He has a name, he’s no ghost. Juan. Specifically, Juan Manuel. Santos didn’t have much talent, he was a journalist, but he went far, the furthest a representative of that field can go, he reinvented himself politically. We’re going to leave his incomplete work, Colombia’s Pax Imperfecta, aside to focus on his government’s other aspects.
Lineage and charges
Let’s start unfair. Santos, a journalist by dad’s grace, owner of the newspaper El Tiempo and politician thanks to that well-oiled machinery of money, influences and lineage. Money led him to prestigious private universities – you never know if you buy your degree or earn it but it doesn’t really matter – he received scholarships and as a good Bogota citizen was an avid representative of his country’s Coffee Growers…
For 10 years he acted as representative of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in London to – after 10 years of not practicing journalism – then become sub-editor of El Tiempo. A decade later he emerged as Minister of Foreign Trade during Gaviria’s presidency, of Finance and Public Credit under Pastrana and National Defense under Uribe. He danced with everyone, even the ugliest ones. At some point the Colombian Government invented economic incentives due to the emergence of illegal armed groups, guerrillas. Colombia wouldn’t belong to Latin America if it hadn’t been for the False Positives phenomenon, civilians who were kidnapped, murdered and disguised as guerrilla fighters to improve the income of the Army’s bounty hunters.
During Alvaro Uribe’s government, extrajudicial civilian executions by the army rose by 150%, just when Santos was acting as Minister of Defense. His reaction to those murders, of which The Guardian speaks of 10,000 cases, was admitting to the facts and ordering an investigation which he’d carry out himself, the one responsible for the entire mess.
A very false positive
Colombia is a country made for crime and I’m not talking about Pablo Escobar’s time, I’m talking about Colombia today: according to a report made by 500 social organizations, presented before the UN Human Rights Council, it’s estimated that impunity in Colombia reaches 90% in human rights violations cases. In the case of the great investigation Santos launched, it’s even worse: that report reveals that, of the 838 criminal investigations made for extrajudicial executions committed by the Armed Forces, only 8.35% reached the trial stage and 3.22 % were condemned. But who cares about the Soacha deaths? Let’s be honest.
90 percent of a very convenient impunity, a figure that the UN rapporteur raised to 98.5 percent in 2010. But let’s not talk about peace yet, let’s talk about other insignificant issues such as equity, education, pensions, insecurity, the environment and public health. Santos’ defense administration was truly a disaster.
Today, Colombia is the most unequal country in Latin America, as a recent OECD study suggests. It’s a country in which the wealth of a few grows and in which a large part of the population is moving into the world of informal employment. In Colombia, it takes 11 generations to get out of poverty, the study indicates, a girl or boy born today would have to wait about 330 years to get out of poverty. That’s part of Santos’ legacy.
Colombia has poor results in the international tests that measure education quality, a factor that is essential for social mobility and which determines this inherited poverty. In Colombia, barely 11% of students have resilient scores, that is they obtain higher grades than their socioeconomic status could predict. The results are clear, Colombian education policies haven’t been successful.
Pensions in Colombia more than a reality are an abstract idea. The informality of which we talked under inequality comes with an extra: only 20 million out of the 36 million employed Colombians are affiliated to the pension system and of those only 9 million make regular payments. Work informality exceeds 60 percent in Santos’s country. And the resources raised are largely used to subsidize the highest pensions, specifically 86 percent. Family, children, everyone but the state covers for most of Colombia’s elderly.
In such an unequal country that mostly strives to show a good face to visitors, insecurity isn’t a rare thing, in fact, street, home and vehicle thefts continue to increase in Colombia. Despite the decreasing number of homicides seen in 2017, robberies grew in some of the country’s main cities. Be it in Cartagena or Santa Marta, Bogotá or Medellín, insecurity worries even the United Nations. On July 30, the Security Council mentioned their worries about the insecurity, drug trafficking and violence currently occurring in certain areas of Colombia. An insecurity that grew, in some parts, due to bad management after signing the peace agreement and due to the gangs, the bandas criminales that grew after the FARC-EP was demobilized.
Defending the Environment in Santos’ Colombia is synonymous with death, in 2017, 207 activists were murdered. Also here: impunity. That’s what a Global Witness study showed after analyzing the murder of 122 Colombian people, land and environmental defenders, registered between July 2010 and June 2016. The study concluded that in 102 cases an investigation was initiated; but only nine cases reached a verdict and only eight ended in conviction, the impunity rate is of 92 percent, according to that NGO. Assassinations, which are partly the result of an uncontrolled mining industry, and of an oil production that knows no standards and in which spills are common. Pollution in the big cities and the Caribbean seas are another of the fields in which Santos’s long presidency has failed. Also talking renewable energy he’s clearly no visionary:
Four percent of children under five are undernourished, a figure offered by the health ministry itself. Child malnutrition continues to ravish the country, so far this year about 185 children have died due to it. EPSs are the private insurers that administer the little coverage that Colombians enjoy: the denunciation of the violation of patients’ rights is constant in Colombia, those who don’t have the appropriate resources aren’t treated. A reality that differs greatly from Santos’s Brave New World.
Seven key sectors, two presidential terms and a nefarious legacy. Not only unsatisfactory, more of a tragedy. But what does it matter if everything advances peacefully? Peacefully?
The Colombian peace is in process. Even though the FARC-EP guerrillas have in fact been disarmed, the balance so far has been unsatisfactory. But it is true that Colombia suffers less having disarticulated – partially – the largest guerrilla. However, it’s estimated that up to 1,000 ex-combatants are still armed, which is equivalent to 9 percent of the ex-guerrilla, these groups operate in 41 municipalities and the authorities link them directly with drug trafficking and illegal mining.
About 3,600 ex-guerrilla fighters have left the 26 socio-economic reintegration zones, in most cases because of “loss of trust” in the process or because they decided to go back to their families, according to the UN Verification Mission. The figure represents 45% of the 8,000 ex-guerrillas and militiamen who joined the disarmament. It involves thousands of people who find themselves in a situation that could easily be reversed, meaning those forgotten fighters could drop back any minute into crime.
And another fact: 55% of the commitments assumed by the government as part of the agreement, which in addition to guerrilla disarmament included rural and political reforms, and reparation and justice for the victims, have remained on paper; only eight of the 27 laws required to “make peace a reality” have been approved.
What’s even more worrying: at the start of the peace process, Colombia had 47,000 hectares of coca plantations, the raw material required for cocaine, but by the end of the negotiations the narco-cultivations had tripled to 146,000 hectares.
A great achievement for Colombia? No. It’s easy to talk about history, about Santos’s role, but the story of those lost generations that will never leave poverty or that of the millions of Colombians who live in a risky situation, in poverty, without education or perspectives… is another. Santos hasn’t been a great public manager, but an expert in merchandising peace, a lover of foreigners and an impostor for Colombians. A smoke-seller. No more, no less.