising and incalculable consequences for Colombia — one in which not even the most important analysts of the Latin American country, emblem of the magical realism, had thought about.
Perhaps it started when Santos and Hugo Chávez met in Santa Marta on August 10, 2010, to resolve a scandalous binational conflict that almost led to the breakdown of the diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela. This was endorsed at a meeting of the IAPA in Mexico City on November 11, when Santos declared that Chávez had become his “new best friend.”
This phrase, which in no way proved to be a compliment, can only led us to several questions: What did Uribe and Chávez actually discuss at the meeting in Santa Marta? What offerings did each side make? And why Chávez, who was all about squeezing the neck of the oligarchs — and especially that of Santos and Uribe — left the meeting so pleased that he restored the diplomatic relations the next day, and returned the needles of the political clock to the times before Uribe’s presidency?
Rivers of blood had flowed since Chávez pulled the rope taut on bilateral relations as soon as Uribe became president of Colombia on August 7, 2002, and even more since he named Santos Defense Minister in July 2006. Events such as “Operation Fenix” (March 6, 2008) that killed Raul Reyes in Ecuadorian territory; “Operation Jaque” (July 1, 2008), in which the government took back dozens of FARC hostages (Ingrid Betancourt, among others); and the deaths of Negro Acacio, Martín Caballero, Alfonso Cano and “Mono” Jojoy made everyone think a major war that could engage the whole region was about to explode. Its protagonists would have been Chávez and FARC on one side, and Uribe and Santos on the other.
Chávez, since the beginning of his term in 1999, declared himself part of the Colombian conflict and a supporter of FARC. The guerrilla group began receiving his help. He gave them shelter in Venezuelan territory, and considered them his allies in a combat that sought to expand the Bolivarian Chavista revolution throughout the continent.
Therefore, it was quite natural that the triumphs and defeats of the FARC, were also triumphs and defeats of Chávez. By the time of the meeting in Santa Marta, the FARC were literally exhausted and on the verge of collapse, so people expected anything but a “declaration of love” between Chávez and Santos.
And yet, it happened. Once furious enemies, they appeared smiling before the cameras that day. They hugged and almost kissed each other, and swore eternal friendship as if they had never lashed out against each other.
The magic touch of this friendship could have been that Santos confessed to Chávez his intentions of initiating peace negotiations with FARC as soon as possible. This would rescue the integrity of the guerrilla group and would have the participation of the Venezuelan leader, of Cubans Fidel and Raúl Castro, and the Latin American progressive movement, in a process that would lead to the restoration of peace in Colombia after 50 years.
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It was not any offer. It meant that they would transmute FARC from losers to winners. Meanwhile, Colombia’s state, army, people and democracy would pass from being winners to losers, as the process aimed for FARC’s inclusion as a political group in civil society, rather than the progressive disappearance of the guerrilla as an enemy and opposing force to the national interest of Colombia.
But certainly the most interesting thing for FARC and its allies was that the peace negotiations meant Uribe’s slow but unavoidable death. It was impossible that the former president would accept negotiating peace in a process that nullified his efforts for a “Peace Agreement” in which the FARC would appear as a defeated insurgent army.
We may wonder whether Santos suddenly adopted the position of Colombia’s enemies — or whether he was always from the left, then infiltrated on the democratic governments, and once he came to power, betrayed democracy and went back to its opponents with all the accumulated baggage.
The answer is neither one thing nor the other. This case is actually very common in history. It is about men who owe everything to senior leaders on which they recline and thus climb; and once they placed in succession, betray their mentors thinking they will have their own light and become even greater.
It is similar to that of Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela. Pérez, who owed everything to the fiercely anticommunist Rómulo Betancourt, differed from his mentor once he came to power and invited communists to participate in his government.
Santos meanwhile is a pro-liberty gentleman, descendant from Ricauter, the hero of San Mateo. He exhibits an irreproachable academic background, worked as a minister in three liberal governments, and when he joined Uribe’s party of liberal renewal (“U Party”) in 2000, he aspired to succeed Uribe on his own merits.
The problem is that Santos went too far in his desire to “find himself” and differentiate from Uribe. Not only that he became an efficient agent of the interests of FARC, Chávez, Castro and their allies on the continent. Santos also became the main tool to destroy the leader who had fought the guerrilla with ardor, tenacity and efficiency over the past 10 years.
Therefore, negotiations for the “Peace Agreement” and the destruction of Uribe turned out to be the same thing for Santos. The more impunity the Agreement ceded to the FARC, the more it contributed, he thought, to the liquidation of Uribe and his followers as a political force.
Colombian politics then became a dispute between these two leaders. Once allies and fierce supporters of defeating the guerrilla, they went on to accuse one another. Uribe claimed that Santos betrayed and violated the Constitution while Santos asserted that Uribe was an enemy of peace.
But even though the powerful Colombian state attacked him, Uribe did not recoil. He accepted the challenge that came from the other side, and became not only the enemy of Santos’ global policies, but also of the concessions the agreement made to the FARC, which not only let them live, but live with a lot of power.
He founded a party, the “Democratic Centre,” which represented another sector of Colombia. From the largest cities to the most remote villages, he lit a light that would ignite the whole country.
Uribe coincided with the majority of the Colombian people, as they got to know the 232 articles of the “Peace Agreement,” that it was a conspiracy for FARC to survive in impunity, and that it was necessary to put an end to it.
The opportunity came on Sunday, October 2, when a plebiscite asked the people to vote on whether to approve or reject “the Peace Agreement” Santos and Timochenko had already signed. “NO” won, so that the negotiations with FARC could be resumed, but under no circumstance would Colombians allow them to get benefits and escape justice. The justice system might be magnanimous, but it would not forget that the guerrilla members must pay for the crimes against humanity committed during the last 50 years.
When it comes to the Uribe-Santos confrontation, we can bet that Uribe has now returned to captain of Colombian politics throughout the remainder of the first half of this century. Santos, on the contrary, will now start his shameful political retreat.