312. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1
COLOMBIA: SITUATION AND PROSPECTS
The Basic Judgment
Political tensions in Colombia have once again built up to crisis point. There is, as on the many other occasions when the National Front government has been torn by deep partisan conflict, a chance that some [Page 681]fundamental change in the governing authority will be made. That change could come by military coup or through some basic political rearrangement in the form and composition of the government. Colombian politicians of all stripes and the military establishment, however, have a way of coming together for mutual advantage in time of crisis and thereby averting a break up of the National Front and a return to civil strife or military dictatorship. We believe that the danger of a military coup or a breakdown in the Front is greater today than a year ago, or even several months ago, but we are still inclined to feel that the end is not at hand yet.
The Current Situation
The recently announced alliance of the majority Laureanista– Alzatista (L/A’s) faction of the Conservative Party and two smaller opposition parties, the Liberal Revolutionary Movement (MRL) and the Popular National Alliance (ANP), has created the latest, serious problem for the Front government of Conservative President Valencia. The alliance formalizes the L/A’s de facto opposition to the National Front government, which along with absenteeism in the Congress and lack of party discipline, has served to block passage of important legislation since mid-1964. The Liberal Party that shares the responsibility of government with the Conservative Party in the National Front and the Ospinista minority faction of the Conservative Party (still loyal to the National Front) are pressuring Valencia to remove the L/A’s from the government or to exact a pledge of legislative support from them. Valencia is extremely reluctant to make any move that would further undermine his already shaky government.
What May Happen
Valencia probably will respond to the present crisis—as he has to other crisis situations in the past—by temporizing, in hopes that it will go away. If the Liberals force the issue and the L/A’s remain intransigent, Valencia may be forced to remove the latter from their government posts. This measure would probably kill any chance for congressional action on a major fiscal package now under consideration and all but end hopes for any meaningful legislation before elections in March 1966 when a new congress is to be chosen. An outcome to the present crisis of this sort would probably not topple the Valencia government.
The National Front’s problems are growing, however, and its political base for dealing with these problems is shrinking. The greatest danger that may emerge from the latest crisis is that it may lead Liberal Party leaders to believe that the National Front cannot survive the electoral test in 1966 when it is their turn to put a member of their party in the presidency. As a result, the Liberals may decide to conspire with [Page 682]the military with the idea of bringing about an extra-legal change of government through which they would gain the upper hand. The military, faced with a growing problem of subversive violence, may be receptive to the Liberals’ overtures, thinking perhaps that the Liberal leaders might be able to help them establish effective government. At this time there is little indication that the Liberals are seriously considering an extra-legal change or, for that matter, that they have the military support they would need for such a move.
Economic Problems as a Factor
Colombia’s financial condition is deteriorating and the economic frustrations of the masses contribute to political tensions. Inflationary pressures are not great at the moment but a push against prices is expected in coming months. A Special Session of the Congress, called to consider a package of revenue proposals, may reject some of the measures proposed by the Valencia government that could at least limit the size of a prospective large 1965 budget deficit. The spread between the official and the free rate of exchange is increasing and the government lacks the international reserves to protect the official rate against speculative raids and the rising demand for imports. Valencia’s heavy commitment to avoid devaluation has prevented his administration from taking the remedial measures that are necessary to rectify the monetary and exchange situation.
The prospect is that Colombia will try during the balance of 1965 to obtain short-term commercial financing to relieve pressures on the exchange rate and impose additional indirect taxes on imports. With government attention devoted primarily to maneuvering its way through the country’s political and financial difficulties, it does not seem likely that Colombia will make much headway on basic long-term social and economic reform in the near future.2
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CV Files, 1965: Lot 67 D 622, POL 2 Sitreps. Secret. Drafted in INR/CA by Robert R. Hendon, Thomas C. Colwell, and Mary K. Manzoli. Forwarded to Mann as an attachment to a May 5 memorandum from Wolfe who noted that Sayre had requested the paper on Mann’s behalf earlier in the day, thereby precluding its coordination within either the Department or the intelligence community. (Ibid.) Sayre forwarded the paper to Bundy on May 12. (Memorandum from Sayre to Bundy, May 12; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Colombia, Vol. I, 12/63–7/65)↩
- Mann briefed President Johnson on Colombia during a telephone conversation the afternoon of May 5. He told the President “we have a problem in Colombia.” Mann explained that Colombian President Valencia is very pro-U.S., but “does not know beans from bull about economics” and wants $60–100 million a year to maintain rates of exchange that are unrealistic. Valencia does not want to devalue or stop inflation because it will cost him popularity, but if he doesn’t do something “it will cost us billions without giving us anything.” Mann told Johnson that “we have this type of problem all over the world, but in Colombia it is a matter of leadership. He said if it blows it won’t necessarily go Communist but he did not think this guy would last. He said he has been very anti-Communist and a good friend but does not know anything about running a country.” (Johnson Library, Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, May 2, 1965–June 2, 1966)↩