Dear Uribistas: Colombia's Problem Right Now Isn't The FARC — It's You
COMMENTARY What's driving Colombia's deadly unrest isn't the country's former leftist rebels, as South Florida expats insist, but its lingering reactionary rules.
The exploding powder keg of social unrest rocking Colombia right now had a lot of fuses.
There’s the pandemic that’s lacerated the country economically. There’s the tax hike plan President Iván Duque devised to stop the bleeding but which blew up in his face like an Andean volcano. There’s decades – centuries – of some of the worst economic inequality in the Americas that keeps grinding way too many Colombians’ patience and aspirations.
What did not cause this week’s street eruptions in Colombia, though, is the FARC.
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The FARC are Marxist guerrillas who kept Colombia locked in a half-century-long civil war until five years ago, when a peace accord was finally reached. You can blame the FARC for a lot of terrible things in the past conflict, and some "dissident" FARC do still fight. But you can’t finger them for the present upheaval, for the protests and riots that have seen at least 25 people killed in cities like Bogotá and Cali.
Yet listen to South Florida’s airwaves — from Spanish-language radio to mainstream English-language TV — and you’ll hear Colombian expat after Colombian expat here declare unequivocally that behind their patria’s social meltdown is in fact the FARC. It’s the FARC and all the leftist, socialista demons they see in their expat sleep conspiring to destroy Colombia and then Florida and then the U.S. and then Christian civilization as we know it.
To Uribistas it's all and always about the socialista demons they see in their expat sleep conspiring to destroy Colombia, then Florida, then the U.S., then Christian civilization as we know it.
Conservative Colombian expat businessman Fabio Andrade – who in Doral last year publicly urged then-President Trump to revoke former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ U.S. visa because Santos had negotiated peace with the guerrillas – was on every subtropical frequency announcing:
“There’s no question this is an international movement that’s trying to take over Colombia! Who else but the FARC would want to have a country with no justice, with no discipline, with no law and order? They are fueling this situation!”
No, Fabio, not this time. What’s most troubling about his war-of-the-worlds hysteria is that it obscures – it’s meant to obscure – the real reasons for Colombia’s current turmoil. Uribistas like him – so named after their demigod, right-wing former President Alvaro Uribe – don’t want folks here or there to realize that what’s fueling this situation is more Uribista than Marxista. That it’s not about the leftist rebels but rather the reactionary rules that sparked Colombia’s 20th-century civil war and sadly persist in the 21st century.
Did I mention some of the worst economic inequality in the western hemisphere? Make that the second worst, behind benighted Honduras, according to the index the World Bank uses. When Santos and the FARC inked the peace agreement in 2016, Colombia still bore the hemisphere’s most medieval land-ownership inequity: astonishingly, two-thirds of its productive land was held by just 0.4 percent of its productive land owners – meaning, 1 out every 250 of them possessed that much.
Under the peace process, the government was supposed to tackle socio-economic millstones like that. But critics say Duque, an Uribe protégé elected in 2018, has been much less focused on reform than on recrimination, scapegoating the FARC for Colombia’s problems because it’s just the easier thing for a conservative politico to do. So it’s all the less surprising that when he recently unveiled his tax revenue plan, ordinary Colombians were fed-up if not furious at what they considered the heavier burden he was asking them to carry compared to the rich.
In fairness to Fabio Andrade, I want to believe he understands that anger because I’ve covered the charity work he does for street children back in Colombian cities like Medellín. And believe me, if I did see solid evidence that the remnants of the FARC are pulling the strings of this week’s protests, I’d join him in accusing them. I spent time with the FARC during the war and learned to loathe them: while they may have had valid reasons for taking up arms in the 1960s, by 2000 they’d morphed from Marxists into Mafiosi, from Guerrillas into Goodfellas.
What I hate most about the FARC today is that their gangster ghost gives retro, red-baiting Uribismo a convenient means of deflecting attention from what rots Colombia for real.
If the Uribistas keep deflecting, eventually Colombia's FARC phantom will come back to life for real.