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Presidential Election Elevates FARC to Colombia’s Kingmaking Distraction

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - May 27, 2014, 3:31 pm

EspañolThe first round of elections in Colombia have decided that Uribista Oscar Iván Zuluaga and current President Juan Manuel Santos who will vie for the presidency in three weeks. The main difference between the two candidates is their position on the current peace process in Colombia. Ironically, as has been the case since the late 1990s, the armed conflict, and in particular the treatment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — the issue that Colombians are the most fed up with — will also decide this election.

Presidents Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), and Juan Manuel Santos (2010-) were all elected based on their position in the conflict. The first, Pastrana, won election for his peace process policy, which eventually failed. The second, Uribe, won on the promise to end the war through an initially successful policy of “democratic security.” The last, Santos, ran on his current policy, which has advanced negotiations but not ended the conflict.

At the moment, we still do not know who will be the next one chosen to lead. We can say, however, that whatever decision Colombians make, the prospect for peace is not as clear as the threats posed by the policies of each vying administration.

The prospect of peace remains unclear largely because neither candidate is able to demonstrate why his approach is superior. Zuluaga aims to pursue the guerrilla militarily. In addition to the high cost of a military approach — human life, terrorist retaliation, military spending — there are many doubts that this can be an effective strategy.

What evidence do we have that, this time, the clamp-down strategy will be successful? A military strategy cannot not serve only to stop a few guerrilla fighters and/or eliminate a few others. It cannot even serve to simply “weaken” the opponent. All of this was already accomplished during the administrations of former President Uribe. Yet, the war was not won, which is the real goal of an effective military strategy. How many more years must Colombian citizens endure this war effort?

Meanwhile, the alternative approach proposed by Santos also shows no firm signs of success. While the current peace process is different than those attempted in the past and there has been progress with negotiations, can Colombians be assured that another term for Santos will bring a signed peace agreement? What incentive do the guerrilla have to sign a deal? The FARC did not seize this opportunity during Santos’s first term, and it’s not certain they’ll do so during a second — especially since they know they have the political power to determine the next president every four years.

On the other hand, there are the actual terms of the agreement. Will the Colombian people decide to give a potential agreement their support? Will Colombians be willing to compromise on prison time for the guerrilla and accept them as part of political life in the country?

Apart from this central issue that has no definitive solution, there are other issues that overshadow the efforts of the new president, regardless of who wins the election. As noted previously, the current election has been characterized by controversy, polarization, and accusations between the candidates. Whether it be Zuluaga or Santos who becomes the next president, the accusations will continue, as will the degradation of the future president’s reputation as he defends himself, manipulating the justice system to do so along the way.

Outside the courts, the next president will be burdened by his public image, and will have to fight for recognition from the public for his achievements, should he have any. Zuluaga has the reputation of a representative of the extreme right and even the paramilitaries. Santos, mind you, has been accused by the Uribistas of wanting to impose the Venezuelan model in Colombia. Without getting into whether or not these perceptions are true, it is clear that each one will limit the capacity of the next administration.

Finally, neither of these two candidates was able to secure enough votes during the first round to win the presidency, which translates to a need to seek alliances. In this regard, it’s worth noting that the Uribistas, just like Santos, have a weakness for conceding subsidies and privileges to lobbyists. In fact, during this campaign, that is exactly what they have promised: what then can we expect from the economic policies of the next four years, if not a reversal of what little advances we have made in free trade, a necessary condition for the restriction of government intervention in the economy?

June 15 cannot be seen as a decisive day for the future of the country. It will be yet another lost opportunity when ideas could have been conceived to both resolve the decades long armed conflict and strengthen the path to liberty.

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.