Daniel Raisbeck: Carrying the Banner of Liberalism in Colombia

EspañolDaniel Raisbeck is a candidate running in this Sunday’s congressional elections in Colombia. A writer, historian, and professor of classics at Our Lady of the Rosary University in Bogotá, he is a columnist with the PanAm Post, and I recommend his latest contribution, “Colombia: Libertarianism Is Finally on the Political Map.”

Daniel Raisbeck: running for Colombia’s Congress on a radical free market platform.

You have noted an odd, non-geographic representation process for members of Congress in Colombia. Particularly for international observers, would you explain the path one takes to enter either the Senate or the Chamber and your own standing in this race?

There are 165 representatives in the Chamber of Representatives and 102 members of the Senate. The Chamber is elected according to regional circumscription except for two members who represent Afro-Colombians, one who represents the indigenous population, one who represents Colombians living abroad, and one who represents political minorities.

Bogotá, a city with more than 7 million inhabitants, is the largest circumscription and as such it elects 18 representatives to the Chamber. However, the city is not divided into parliamentary seats or congressional districts, so that each of the elected MP’s is supposed to represent the entire city. This means that there is virtually no localism, given that candidates can obtain votes all across Bogotá. The result is that the inhabitants of a particular area do not have a particular representative whom they can elect directly or boot out of office. Nor is there a specific representative to whom citizens can express the specific concerns of their locality.

The Senate represents the nation as a whole, and thus senators can seek votes anywhere in the country as well as abroad. In general, many more votes are needed in order to gain a seat in the Senate than in the Chamber.

You are running with the Colombian Conservative Party, and yet you are a liberal in the classical sense. How do you fit into the party, and what has been the reaction to your presence?

I chose the Colombian Conservative Party because it is a decentralized, acephalous party with no undisputable leader and different strains (I compare it to Germany in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Period). The Liberal Party, on the other hand, is run by the son of a former President, César Gaviria, and, during the 20th century, it became a social democratic party favoring considerable state intervention in the economy and in citizens’ lives. The remaining parties are either openly statist (the Green Party and Polo Democrático Alternativo) or simply the fiefs of caudillos, namely former President Álvaro Uribe (Democratic Center), current President Juan Manuel Santos (National Party of Social Unity) and his vice presidential candidate Germán Vargas Lleras (Radical Change).

Within the Conservative Party, I work alongside Senator Juan Mario Laserna, considered the best Colombian member of parliament by Dinero magazine, and I also enjoy the support of Marta Lucía Ramírez, the current presidential candidate. Nonetheless, it should be stated that important segments of the Conservative Party have traditionally defended Catholic dogma, and hence my campaign has faced opposition from these quarters (one candidate has demanded that I withdraw my candidacy for my support of drug legalization and adoption by same-sex couples).

My aim is to create a libertarian movement within the Conservative Party, much as Ron Paul has been able to do in the US Republican Party. I think this is feasible given that drug decriminalization, for instance, has been discussed within the party since the 1990’s, namely by former Senator Enrique Gómez Hurtado.

Given such a legacy of corruption and government failure, particularly with the drug war, why is libertarianism so novel in Colombia? One might assume widespread skepticism of government intervention, but that does not appear to be the case.

The prevalent mentality is that it is the government’s job to fix everything, even when one is faced with the fact that the state is too large where it is present and extremely inefficient. Whenever there is a serious problem related to the state, for instance corruption, governments tend to respond by creating more bureaucracy such as a bureau headed by an anti-corruption Czar with numerous underlings whose salaries are paid with our taxes. This, of course, simply increases the possibilities for corrupt functionaries to sack public funds.

In terms of the drug war, Colombian society has remained quite conservative due to the Catholic Church’s influence, among other things, so that there has been great reluctance to even speak about legalization in the country. Also, it is a difficult issue to discuss given that the FARC guerrillas have been financing themselves for years through the drug trade. This brings me to the fact that Colombia’s terrain is large and rugged, and many areas such as the rainforests are difficult to control. The Colombian state exerts its authority over about half the country, and hence it is difficult to argue that the state should be reduced.

My argument is that the state has been present where it is not needed, for instance in fighting a calamitous drug war or in placing an excess of taxes and bureaucratic obstacles before small businesses and individuals. On the other hand, the state has not been present where it is supposed to exert its authority, namely in upholding the citizen’s physical safety and in protecting his private property.

What impact has the Venezuelan crisis had on your campaign? Are people in Colombia waking up to the nightmare of the “Bolivarian Revolution”?

Colombians are well aware of the disastrous state of the Venezuelan economy and of the government repression that has become the norm in the neighboring country. Sadly, our current government has been unable to condemn unequivocally the Venezuelan government’s violence against students, journalists, and civil society since it depends on Nicolás Maduro to advance the peace talks with the FARC guerrillas in Cuba. During my campaign, I have tried to bring attention to the costly error of including oppressive regimes such as Cuba and Venezuela in the peace process in the first place.

Many liberty advocates resist engaging in the political domain and prefer either education or entrepreneurial ventures. Would you explain your preference in this regard?

I understand this view and respect it. My experience in Colombia convinced me that the state bureaucracy and the tax regime allow neither full economic liberty nor even the conditions under which civil society associations such as think tanks, through which the ideas of liberty can be defended, can emerge easily. Hence, I decided to enter politics in order to defend economic, political, and civil freedom.

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