Against Peace — Media Style

By Christian Scheinpflug

This post appeared elsewhere in a slightly different version on November 4, 2016.

On October 2, Colombians rejected the peace deal the Santos administration and the FARC guerrilla had negotiated. The outcome shocked especially those who thought Kant’s got it right. In his Perpetual Peace thesis, the German philosopher claims that, if given a choice, people would oppose war because they have to shoulder the costs.

Kant wasn’t wrong entirely, though. Rural areas, consumed by the war, approved, but urban centres, where the war appeared mainly in the form of hyperbolic reporting, rejected it. A finer analysis, however, must consider reasons why those who don’t lose blood still wish their fellow citizens kill, die, and suffer.

Alma Guillermoprieto astutely traces some reasons for NO in the NY Review of Books: gay rights, abortion, fairer land distribution for peasants. And these rights are unintended consequences of liberal capitalism. That particular system, still favoured but not unchallenged in industrialised countries, introduces at least minor protections against predatory tendencies of selfish competition. Such policies generate broad acceptance of the system and create quick profit via consumption. As a relatively wealthy middle class grows (sometimes despite appalling levels of inequality), in liberal democratic countries at least, demands for social freedoms gain traction, too — just buying stuff won’t do. Liberals and conservatives usually part ways at this point.

Liberals like President Santos welcome the rupture that a peace deal would bring to Colombian society, as the ensuing ‘peace dividend’ would accelerate foreign capital inflow into hitherto volatile regions and expand the consumer base. Yet, in such a society conservative landowners would lose influence. Thus, a common tactic to ward off this threat is to suggest socialist ghosts lurk around the corner.

Ex-President Álvaro Uribe has ridden this horse for a long time — and outlets like Chile’s most influential newspaper, La Tercera, have provided the food to keep it going.

The paper displayed Mr Uribe’s absurdities prominently on its front page in both the print and online editions of September 28. Alluding to Chile’s holy cow, the economy, the headline read “Chileans wouldn’t hand over their economy to terrorists” and the digital version came with a near-instant barrage of tweets to transmit Mr Uribe’s views live and unchallenged. Mr Uribe bolstered his statement about the economy by arguing that the FARC were sitting on a million dollar investment. Even though the FARC may sit on a million dollar investment that’s a far-cry from handing the economy to the group. Such reporting says less about the Colombian referendum and more about the sorry state of Chilean journalism.

To clarify, the peace may taste bitter, but if (a big if) civil wars are winnable, victory comes only at the cost of near-complete societal devastation because the enemy lives within. Admittedly, seeing the FARC turning into a legitimate movement, even political party, must hurt many Colombians but perhaps they may find solace in seeing their children growing up in peace.

But María Paz Salaz, who interviewed Mr. Uribe for La Tercera, ignored this effect completely in her following analysis where she claimed that smaller groups like the ELN would simply take over the FARC’s drug business. Yet, she likely knew that’s a falsehood, since it’s no secret that the ELN is ready to negotiate a deal too. But apparently that doesn’t fit the narrative of those who own Mrs Paz Salaz’s integrity. Sure, drugs would not have disappeared from the country but a deal can include provision that former guerrillas have to help to upend the narco-business. After all, they know production locations, suppliers, enablers, trafficking routes, and more.

The repeated finger-pointing at the FARC’s crimes read pretty weird too, considered that Mr Uribe himself is a shady figure in the Colombian underbelly. And though La Tercera is at the forefront of whipping up the threat from crime, it never questioned Mr Uribe’s sincerity. Reason to do so exists. In 1991, the US Defense Intelligence Agency linked Mr Uribe to the narco business. Although he strongly refuted the allegations, he never came clean entirely. In Colombia, it’s an open secret that he favours extraditions of ex-paramilitaries so they can’t implicate him. Readers of Chile’s popular wouldn’t hear about that though.

Chilean-Colombian relations in particular and international relations in general would lose greatly, too. Renewed fighting would divert resources and attention from Colombia’s strong alliance with Chile. This works to the advantage of the Bolivian-Venezuelan-Cuban axis and thus weakens Chile’s position against Bolivia — which will remain a headache for years to come. Moreover, rehabilitated guerrillas could serve as levers to access the Maduro government and help to free Chilean journalist Braulio Jatar Alonso from his captivity in Venezuela.

Last, continuing war in Latin America weakens the region’s position in the multipolar world. The war inevitably produces violence, drugs, and refugees across the entire continent. These problems put middle powers off and provide ample opportunity for greater powers to penetrate country’s sovereignty. So peace in Colombia should be of interest for all of Latin America, above all Chile. But media oligarchs just don’t care. Elites never push the national interest — they push their own.

Christian is a columnist at Chile Today. He’s also director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and co-editor of E-IR’s book on International Relations Theory. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrScheinpflug

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