Protecting Maduro, Santos Turns His Back on Colombians

In May 2013, Santos and Maduro share a warm embrace.
In May 2013, Santos and Maduro share a warm embrace. (Isadobles)

EspañolColombia’s foreign policy has long maintained a firm stance against non-intervention, and it should continue to do so. This policy should be directed towards facilitating Colombia’s aims beyond national borders, and not towards imposing governmental models on other countries.

However, this principle should not be confused with a policy of supporting regimes that violate individual rights and impede their citizens’ ability to escape poverty and oppression. Yet this is exactly what the government of President Juan Manuel Santos is doing with the Venezuelan regime, a policy which has gradually come to define relations with our Venezuelan neighbors.

First, it was silence on the excesses of the late Hugo Chávez; then it was hidden support through regional organizations like CELAC and UNASUR, whose only noticeable achievements have been supporting oppressive regimes and perpetuating poverty in the region; now things are out in the open.

It seems as though Santos and Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín believe that policy makers’ decisions are gospel, and that election by a majority allows them to make decisions by decree. Presumably, they think that the crimes committed by the worst totalitarian regimes in history are excused by their democratic guise.

From the very beginning, this policy has lacked any sense of cohesion or ethical standards, only offering unconditional support to the Venezuelan regime, despite its excesses. A number of analysts and government officials have weighed in on the discussion in an attempt to provide an explanation.

First they talked about the peace talks with the FARC guerrilla, and Venezuela’s role in this process, given that FARC has a substantial cross-border presence. The theory goes that the Colombian government has to keep quiet over the events occurring in Venezuela in order to prevent the government from withdrawing their support for the peace process.

This rationale was illogical to begin with and now it is wholly lacking in support. The talks have progressed to the point that the FARC won’t leave the negotiating table if the Venezuelans withdraw from the process. Moreover, what role has the country played recently in the talks anyway, especially considering its unstable domestic situation?

Others have claimed that it is necessary to maintain good relations in order to protect commercial zones on the border. But taking a strong stance does not mean closing the the border, something Venezuela already does on a regular basis.

Nor does it involve branding Venezuela’s leaders as drug traffickers, murderers, and international criminals — even if they are, and even if that’s what the Venezuelan government has labeled former Colombian Presidents Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Andrés Pastrana. Nor will it lead to the mistreatment of the increasing number of Venezuelans living in Colombia — even while the Venezuelan dictatorship has been persecuting Colombian nationals for a while now.

Nor is it, nor should it be, a justification of the decision by President Barack Obama to sanction several Venezuelan officials. The announcement of sanctions is a serious case of poor timing, along with previous decisions made by the White House.

Instead of weakening the regime, Obama’s sanctions allowed Maduro to cling to power for a while longer by railing against an imagined conspiracy by the “imperialist” United States, at precisely the point when US prestige worldwide is at an all-time low.

It is time to call things what they are. Friedrich Hayek noted that while a totalitarian regime can include the process of democratic decision making, that doesn’t stop it from being totalitarian. In the case of Venezuela, even these vestiges of democracy are being eroded.

The attitude of the Colombian government is not to kneel before the Venezuelan regime, nor is it a way to safeguard the peace talks, nor is it a diplomatic strategy. Nor, as feared by supporters of former president Uribe, is it the initial stages of the implementation of a Chavista regime in Colombia.

What this attitude reflects is something much more serious. Colombian leaders believe that the state doesn’t have limits, and neither do those who are in power. They believe that if something is approved by the majority, it gives them carte blanche to implement any policy they wish.

Colombian leaders neither believe in, nor have any interest in, strengthening or preserving freedom. They despise it, just like their little dictator neighbor. Colombian leaders, like the majority of Latin Americans — lacking in any higher principle — are capable of justifying anything in the pursuit of preserving their power.

Translated by Michael Pelzer. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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