Why Terrorism Persists In A Post-FARC Colombia

Last week's bomb attack in Bogota is symptomatic of the state's continued inability to monopolize the use of force.

'No more terrorism!' at a Bogota march on Jan. 20
"No more terrorism!" at a Bogota march on Jan. 20
Santiago Montenegro


BOGOTA — I must say I'm not surprised by the resurgence of terrorism in Colombia, where on Jan. 18 ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas killed at least 20 in a bomb attack on a Bogota police academy.

Nor am I surprised by the rise in the homicide rate, when solid academic literature shows the existence here of objective conditions for the emergence, permanence, and expansion of illegal armed groups. These are factors that undermine the state's ability to monopolize the use of force. And as works by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University, and James Fearon and David Laitin of Stanford University pointed out, part of the problem is the existence of steady sources of finance for armed gangs.

The strengthening of the armed forces and police in the first decade of the 21st century was a considerable step toward addressing the state's historical inability to secure its territory, and it led to the defeat of the FARC insurgency (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army) and to negotiations in Havana. But unfortunately, the process is stagnating in this second decade, and coca cultivation has again been allowed to expand to levels not seen since 2000 (some 200,000 hectares).

Even worse, the state has made the terrible mistake of qualifying drug trafficking as a political conflict-related offense. It has also failed to take over the areas formerly under FARC control, allowing groups like the ELN to control not only coca production but also activities like illegal mining and gold trading. The state's strength is further weakened by the protection Venezuela is giving the ELN, just as it did before with the FARC along with Rafael Correa's government in Ecuador.

I'm not surprised by the resurgence of terrorism in Colombia.

And then there's that particular Colombian cultural trait: The tolerance some of our intellectuals and our social sectors show toward illegal armed groups. Even before our independence, liberator Simón Bolívar complained in his 1815 Letter from Jamaica of the light sentences given to those who had risen against a legitimate government. And that was during the struggle against the Spanish empire.

At a 2017 conference hosted by the Universidad de Los Andres, in Bogota, Professor James Robinson of the University of Chicago pointed out the lenient history of Colombia when it comes to punishing people involved in armed insurrection. That's without mentioning the amnesties often given to those convicted of heinous acts of violence.

Another example of this attitude is, of course, the 1863 Constitution, which consecrated the right to rebellion by the "sovereign states' of the then United States of Colombia. A great motivator for insurgent groups and terrorists is the firm belief that sooner or later, the Colombian state will grant them some form of legitimacy, if not of a state-in-making, as it did with the FARC in Havana.

Pained by the deaths of our young police cadets and other victims, we must support the firm position President Iván Duque is taking not just against terrorism, but against the objective conditions that feed it. Because if we don't, last week's bomb in Bogota could again become a common occurrence.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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