Colombia: Hugo Chavez, cocaine and how to contain FARC terrorists

Posted in Other | 18-Sep-08 | Author: Heinz Lustig

Groups in Latin America try to declare war on "U.S.-American imperialism". Certainly there is nothing new about this. Already in the 1960s, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), stated their social commitment towards society and discontent towards the government through violence. This article intends to give real solutions to the conflict that is taking place in Colombia by making use of the Complex Interdependence Theory suggested by professors Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. Furthermore, it takes a new look at the problem by suggesting the FARC be granted a position in Colombian politics.

"Chavez has given armament and has permitted the guerilla to enter Venezuelan territory,hijacking and robbing the population there."
"Chavez has given armament and has permitted the guerilla to enter Venezuelan territory,hijacking and robbing the population there."
It is a decade-old conflict without any apparent solution so far. However, by making use of the Complex Interdependence theory the author will try to throw new light on an old conflict. The main question to be answered by this short analysis is: How to solve this conflict?

The answer to this is by creating a complex interdependence between the FARC and the Colombian society.

Historical overview

In order to better understand the conflict in Colombia it is necessary to take a brief look at the history of the country in the last couple of decades. This article does not intend to give an exhaustive historical background but does touch on the main happenings that led to the foundation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Colombia left military rule in 1958, when an agreement was reached in order to create the ‘National Front.’ This was a coalition of the two major Colombian parties consisting of Liberals and Conservatives, granting them the possibility of presidential alternation until 1974. This was established in order to leave behind the period known as ‘la violencia,’ in which these two parties were engaged in violence leaving around 200 000 casualties between the 1940s and 1950s, paving the way for military rule. Already in the 1960s under the government of the Conservative Guillermo León Valencia (1962-1966), social discontent and economic depression were hatching in Colombian society.

Under the liberal president Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1966-1970), unsuccessful reforms attempted to create coalitions of industrialists, workers and peasants against traditional landowners, while promoting a stronger interventionist state.

As Hartlyn argues, the inflexibility of the National Front Agreement was necessary in order to come back to civilian rule, however this same rigidity led to social crisis and limited the possibilities for political change and social reforms.

Soon the country was faced again with violence, throughout the 1970s the situation sharpened and the government came up with a hawkish approach. This did not solve the problem and due to increased troubles in the negotiations between the FARC and the government, no solution could be reached.

The FARC engaged in the fight for social equality and called for a ‘new government of reconstruction and reconciliation’ (FARC, 2002). They proposed the construction of an own political, economic, free and social, democratic, progressive, fair and sovereign system working within a framework, not recurring to the use of drug trafficking, corruption or violence (FARC, 2000). It started as an organization championing land reform due to the high number of peasants in the movement. This is in theory, however reality looks quite different. It does engage in drug trafficking, hijacking of politicians and powerful people. Therefore, it is neither free, social nor is it democratic; hence the values for which the organization fights for are contradictory.

Complex Interdependence Theory by Robert Keohnane and Joseph Nye – What is Interdependence?

In the theory introduced in the year 1977 by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, both scholars explain how dependence by one government towards another lowers the probability of the use of violence between the two and present other players as international organizations and societal actors that influence the interactions of both governments as well as between the governments, international organizations and societies.

It is important to remark from the beginning that interdependence does not mean mutual benefit. Interdependence has costs that cannot be specified a priori. In their definition, power is something that involves a maneuver that induces the other to do something they do not want to do. In other words, you get what you want by not leaving an option for the other state.

Interdependence is mutual dependence – transactions that involve flows of money, goods, people and messages across international boundaries. Furthermore, where there are reciprocal costly effects of transactions there is interdependence. Interdependent relationships will always involve costs, because interdependence restricts autonomy. Certainly this does not mean that the situation has to be symmetrical; there can be interdependence in an asymmetrical manner.

"Almost 80 per cent of the income of the FARC comes from the production of cocaine"
"Almost 80 per cent of the income of the FARC comes from the production of cocaine"
Further features are: The sensitivity of interdependence, which is measured by how much time it takes for one country to react towards the events that are occurring in another and the vulnerability of interdependence, which means what the alternatives are and how costly these are in order to face challenges from the other actors. Hence, asymmetrical interdependence might be a source of power nevertheless due to institutions. These interactions are partly regulated. This process has been incremented certainly by information technologies such as the Internet. This poses a new question to Keohane and Nye’s perception, namely what is the relation between power and interdependence? Sensitivity of interdependence will be less important than vulnerability of interdependence in providing power resources to actors, if one actor can reduce its costs by altering its policy, either domestically or internationally. The sensitivity patterns will not be a good guide to power resources. Given the cost, there is no guarantee that military means will be more effective than economic ones to achieve a given purpose. However, asymmetrical interdependence cannot explain outcomes.

Another central question to the scholars is: How and why do regimes change? They argue that institutions are neither too powerful nor autonomous in international regimes as opposed to national structures. The structure system of a system refers to the distribution of the capabilities among similar units. They describe their theory as having three main traits:

(1) Multiple channels that connect societies, in a formal or informal way, through governments or through multinational corporations. These actors affect each other reciprocally as well. An example of this could be the supranational institution of the European Union, which has a real impact on the national legislation of each member state.

