By Ludwig Vegas
It happened during the launch of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Under pressure to maintain the shuttle program on schedule and keep costs on budget, NASA and the manufacturer’ engineers decided to green light the obiter for launch in spite of initial doubts about the solid rocket booster O rings performance at cold temperatures. The need to achieve a high number of missions per year (9 launches in 1985) and the added unspoken pressure created by the optimal state of other teams and divisions involved in the launch contributed to high-risk decision being made by the engineers involved. Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.
What the heck does that tragedy have to do with the peace process in Colombia? Quite a bit. The peace plan led by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos resembles the decision making process that culminated with the Challenger explosion. If we were to speak to then Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos back in 2008 about the insurgent movement known as FARC, we would see that Santos had a strong position against the group. After all, he had to approve Operation Phoenix, the military attack that killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes. In that raid, Colombian Army helicopters flew into neighboring Ecuador’s sovereign airspace, ambushing the insurgents’ camp in the middle of the night. FARC computers were seized and – among other things – information was acquired linking the subversive movement to Hugo Chavez and his government. If we had asked Santos in 2008 whether he would grant FARC leadership a full pardon for crimes such as murder, kidnapping and rape, whether he would reward them with seats in Congress, personal protection secret service style, he would have probably said, Never.
However, eight years later, President Santos is a different man. He wants peace with his sworn enemies. A noble cause no doubt. His detractors might argue Santos’ legacy is what’s at stake here, becoming the president, who achieved the unthinkable: peace in Colombia after 50 years of war with insurgent groups. Others think he’s hoping to get the Nobel Peace Prize. His supporters say he wants what’s best for Colombia and Peace is it. Regardless of what his true motivations might be, in the long, arduous, four-year peace negotiation with FARC leaders, Santos has made one concession after the other in order to keep FARC leadership from walking away from the table. The process has gotten to the point where signing a peace treaty has become the only goal regardless of the cost. And the price appears to be quite hefty. FARC leaders will get guaranteed seats in Congress (whether people vote for them or not), a television channel, radio stations, a stipend paid for by the government (thus tax payers), not having to serve any time in jail for crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape, rape of minors, terrorism, and drug trafficking among others. FARC leaders won’t have to reveal the drug cartels’ supply chains and distribution routes. They won’t have to disclose the location of monies amassed from drug trafficking. They won’t have to reveal the names of the Venezuelan generals and other government officials involved in the Cartel de los Soles, a drug cartel whose top boss is alleged to be Diosdado Cabello, former president of the National Assembly, etc.
If there was ever an incentive out in the world to become an insurgent, this is it. The dangers of setting this precedent are wide raging in a democracy where the rule of law must be the true north. As much as we wish Colombia the very best in its future, it is a fact that once the so-called peace is confirmed in the October 2nd Plebiscite, there will still remain another armed insurgent group, ELN, and the drug cartels will continue to spread their terror. Thus hoping for a true Kumbaya moment is naive at best.
With the monies accumulated from dealings with the cartels and the support and advice of Communist leaders of countries like Cuba and Venezuela, the political party formed by FARC top commanders will be a political force to be taken very seriously. They are on record stating that their ultimate goal is 21st century socialism Venezuela style. Colombian should look at their neighbors last time Hugo Chavez won a plebiscite. It didn’t end all that well.
In conclusion, calling “peace plan” a plan that will not guarantee absolute peace is disingenuous. It should be called the impunity plan. Although that name might dissuade voters from supporting it. Santos’ marketing plot is clever because not voting for “peace” would be like not voting for the “Patriot Act” in the US. The tragedy is that once the Colombian Constitution is altered to cater to a bunch of terrorists, there might not be a way to put the country back together.
Like in the Challenger tragedy, the forward momentum to launch Santos’ peace plan might be impossible to reverse. In his frenzy to reach for the heavens, Santos may explode and burn after liftoff, taking the whole nation with him.