If the FARC deal passes, kiss Colombia goodbye

Talk of non-interventionism from the Venezuelan regime belies an eagerness to expand influence beyond their borders. For many years, they have had their eyes on Colombia; now the so-called Peace Agreement will open the door for 21st-century socialism, perhaps irreversibly.

The lengthy negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) proceeded under the protection of communist Cuba in Havana, after five decades of conflict with the brutal terrorists. Now the 297-page agreement is up for approval on Sunday. It needs a majority of votes and support from 13 percent of the electorate.

On both counts, passage looks probable. Half of constituents plan to vote, and the “yes” side has the edge in support. Many on the “no” side will abstain and discourage participation, since they deem the referendum unconstitutional.

Almost no one will read the agreement before voting, and the devil is in the details. Adamant support from Bolivarian Alliance neighbors, however, indicates what lies beneath the surface. This bloc, the brainchild of Hugo Chávez, opposes US influence in the Americas and advocates 21st-century socialism. Presidents Rafael Correa and Nicolás Maduro continue Chávez’s ambition in Ecuador and Venezuela.

These regimes have some of the most suffocated economies in world and a flagrant disregard for human rights such as free speech. Venezuela came in 159th and last in the latest Fraser Institute freedom ranking, and Ecuador is not much better at 142nd.

Venezuela is now more violent and dangerous than Colombia, with regime-backed militias such as the Tupamaro. Last week a gang took over the Caracas University Hospital, and over 100 Caracas policemen have been murdered in 2016.

The Marxist FARC are overt Chavistas and have a strong presence in Venezuela — with mutual affection expressed by both Chávez and Maduro — so they have negotiated in that direction. The agreement has 161 mandates, with 114 solely on the government.

Beyond impunity, the terms create the institutional and political gateway for a new member of this Bolivarian Alliance. Colombia would ignite the Chavista dream of a socialist Gran Colombia, a short-lived 19th-century republic under Simón Bolívar.

The agreement sets up a Reconciliation Council, local councils, long-term agrarian reform, and 10 guaranteed seats for the FARC through 2022: five in both the Senate and the House. In other words, new socialist bureaucracies and guaranteed political power.

The FARC have largely boycotted past elections, but would be a force to be reckoned with. In part, they have already succeeded, since President Juan Manuel Santos’s coalition included sympathizers whose priority was the agreement. They would be able to draw on drug-cartel funds, activist networks, violence and intimidation, and state propaganda from the Chavista TeleSUR. All TeleSUR presidents have been Colombian since the 2005 founding, with an eye on influence there.

The agreement prohibits drug trafficking, but some FARC fronts will likely ignore this. The like-minded guerrilla Popular Liberation Army is also ready to move into vacated territory and sustain the profits.

Further, many politicians support the FARC goal of 21st-century socialism. That includes Gustavo Petro Urrego, a former Bogotá mayor, guerrilla, and now presidential aspirant with an approval rating of 40 percent.

To make matters worse, the deal comes when Colombians are vulnerable and desperate. As Colombian Senator Iván Duque Márquez has noted, “[Colombia] has the perfect conditions forChavista rhetoric: economic crisis and corruption.”

Like other Latin American countries, Colombia already has socialist leanings. At 116th on the Fraser Institute ranking, she only needs a nudge to line up with her authoritarian neighbors.

This downward spiral would be hastened by the cost of the agreement’s implementation, which necessitates national debt and new taxes. Negotiation was in the tens of millions of dollars, but that is pennies compared to what is in store, up to $187 billion in the first 10 years. One reason is the bribe for FARC members: $700 up front and $217 per month for two years for 10,000-17,500 people.

Gushing international praise from the likes of President Barack Obama is naiveté and wishful thinking. There are reasons why former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) rejected any concessions. He understood that there was no common ground, and that the FARC would renege on any agreement.

Colombia yearns for peace, but she need not capitulate before Latin America’s most bloodthirsty guerrillas. Voters can still reject this agreement and pursue a just and lasting solution.

Fergus Hodgson (@FergHodgson) is an economic consultant with the Fraser Institute in Canada and a research fellow with the Tax Revolution Institute in Washington, DC.

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