(2) Furthermore, the agenda of interstate relationships consists of multiple issues without any prevailing hierarchy, meaning that among other things military security is just another issue among others, not prevailing over others. Additionally there is an interconnectedness of national issues with international issues.

(3) Finally, military force is not used by governments toward other governments within the region, or on the issues, when complex interdependence prevails. The use of violence is also an inappropriate way of achieving other goals, as economic or ecological welfare, which are becoming more important. However, they make a clear exception to countries which approximate to complex interdependence for the use of force as an alternative: (1) ‘drastic social and political change could cause force again to become an important direct instrument of policy and (2) even when elites’ interests are complementary, a country that uses military force to protect another may have significant political influence over the other country.’

Stressing the importance of international organizations and other actors – such as the United States of America and Venezuela – helps to set the international agenda and act as a catalyst for coalition formation, arenas for political initiatives and linkage by weak states. Under these three main characteristics, additional peculiarities have to be taken into account: 1. Transnational relations by their definition include the activities of transnational organizations except within their home states, even when some of their activities may not directly involve movements across state boundaries and may not, therefore, be transnational interactions as defined above.

According to this theory, Trans-governmental politics will make goals more blurry and difficult to define, meaning that e.g. transnational corporations might have an influence in the definition of goals.

2. Transnational actors will pursue their own goals, namely normally pursue the increase in capital and assets.

3. Power resources specific to one will be the most relevant unlike the realist thought in which the military force will be the most effective tool, nevertheless alongside economic sanctions and other instruments.

4. Furthermore the agenda will be changed when there is: A change in the distribution of power in the issue area; the status of international regimes; change in the importance of transnational actors.

5. Finally, the linkages towards other issues and the politicization as a result of rising sensitivity in interdependence.

Now let us turn our attention to the Colombian conflict and how this arose in order to know in which context we could apply Keohane and Nye’s theory.

Nye and Keohane go Colombian

"The Colombian government has to exploit the "Colombian identity" over other identities"
"The Colombian government has to exploit the "Colombian identity" over other identities"
Taking into consideration Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s Theory of Complex Interdependence, three main traits were identified, namely (1) The expression of political opinions through many channels, might these be parties, organizations or simple lobbying; (2) The hierarchy of the political agenda is not established, meaning that no issue has precedence over another and finally (3) The second trait is intrinsically linked to the third point, because it claims that the military option is not an option.

Almost 80% of the income of the FARC comes from the production of cocaine

The first characteristic is not fulfilled in Colombian society. There are not too many ways in which disadvantaged sections of the population can express their needs. This is rooted in the fact that this society came out of the military rule with a two-party system, too rigid, creating an elite. The coffee peasants have created cooperatives in order to have some influence and articulate the political process in the farming regions. However, they are not all too powerful, hence many channels of political expression are just non-existent. The government should basically create its own opposition, in order to have differing views and a bargain between different people with different social statuses and ideological views.

The second trait, namely that there is no hierarchy of issues on the national agenda is also inexistent. The military option is an option in order to combat the guerrilla. Additionally, Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel and Egypt in order to fight against the FARC. Furthermore the neighboring country, Venezuela through its president Hugo Chavez, has supported the movement. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has given armament and has permitted the FARC guerrilla in Colombia to enter Venezuelan territory, hijacking and robbing the population there. This has led the Colombians to promote a strong military corps and put the issue at the top of the agenda, which leads to the third point. (3) The military option is very much present in the Latin American country. This has to do with the security dilemma. Colombians feel insecure by the size, force and devastating effects the guerrilla has had in the last 50 years. Nevertheless it controls a zone the size of Germany and counts with around 17 000 militants. Because of this, the military has been strongly supported.

Who can do what and why? - Recommendations

The Colombian government has been on a good path to combat the guerrilla lately. With the death of FARC leaders Manuel Marulanda Vélez and Raúl Reyes, plus the data that has been found and confiscated on various computers, the Colombian authorities have been able to fight this problem quite successfully. However, this is not enough because once the population is left without this organization that makes them feel helped, new organizations might arise. It might be useful to use Amartja Sen’s view on how to exploit identities, so that the population is reconciled and feels that they belong to the Colombian society and row in the same direction. How can we create a sense of belonging within the Colombian population when the social realities are vastly incongruent? According to Sen, we have to exploit certain parts of the identity.

