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Colombia Chooses ‘Peace’ – No Matter the Costs

3:45 PM, Jun 18, 2014 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Maybe. But it’s important to bear in mind the character of the guerillas that Santos is dealing with. For 50 years FARC has trafficked in narcotics, as well as kidnapped and murdered thousands of innocent civilians. All told, more than 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict. There are serious questions as to whether it is wise to allow people like that into positions of power without them serving any form of punishment. As Zuluaga put it during the campaign, “Those who have committed crimes against humanity must of course pay a punishment. They cannot be rewarded with political representation.” To do otherwise is to set a very dangerous precedent indeed.

Moreover, one must remember that the last time that a Colombian government pursued peace talks with FARC, from 1999 to 2002, the strategy backfired terribly. At that time, the Colombian government granted the guerillas control over an area the size of Switzerland, which they proceeded to use as a launching pad for vicious attacks on Colombian society. FARC also used the newfound territory to vastly expand their drug production and smuggling operations, and to build up their supply of weaponry. In sum, FARC guerillas are not people who have shown that they can be trusted – and they were only strengthened and emboldened the last time the Colombian government pursued “peace.”

The irony is, things had been going quite well for Colombia after the 2002 debacle. Under Uribe’s leadership, the country became adept at attracting foreign investment and exploiting the country’s bountiful natural resources, particularly crude oil. Colombia also vigorously pursued free-trade deals. Santos, thankfully, has left Uribe’s economic policies more or less intact, and consequently, throughout Santos’s first four-year term, Colombia averaged impressive 4.7 percent annual economic growth. Inflation, long a scourge of Latin American economies, is now running at a healthy 1.9 percent. This, of course, is occurring in a region not known for particularly stellar economic management – indeed, the contrast with economically sputtering Brazil, Argentina, and, most prominently, Venezuela is notable. But a failed deal with FARC, one that either pulls the country leftward or that renews violence, could see those gains slip away.

Still, with his electoral mandate in hand, Santos will press ahead with unconditional peace talks in the months ahead. Colombians should hope they don’t backfire. While the Colombian national soccer team did win its match against Greece this weekend, if President Santos is not careful, the country could be in for a profound defeat in the coming years.

Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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