An Unfortunate New Year’s Resolution: Colombians Wish for Larger State

EspañolWill the New Year bring positive changes for a limited state and more economic freedom in Colombia? It does not seem likely. Political and economic prospects suggest no turn away from the current statist trajectory.

It is may be alarming, but even the few steps already taken towards liberty are in danger. Three events set to occur in 2014 will demonstrate this.

The Rise of Collectivist Movements

Many groups have protests under way, and as happened last year, they will elevate their cries for more generous state benefits. These cries will spread to different sectors of the economy, as they eye a piece of the festivities at the expense of everyone else. As I’ve noted before, the recent marches in support of Mayor Petro in Bogotá are likely to fuel the shortsighted push for dependency, as participants fail to comprehend the interventionism he stands for.

This social unrest is set to impact subsequent events, as explained below. The first one is the type of candidates likely to succeed in Congress — and their perception of society’s demands. The second one is the guerrillas’ influence at the negotiating table with the government, since they aim to stand as social advocates.

Elections and Citizens’ Demands

This year Colombia will have presidential and legislative elections. Already, the presidential candidates seem to be in a competition to show who can promise the most statist promises. There hasn’t been any innovative ideas on limiting the state or implementing more economic liberalization. Juan Manuel Santos, the current president and candidate most likely to win, will keep his tendency to rule by considering polls and establishing a favorable legacy. Unfortunately, Colombia’s society is set on asking for more him to get in the way of progress, and that’s what Santos will provide.

During the campaign for legislative elections, the novelty comes in the form of a group presenting themselves as defenders of ethics, academically skilled and against corruption. This may be the case, but most of the academic and intellectual candidates are also stuck in more interventionism, not realizing that it plays into the hands of corrupt politicians.

However, for the first time in Colombia’s history there’s a candidate running as a libertarian, Daniel Raisbeck. Unfortunately, even if he were elected, Raisbeck would have minority support in Congress and a setting where no real debates take place. The benefits of liberty might generate discussion, but with limited impact given special interest deadlock.

The Peace Process with the Guerrillas

This year brings news on the peace process between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On a best-case scenario, they will settle on an agreement this year. However, this would mark the beginning of the demobilization process, the period after the conflict where society will know the content of the negotiations. Many negative surprises may arise.

Negotiations could continue on or finish abruptly as the guerrillas demonstrate their force in their usual, indefensible fashion. If broken, it will be a long time before they can find a new opportunity to solve the conflict. If peace talks extend beyond this year unresolved, they will lose their fragile social support.

In both scenarios, the Colombian obsession over the conflict will continue. Citizens will prioritize confrontational war and limits on the state will be on the back burner. Economic liberalization will remain subordinate to security interests.

These trends suggest that the path towards an open society is a task that will remain unfulfilled in Colombia — at least in the year ahead. This is not the ideal way to start with perspectives for the New Year, but we can still fight to not lose what advances have been made.

The Index of Economic Freedom has documented these limited advances. Although the country has a long way to go, the benefits of this partial, gradual opening have been improvements to most social and economic indicators in recent years. To go backwards would mean ignoring, for example, falling poverty rates, economic growth, and the reasonable inflation.

In the meantime, I sincerely wish all of you a happy and liberal 2014.

Translated by Melisa Slep.

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