1. Create an own identity by letting others behind. In other words and applied to our case, the Colombian government has to exploit the ‘Colombian identity’ over other identities. For this, the government has to improve its redistribution system, making it unprofitable for the Colombians in the lower class of society to take part in the guerrilla movement. This would provide the chance to make them feel incorporated in the society, not having to resort to the guerrilla for help. There is certainly a big question on this way of focusing on the problem. The reader might ask: ‘They can already afford education, health services and much more with drug trafficking, why would they then want to be part of the society?’ Here lays the challenge and the government must work hard on a campaign to convince its people and give them a sense of ‘belonging’ and help. One could even say a sort of ‘brainwash’ would be needed. Then another challenge appears how can we reach these people if they live in the middle of the jungle? Infrastructure is an essential part of this and has to be built, including radio and television stations that are protected with military presence in order not to be destroyed by the guerrilla. Even satellites could be useful. Little by little, the government can penetrate the jungle with media systems. It does not have to be done all at once. Only herewith, can the media reach the population and convince them of this national project to which all Colombians have to belong to. However it is not just a task for the government. The society itself could, with the help of the government, support this initiative through groups. These groups could help the farmers feel more attached to the society by making them conscious that the society does care for what they are doing, that the society is interested in their well being, deconstructing the old view. By showing the farmers that other citizens and not just the government care, they feel that everybody is involved in transforming and improving Colombian society and is therefore not something that comes unilaterally from the government.

2. Furthermore, other types of reforms have to be undertaken in order to make this proposal successful. The redistribution system has to be reformed by the parliament. It has been seen that where social differences are not all too vast, social security is basically granted. For this, the redistribution system has to be improved and corruption has to be fought. This involves certainly higher costs, due to the increased number of officials that have to be engaged for doing this, the inflexibility of a system and a bureaucratic increase in political actions.

These actions would improve the interdependence of the lower sections of society that support the guerrilla movement and the government. Making both parts more congruent would fulfill one of the characteristics of Complex Interdependence.

‘The Chavez Factor’

"Interdependence should draw other countries, such as Venezuela, Peru,Ecuador, Brazil and Panama, to act against the guerilla"
"Interdependence should draw other countries, such as Venezuela, Peru,Ecuador, Brazil and Panama, to act against the guerilla"
3. Another improvement would be the stronger control of the passages between the Brazilian, Venezuelan, Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Colombian borders. Isolating the conflict in one state makes it much easier to control. In other territories the guerrilla can look for financial support, armament and use of the territory for planning their operations as in the case of Venezuela. Nevertheless, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a real destabilizing factor for the conflict. Together with other military forces (e.g. from Peru and Brazil), the borders especially between Venezuela and Colombia can be controlled, so that the passage of drugs, armament and guerrilleros themselves is restricted and do not cross the border for support. This represents another challenge for the Colombian conflict, since the Republic is ideologically isolated in Latin America. Chile would be one of the few countries in the region that would support Colombia in its fight against terrorism, however Chile does not have anything to win there, making this not an option. Here, interdependence should draw other countries, such as Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Panama to act against the guerrilla. If the mutual interests from these countries are damaged by the guerrilla, then support from all the other governments towards Colombia could be granted. However, due to radical political changes occurring in Venezuela, Brazil and some other Latin American countries, Colombia is isolated, fueling the conflict even more making this possibility not a viable option. A solution to this problem could be a regime change in adjacent countries to Colombia. Venezuela’s support is too strong towards the guerrilla; hence an ideological change in that country that does not grant a base for the guerrilla operations as necessary. How to neutralize the ‘Chavez factor’ is a major challenge. However, how is it possible to change in an ex-democratic system a dictator as Chavez without major commotions for the region? This is one of the central questions to be answered in order to solve the conflict.

4. As most of Latin America, Colombia is based on the French presidential system: Openness to other parties, in a sort of parliamentarian democracy, instead of a presidential democracy, by which many parties would be represented, is also a possibility in order to represent other views and needs of society. This would put the first cornerstone of interdependence within society. Maybe even by granting to the FARC its secure representation in the Colombian parliament could be a possibility for ameliorating the conflict. Looking at the FARC as a problem is a narrowed manner of focusing on the problem. But the rigidity and inflexibility of the Colombian presidential system does not give leeway for new perspectives. Various channels of political engagement would make it improbable for violent conflicts to arise, just as Keohane and Nye indicate.

5. Finally, criminal organizations fight for the control of resources, might these be diamonds or cocaine. Maybe by attacking the cocaine business, let us say legalization and regulation on an international level of this drug, the main financial factor by the FARC would be diminished. Since this option appears to be unrealistic due to the lucrative business drugs are, then countries in the ‘industrialized world’ should be sensitized. Consumers of cocaine in the first world should be confronted with campaigns by e.g. the EU and national governments in order not to consume this drug, since e.g. by every line consumed, a certain amount of people have to die in Colombia, as well as in probably other parts of the world. Furthermore, the coastal police in Spain could be working internationally, with other coastal police services from the EU such as Portugal and France in order to stop the drug load from reaching the ‘Old Continent.’ Additionally, the freezing of bank accounts of people that have links to the FARC by the governments could improve the situation.

More or less on this same line, public awareness among Europeans and US Americans could be raised, prompting the people to listen and be confronted with this problem. With this a new pool of solutions could be triggered. For achieving this, the European Union could invest money in education and information dissemination about the FARC, more or less in accordance to what Ingrid Betancourt has done in France.

Anybody who has ever been in the situation of knowing what to do and actually doing it knows that it is easier telling than actually doing. Nevertheless, many of these proposals are real, factual solutions to the diminution of the conflict, but they won’t solve the conflict entirely.