Saturday, November 20, 2010

"I need an International Conflict: I have major interests to hide"

A few days ago I wrote about the dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, using the argument that countries with low quality of their democracies have a higher risk of going to a conflict than the one that two democratic societies have to fight among themselves. In these days numerous articles on the subject have been written, and it is argued that Ortega has an interest in awakening the nationalism of his people at a time in which he advances political reforms that will allow him to run for the presidency again in 2011 and eventually remain in power (eg 1, 2). After reading the comments of the forum in the Nicaraguan newspapers, it is clear that the strategy has served its role fully. As I will show later, in Colombia this strategy also has applied effectively.

Nicaragua, the poorest country in the region after Haiti and in a continuous deterioration of its precarious democratic institutions, not only promotes instability in the relations with its southern neighbor, but now involves Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Colombia, in what Ortega has described as an attack against Nicaraguan sovereignty; if anyone thought that "conspiracy theories" were over, here is a clear counterexample.

However, things in Costa Rica are not very different: the new government of Laura Chinchilla is not very popular, so the nationalism aroused by the invasion of Nicaragua offers significant political benefits. Not in vain Dora Maria Tellez, dissident from the Sandinista National Liberation Front, explains: "five soldiers in a swamp is not an invasion, but it is not a friendly gesture or a correct way to solve problems either... in both governments there is an intention to prolong artificially and give a greater level of conflict to the issue because it is being used to polish the images of both, the government policies of Mrs. Laura Chinchilla and those of Ortega's." The unfortunate thing about all this is that the issue of the conflict -real or not- makes forget about the political reforms carried out in Nicaragua and that in case of their continuation will derail the democratic progress achieved in recent decades. Only when this happens the true dimension of the supposed differences between the two countries will be revealed.

An example of this, in another context, is the scandal that came to light this week in Colombia with the statement of Minister of Interior, German Vargas Lleras, according to whom "the previous administration left the pot scraped." Fabio Valencia Cossio, the former Minister, acknowledged the signing of contracts for more than 6 billion dollars in just four days, coincidentally this occurred right before the end of the government of Alvaro Uribe. Similarly, in an investigation of RCN, not precisely one that contradicts Mr. Uribe, it is shown the signing of contracts for 1.7 billion dollars during the last week of the previous government.

But what does all this have to do with the subject of international conflict? Well, while the various ministers of the previous government gave away contracts, committing future resources of the nation and making more difficult the financial situation of the incoming government, Colombians, full of that passion that distinguishes us, were thinking of the imminent possibility of a conflict with "evil" Chavez's Venezuela. That is, the argument of the new evidence about the presence of the FARC in Venezuelan territory just two weeks before the end of government was but a simple strategy to divert the attention of the public away from what really happened. At that time the central article from Semana, a Colombian news magazine, referring to the rupture of relations with neighboring Colombia, asked whether it "Was Necessary?". Well, the answer we have today is that it actually was very necessary to disseminate the idea of a war with Venezuela; it was the only way that the media and the public would be concerned with an unrealistic problem, so the government would be in position, in Vargas Lleras's words, of scraping the pot of state finances.

What the examples from Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Venezuela and Colombia, leave us is the typical manipulation of the people when their rulers have interests "above" those of them: political legitimacy, in the first case- economic benefits, in the second. Commenting on Nicaragua, Colombian newspaper El Espectador in an editorial this week mentioned the phrase of Laureano Gómez (a former conservative President): "Peace, peace on the inside. War, war on the borders" as an incentive for governments with political, economic and social difficulties. We just need to add to this phrase that the chauvinism that characterizes many of our people is, paradoxically, the key for their rulers to abuse them politically, economically and socially. A more cosmopolitan and, thereby, less patriotic attitude, will certainly be a guarantee of greater political control over those in power.

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