About the Colombian voters rejecting peace. I notice the New York times published at least one article decrying the failure of democracy over this, and it seems that almost all of the news commentary is dismayed at the result. And there’s that thing with the Nobel Prize for President Santos for failing. The reason for the public rejection of the accords (and of their President, for that matter) is multi-ingredient, but making more of a stew than layer cake, if you don’t mind the food analogy. I think I can describe twelve ingredients, or just chunks of recognizable stuff appearing on the surface of the mix, but anyhow, here goes:
- Many of us have observed what amounts to a metronome swing (two to three decades of arc) in ideological fashion in Latin America that seems to keep some kind of Spanish Civil War remembrance beat. I’m not big on left-right analysis of everything, but Latin Americans have more of a right-socialist tendency than that which exists in North America, where most of our totalitarian-type socialists are lefty. Anyhow, the regional ideological pendulum started swinging back toward the right a few years ago and there seems to be a generalized regional preference in that direction. The enormous gains made by the Forum of Sao Paulo are being lost.
- Non left-right preference. Aside from left-right, there also has been a libertarianish streak of ideological preference and interest, surfacing more these days among influential opinion makers. Not rightist as such, it is a movement opposed to abusive concentrations of power and is liberal in the classic sense. It appears that more and more Latin Americans are hoping along such lines, at least, not so much as a ‘third way’, but as a completely distinct framework, and with it a rejection of false choices. Refusing to make a gift of unearned power to a bunch of undeserving thugs was an easy choice for those informed by this ideological current.
- Sense of submission and submissiveness. The course of the negotiations began to remind many, at least among middle-age and older Colombians, of a psychological experience generated in previous negotiations. Just as Andrés Pastrana came to appear unseemly submissive to Manuel Marulanda circa 2000, so too President Santos more recently. There came a strong ‘eeew’ sense of insufficiency. Kow-towing, genuflecting, cowering — not what some people want to see their leaders do, or participate in.
- Distaste for Santos’ leadership. Enough Colombians may have felt betrayed by the Santos’ departure from his campaign promise (to follow former President Álvaro Uribe’s strategy of addressing the FARC as an enemy to be subdued). Others may have been off-put by what they sense as an an aura of US government influence over Santos in favor of concessions to the FARC and to Cuba’s leaders. Santos’ unpopularity has been hovering around the levels of Venezuela’s Maduro – not good, and the popularity of the accords can hardly be separated from the Santos’ popularity, even if the exact proportions of cause and effect are unknown.
- Inversion of the truth about institutional popularity. It perplexes if not dismays to see how immediate and superficial arguments and anecdotes can so easily supplant decades of Colombian public opinion measurements regarding institutional popularity. I have to remind myself of the equivocating utility of words like ‘popular’ and ‘democratic’. Anyhow, the Colombia Army has always been one of the most trusted and popular institutions in the country, while the FARC has always been a cellar dweller. The numbers have varied over the years but in the last ten or so, it has been hard to honestly argue that the portion of the Colombia population willing to give anything above a verbal nod of support to or admiration for the FARC ever rose above two percent.
- The FARC has self-described as a ‘rural’ insurgency. It is no wonder that the agreement (and all of a sudden some international expressions regarding developmental theory) speak of ‘rural’ as opposed to ‘agricultural’ or ‘land’ reform. One of the first things that the rest of us need to remember is that about 85% of Colombians live in communities with shared sewage systems, that the country is urban, that the rural expanses are home to far and away the minority of the population, and, most of all, that the smuggling crops and minerals (or guns or passports) is a principally rural activity.
- ‘Campesino’ (peasant) is a mostly artificial and borderless identity. We can suppose as an element of compelling mytho-poetic narrative that a Colombian campesino rides a mule to get around, as, indeed, some Colombians still do. Moreover, we know that there exist millions of well-healed progressives who imagine the campesino as a kind of zoo species which their anthropologist children should go study and interview while said campesino is in its sustainable and balanced relationship with its surrounding physical environment. What many Colombians know is that there are not so many campesinos, that over time many of the most authentic of that identify (or their offspring) will prefer to move to where they can maybe become computer nerds, and, most importantly (and perhaps especially if the opining Colombian were to self-identify as campesino), not become the serf-chattel of 21st century socialist form of hacendado. The agreement seemed to move sharply in the direction of giving to the FARC leadership zookeeper-like control over select rural populations they labeled campesinos.
- On-the-ground experience with FARC behavior and management. More than half of the rural zones most subject to FARC presence and control (especially those along the Venezuelan border where the FARC has been most easily able to establish physical and psychological presence) the population, when able to enjoy a secret ballot, rejected the agreements. We might surmise that it is at least in part because in those places the potential voters experienced first-hand the behavior and managerial performance of the would-be hacendados, and found that behavior and performance inadequate or distasteful.
- Patent example of neighbor Venezuela. Which brings us to a large elephant wandering around the room. Venezuela has been failing visibly, palpably, heartbreakingly right in front of Colombia’s eyes. That ruin is easily and obviously attributable to the Bolivarian left-socialism of which the FARC is a central element. Santos has done very little to oppose and decry the shameful Venezuelan leadership or that leadership’s Cuban leadership. It has been increasingly clear that what the FARC wants for Colombia is that it be like Cuba and Venezuela – not a pleasant picture.
- The process, and assertions about the status, of the talks began to stink. Colombians became more and more uncomfortable with the hermetically secretive nature of the process itself, and with the parallel, slowly constructed assertion (not just by the FARC, but by the Santos administration) that the accords had a higher status and purpose than what the Colombian electorate, through its legislature or directly, could comprehend or had authority to adjust. As both Santos and the FARC would have it, the country’s constitution could not delimit the effort or result, effort and result that ostensibly obeyed the higher purpose of peace itself. The Colombian electorate smelled the rat.
- Elements of the agreement itself speak a bad deal. When the 297 pages were finally made available, there were just too many things in it that too many Colombians knew they would never themselves have agreed to in a deal with even good people, much less those people. Seats in congress, control over other people’s property, impunity for crimes, control of courts, control over several local governments, and on and on. It was a piñata, but with the bat and all the candy going to the FARC. I am going to try to attach here or somewhere on the site a pdf of the proposed accord text and of a point by point rejection of the accords by a few representatives of the ‘NO’ vote. They are in Spanish. If I come across a translation or find the time to translate them myself, I’ll do that.
- Finally, and this perhaps of such visceral magnitude that there should have been no need of a litany of other ingredients in the rejection stew — enough Colombians recognized, after years and years of direct experience and observation, that neither the FARC nor its little ELN brother are led by good persons. They are led by vile men, and enough Colombians recognized it and didn’t see any legitimacy in a process that has a handful of rapacious felons weighing in mightily on the country’s economics, public ethics, or, frankly, anything. For Santos to have elevated evil men to the level of political philosophers, agronomists, and justices was shame enough; the agreement went on not just to pardon, but to justify, reaffirm and empower. The impunity given to this cluster of intransigent, unrepentant, nonredeemable men was not just for past actions, the agreement established conditions for them to continue their predatory behavior. The NO vote said to hell with that. The NO vote saved Colombia, and did us all an immense favor.
Other than that…