The Winds of Change: Colombia Passes the Victims Law

“Today is a frankly historic day!” exclaimed German Vargas Lleras, the interior and justice minister in Colombia, this morning

Ordinarily, we take blather from politicians with a 40-pound bag of water softener salt.

But this time, as we have taken a more intense interest in Colombia of late, caught our attention…

The “Victims Law,” the passage of which Mr. Vargas Lleras refers to, aims to compensate people victimized by four decades of violence.

For millions of Colombians, it could mean the return of ancestral lands they were forced to flee. The United Nations refugee agency estimates 3.4 million Colombians – among a population of 46 million – are “internally displaced.”

Drug gangs, the left-wing guerrillas, the right-wing paramilitaries… They’re still around, but we saw firsthand in March, they’re not as omnipresent as they once were.

Of course, sorting out the rightful ownership of 10 million acres of land will take years. But we daresay for Colombians, the passage of the “Victims Law” to which Mr. Vargas Lleras was referring is as big a deal as the end of apartheid was for South Africans.

The Victims Law marks a decisive break with the past.

By way of contrast, we continue to witness the dithering in Washington over a US-Colombia “free trade” agreement.

Today and tomorrow the Senate Finance Committee hears testimony about trade agreements for South Korea and Panama. Somehow, these two have gotten tied up with the Colombia agreement as a package deal in the minds of many Republican lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the White House is holding off on submitting the treaty to the Senate until lawmakers agree to fund a “job training” program for people who would supposedly be thrown out of work by this agreement.

Oy. We have our own qualms about a “free trade” agreement codified in hundreds of pages of documents; the section on “intellectual property” alone runs 33 pages, for example.

But really, what’s so bad about a deal that allows the textile maker we met in Medellin to ship his jeans to the United States tariff free in exchange for getting American cotton tariff free?

Seems like a good deal for everyone.

Why else has the US government spent billions trying to help the Colombians fight the FARC? What other interest would the gringos have in a motley gang that started out as a left-wing guerrilla force and morphed into drug-running thugs?

“Plan Colombia” started as a key front in President Clinton’s prosecution of the “War on Drugs.” The US sent in planes to spray coca crops and US Special Forces to work alongside Colombian police and soldiers.

Among the program’s illustrious accomplishments…

  • Coca cultivation largely fled Colombia…only to shift to Peru
  • US street prices of cocaine were nearly unchanged
  • Colombia became the No. 3 recipient of US foreign aid, after Israel and Egypt.

The authors of Freakonomics examined the evidence and wondered aloud if Plan Colombia amounted to “a $5 billion failure.”


But folks on the ground in Colombia attribute the military aid given them by the US and intelligence handed over by the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intel outfit, with helping to rout the guerillas and restore relative calm after nearly 40 years of fear.

Crimes Committed in Colombia 2000-2010

Yesterday, the Colombian military rescued 100 people the FARC had taken hostage three days before. The hostages, it turned out, were guarded by all of three guerillas.

When we were in Bogota in March, the FARC kidnapped 23 oil workers. Twenty-one escaped on their own within hours… the two others were rescued by the end of the next day.

Developments like these give the folks we’ve met along the way confidence that the security situation is increasingly in hand. And the passage of the “Victims Law,” redistributive as it is, Colombians are getting their rebuild on right quick.

Hence, for a short time, the opportunity in “perception arbitrage” we see developing in the land of El Dorado.

[Ed Note: At the Phnom Penh shareholders meeting of Leopard Capital last Thursday, the firm laid out plans for the first-ever agriculture fund in Colombia, targeting, to begin, palm oil production in the rich valley south of Cartagena before the northern spur of the Andes rises toward Medellin. The idea is new enough their plan hasn’t even graced the pages of the Leopard website yet.

In the meantime, we recommend you check out the two Colombian plays – both easily available to US investors – we discuss in the most recent issue of Apogee Advisory. Get your copy (along with Ron Paul’s “lost” gold bible) right here.]

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning