More Collateral Damage From Obama's Cuba Policy

Monday, March 2, 2015
The negative effects of Obama's Cuba policy are already being felt in Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro has intensified his repression and assault on democracy.  Click here for more.

However, it's not the only nation in the region that faces collateral damage from Obama's erred Cuba policy.

By Mary O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama Elbows Into the Colombia Peace Talks

Meddling in the FARC negotiations advances his Cuba policy; the rest is collateral damage.

There was a time when the U.S. might have used its superpower role to undermine the despotism that has taken hold in Venezuela. That those days are long gone is a point worth emphasizing as the Obama administration dispatches a special envoy to join Colombia’s peace talks with the terrorist group FARC.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Bernard Aronson on Feb. 20 in a short speech peppered with praise and platitudes for the Colombian democracy, as if preserving it is a high priority for the Obama administration. Would that it were.

President Obama’s top priority in the region is normalizing relations with the Cuban military dictatorship. Raúl Castro says that cannot happen unless Cuba is taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism—even though the regime supports the FARC and gives members of its rebel army safe haven.

So the only way to fix the problem is to change the definition of the FARC through a peace agreement that the Colombian people approve. U.S. involvement is intended to raise the odds of that happening.

Colombians, beware. The U.S. will be eager to put its stamp on a peace deal, no matter how much political or economic power it cedes to the FARC. But once it’s done, Colombians will be on their own. If things go wrong, nobody is going to pull their civil liberties out of the fire. Just ask the Venezuelans.

After almost 3½ years of “negotiating” with the Colombian government, the FARC remains intransigent. Last week FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said “the surrendering of weapons is out of the question” and that for his side “there will be zero jail time.”

Colombian President Manuel Santos ’s response during the negotiations has been to offer more concessions. In December he proposed downgrading the FARC’s extensive drug trafficking from a felony to a political crime, which could carry no penalty. He has talked of letting them do “community service” in lieu of jail time for their many atrocities. Some congressmen have called for giving the FARC unelected seats in Congress.

Colombians are not likely to approve such a lopsided deal. It’s not that they are unwilling to forgive, as the president’s supporters allege. The broader worry is that the FARC will use its illicit wealth and political influence to further undermine Colombia’s rule of law and its fragile republican institutions.

Mr. Santos has to allay those fears if he expects to win approval of the FARC’s version of peace. That’s why he’s bringing in reinforcements from Washington, as if the U.S. will be acting as a guarantor of the Colombian democracy.

This is a dangerous trap for Colombians.

Next door, the Venezuelan military dictatorship has declared that it is now legal for police to shoot demonstrators in the streets. The courts are locking up political enemies and the state-run economy is in ruins. But it is important to remember that absolute power was not taken in a bloody revolution or by rolling tanks into Caracas. The independent media were not destroyed with one blow and the military was not purged at once.

Hugo Chávez won an election in December 1998 and then gradually and methodically dismantled the institutions—in civil society and government—which stood in the way of his total control. Plentiful oil revenues in the first decade of the 21st century made it easy to buy off much of the Venezuelan electorate, both rich and poor.

The strategy of burrowing from within has been used by former terrorists all over the region, from Argentina to Nicaragua and El Salvador. Its outlines were minted in Cuba.

In a January 2007 Americas column I noted that Bolivian President Evo Morales, who used violence to get to power, was boasting of the advice given him by Fidel Castro on how to eliminate the opposition. Mr. Morales had said that Castro told him “not to stage an armed uprising” but to “make transformations, democratic revolutions, what Chávez is doing.”

Handing the FARC—which is unlikely to give up Colombia’s cocaine routes no matter what its negotiators claim—political and economic power invites a similar outcome. The country may find its institutions are strong enough to repel a takeover from within. But given the record around the region of countries that granted amnesty to terrorists, it is an enormous risk. It cannot be a coincidence that in Peru, where the Shining Path leaders went to jail, democracy has so far survived the sweep of chavismo.

In a region where the left normally demands that the U.S. stay out of things, it’s logical to smell a rat with the acceptance of the U.S. envoy in the Havana negotiations. The Obama administration is wading into Colombia’s peace talks on behalf of Cuba. All the downside of the trade will belong to the Colombian people.