Geopolitics

Colombia: The Real Reasons Uribe Sabotaged FARC Deal

Uribe says his piece, in a 2015 file photo
Uribe says his piece, in a 2015 file photo
José E. Mosquera

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ â€" The Democratic Center, a right-wing political party led by Colombia's former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, was vehemently opposed to the peace deal with the country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The accord to end nearly a half-century of conflict, which was ultimately rejected in the surprise victory of the "No" camp in the Oct. 2 referendum, actually would have taken into account many of the concerns of Uribe's camp. But the Democratic Center (DC) has concealed its true intentions and cynically sought to manipulate the public.

It's actually quite easy to understand DC's political strategy. The party wants to gain time by offering proposals impossible to implement so that it can blame the government and FARC if they fail to reach a deal.

Uribe, and the land owners his party represents, have no real interest in the peace process. They oppose three crucial aspects of negotiations with FARC: land reforms, justice for the victims and FARC's participation in politics. The party’s proposals are just arguments to hide its real objective â€" to tangle up the peace process with lies.

When Uribe was president from 2002 to 2010, he denied that there was an armed conflict in Colombia and termed the people it had displaced as "internal migrants." This was the period that had the most forced displacements and land grabs.

It's the land, stupid

A peace deal with FARC would have carved out so-called Peasant Reservation Zones for the poor and required rural land registers to be updated. This was a dangerous proposition for DC, which opposes the restitution of land. It argues that the present owners had bought their properties in good faith. The party wants the ownership of millions of acres of land legalized despite the document forgeries and the intimidation and murder that led to the property being appropriated in the first place. Much land was bought and sold under pressure from paramilitary outfits and death squads.

The Democratic Center also opposes a progressive property tax and rural reforms that would help the poor and build roads in the countryside. DC does not want any reforms that benefit peasants or that undermines the interests of big landowners.

The second major reason why DC opposes the deal is because it calls for a justice system that would correct past abuses and offer compensation to victims. In doing so, the deal would expose alliances with organized crime that have been forged in the country; it would shed light on the theft of land and it would recognize death squad victims who had been misidentified as guerrillas. DC, instead, prefers a system similar to the one devised previously for paramilitary groups, which for years granted impunity to criminals.

The party also opposes FARC's possible participation in politics. DC wants FARC leaders to go to prison. This is not a serious proposal. Why would a rebel group that has been fighting for more than 50 years, and hasn’t yet been defeated, sign a deal that would imprison its leaders? Only a deal that ensures the integration of FARC leaders in public life and democratic mechanisms has any real chance of actually working. Anything else is just a populist fantasy unrelated to any real search for peace.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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