Ever since I began following the relationship between rule of law and development under the wise supervision of professor Gustav Papanek, Colombia came as one of the big five. These were countries whose elites had taken rule of law seriously. And although the first three spots were always assigned to Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica Colombia and Peru came fourth and fifth in the race. More recently however two threats arose in the Colombian horizon. First drug production and traffic which began to penetrate all instances of Colombian life in the seventies and eighties. Hard currency tied to the drug business was so important to balance of payments equilibrium that a “special window” was created at the central bank to normalize such currency. Tied to the first came corruption which seemed to skyrocket over the past 15 years. As law enforcement was boosted by Plan Colombia, drug business margins increased due to supply reduction and so did the cash to buy out the police; City Halls, governorships, Congress and eventually army leaders. Drug corruption began to wash away adherence to the rule of law.
By the time Juan Manuel Santos was elected, drug cartels boasted their superior tactical capacity over the Colombian Army and their influence over politics. At least that is what transpires from the trials of former cartel leaders such as Carlos Lehder who also indicated that the Castro brothers had partnered with the Medellin Cartel. Santos correctly chose to negotiate peace with FARC in the belief that years of staunch fight had weakened them. He however was wrong in treating the group as a traditional guerrilla movement. For too long a time FARC had turned into an armed weapon for part of the drug business. As a result, he entered into a peace agreement that seriously affects rule of law. The Colombian people for the first time in two decades reacted in defense of the rule of law voting down the peace treaties.
This stand was reinforced on March the 11th when Ivan Duque form the Democratic Center Party won the primaries to represent centrist political parties This united front stands a good chance of drawing the rule of law line to FARC in years to come. They also won most senate seats. The liberal Party on its part swept the lower house of congress
Indeed, the next decade will be decisive to Colombia’s democracy. The next administration will need to reestablish balance between democratic institution building which basically is rule of law and the terms of the peace treaties. And this can only happen in so far as the coalition formed in March will continue to operate and build the institutions that will secure peace without impunity.
On the FARC front they seem to have a Florentine strategy full of tromp d’oeils and complex strategic roads. They entered the race with 10 guaranteed seats in Congress. Then they launched the candidacy of their leader Timoshenko for president fully knowing that he would be rejected by the Colombian people. But the rejection gave FARC strategists clues as to how to unfold their political campaign. As Mr Timoshenko’s campaign fizzled out, FARC is coalescing with two potential winners: Gustavo Petro and Sergio Fajardo. Both would be good transition leaders to prepare Colombia for the election of a FARC leader four years down the road. This strategy however could meet severe limitations should the nascent centrist coalition gain ground and political traction. Because FARC’s artificially created competitive advantage derived from the peace treaties would disappear and their candidates would have to compete on equal footing with the rest of political leaders in Colombia. Then the country would be retaking its traditional stand in favor of the rule of law.