The historical perspective
Exactly one hundred years ago, Marco Fidel Suarez took over the presidency of Colombia and coined the foreign policy guidelines called Respice Polum (“Let’s look at the pole” or “towards the North”) or the Suarez Doctrine. Since then, and with few interruptions such as that of nationalist General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-57) and less stridently, in the period of Ernesto Samper (94-98), Colombia has acted subordinate to the expansionist interests of the US, limiting the sovereignty of its international relations. Shortly before, Colombia had lost its Central American province, which became independent Panama in 1903 due to the interest of the United States in building the inter-oceanic canal. Suarez was a major player in the ratification of the Urrutia-Thompson Treaty, signed in 1914, which granted some compensation to Colombia for its territorial loss and attempted to “normalize” the broken relationship with the United States due to the Panamanian secession.
The Chapultepec Act of 1945, the signing of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance in 1947 and the creation of the OAS in 1948 – precisely in Bogotá – constituted the implementation after the Second World War of the Monroe Doctrine, giving legality to the hegemony and interventionist possibility of the USA in the region.
The death of the liberal politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was followed by the internal war.
The National Front (1958-1974) and the internal war itself were the shield and excuse of the plutocracy allied with the USA against any progressive or leftist attempt to change things. The same objective of military and civilian control, under the guise of the fight against narcotics, was pursued by the Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia.
What’s new at the front? America’s current main enemy
In January of this year, the Trump administration announced the renewal of its national security strategy – hitherto focused on the “fight against global terrorism” – placing Russia and China’s competition on the world stage as the main threat vectors. What it wants to avoid is the loss of American hegemony and the rise of the East as the main planetary pole.
The US has managed to improve its relative geopolitical position in Latin America, following the parliamentary coups in Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil, the victory of Macri and the Red Party in Paraguay, the re-election of Piñera in Chile, the shift to the right of Moreno in Ecuador and the weakening of the FMLN government in El Salvador. The northern country is attacking Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia to eliminate all pockets of left-wing resistance to its hegemony.
However, the situation is precarious and unstable. In Peru, PPK has already been fired and the new president Vizcarra is in a weak position. In Brazil, the coup plotter Temer does not have popular approval, as does Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras, who was re-elected in fraudulent circumstances. In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales is being asked to resign. In Mexico, López Obrador’s progressive reformism will clearly win the elections. In Argentina, the US has established an economic protectorate through vulture funds and the IMF, which augurs well for enormous social conflict in the face of Macri’s already evident economic and social failure.
In Colombia, after the Peace Accords, military actions have decreased, although selective assassinations of peasant and social leaders continue, against the protagonists of local opposition to landowning feudalism, extractive mega-projects and infrastructure.
On the other hand, Colombia continues to be the main supplier of drugs to the U.S. market, increasing the area under coca cultivation in recent years, despite indiscriminate fumigation, institutional and foreign warfare. This shows – at the very least – the ineffectiveness of such planning. Or, perhaps, that the undeclared intentions of such plans never contemplated an effective reduction in drug crime.
Beyond the statistical veracity or not of this figure, this constitutes a propitious argument for continuing US military and security action on Colombian territory. In the last visit to Colombia by now former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Colombian government assured its willingness to form a joint task force to combat drug trafficking. The US, for its part, announced the renewal of cooperation – a continuation of Plan Colombia conceived during the presidency of the conservative Pastrana – for five more years. I mean, more of the same.
As if that were not warmongering enough, “the Nobel Peace Prize” Santos recently added Colombia as a global partner of NATO, offering the country as a beachhead in South America.
In regional terms, Colombia has suspended its activities in UNASUR and is openly conspiring against the legitimate Bolivarian government of Venezuela in conjunction with the dozen countries in the Lima group.
So what does the outcome of the second round mean for the region?
If you look at the map of the current governments, Latin America and South America are divided, divided by the influence of the United States, the propaganda of the concentrated media and a mixture of the well-to-do and the nouveau riche in each country that refuse to show solidarity with the dispossessed and discriminated sectors, the majority of them mixed race, black and native to the region.
In this context and from the point of view of foreign policy, the triumph of Ivan Duque represents a reinforcement of the current Colombian policy subordinated to the US, an increase in the risk of reviving the internal social conflict and of committing Colombia to warlike actions against Venezuela and other regions of the planet.
The (s)election of Duque by his supporters augurs well for the permanence of U.S. military personnel and the use of Colombian bases by the U.S., the reversal of the sovereign integration processes and puts at risk the Declaration of Latin America as a Zone of Peace achieved at the CELAC meeting in 2014.
Duque will be a weak president in the hands of the oligarchy and the partidocratic forces at its service, which will produce an accentuation of neoliberalism and concentrated ownership of land, finance and the media, distancing any possibility of limiting or diminishing the enormous gaps in inequality.
In short, in geopolitical terms, everything indicates that the new president will continue with the policy of the “two-headed single party” of being merely a satellite of US interests in Latin America.
Petro, supported by much of Colombia’s progressive arc – and especially by women and young people, the backbone of peace activism – would have been a strong impetus to preserve what was gained in the Peace Accords and the possibility of progressive reconciliation. It would have been the progressive government that Colombia lacked, while other Latin American countries advanced in integration and social improvements with Lula, Cristina and Nestor Kirchner, Correa and even more markedly with Chávez and Evo.
There is no doubt that in this second round, the continuity of the partidocracy triumphed, in a close coalition with the opinion of the hegemonic media, the conservative churches and the strategy of the US administration. The candidate from the single biparty, oligarchy and conservation won.
But the figures also show that there is an important sector of the population that wants a different Colombia. In this sense, the eight million votes obtained are a strong voice that place Gustavo Petro as the leader of the opposition, who together with the citizen and rural resistance will make it difficult for the new government to execute its program without further ado. This is likely to be evident in territorial construction and in future municipal and national elections. Power is not assured of the future.
The election in Colombia showed, in coincidence with more general processes, that the path towards a more humane Latin America is the articulation in diversity of the humanist forces of the left and social progressivism within the framework of a renewal of the transformative projects and with the eminent role of women and young people.
Translated from Spanish by Pressenza London