The impact on Colombia of upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela is going to be small as key issues are likely to continue to improve no matter who wins.
The election outcome Sunday could mean a massive change for Venezuelans, but regarding trade and security — the key issues for Colombia — things are actually going very well. Moreover, Colombian success in those fields does not depend on Venezuela, but on Colombia itself.
When it comes to trade, President Juan Manuel Santos has improved the relationship with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez impressively, securing an increase in exports that is outperforming Colombia’s other two key economic allies; the United States and Ecuador.
Annual variation of the FOB value of total exports destined for the United States, Ecuador and Venezuela
At the same time, Santos has received Henrique Capriles, making sure that if the opposition candidate wins diplomatic relations stay good.
If Chavez wins and extends his already 14-year-long reign over the oil-rich nation, trade is likely to continue as his economic policies — whether you like them or not — have been pretty consistent. It’s not likely that Chavez is going to make vast improvements to the economy whose Gross Domestic Product is and will be almost entirely dependent of the country’s oil exports. Chavez’ reelection will not affect his country’s economy.
Should Capriles win, the only way he could improve trade with Colombia is through increasing Venezuelans’ spending power; increasing the demand for Colombian products and services. However, unless Capriles is the Mozart of economy, he’s also not going to be able to make rapid changes to an economy that has been running on one engine just fine for a decade.
Regarding security, it is important to recognize that the origin of Colombia’s problems at the borders is Colombian, not Venezuelan. The first designated to improve border security is Colombia since the armed actors are carrying Colombian passports. Successful peace talks with the FARC, and maybe even with the ELN, is the most obvious way to diminish insecurity in the border regions.
Homicide rates on the Ecuadorean border
To depend on neighbors to solve a domestic issue is not realistic as the past has proven. After former President Alvaro Uribe drastically improved bilateral relations with Ecuador in 2009, trade with the neighbor to the south increased, but border security did not improve. In fact, it is even worse now than it was three years ago.
Santos did the same with Venezuela after taking office in 2010; He improved bilateral relations, jump-started trade and forced Venezuela to pay back massive debts to Colombian exporters. However, also on that border it made little difference. The security on that border had been improving even when diplomatic ties were cut.
Homicide rates on the Venezuelan border
Even though Capriles is more likely to want to improve security at the border, he might not be able to. The lawyer-turned-politician does not have Chavez’ military history and will have a hard time eradicating the corruption in Venezuela’s security forces who mostly have been loyal to their current leader since 1998.
And even if Capriles is able to eliminate corruption, the security priorities of Chavez’ possible successor will lie in populated cities like Caracas and Maracaibo where murder rates have skyrocketed, not at the border.
Santos, again through diplomacy and pragmatism, will have to work with either leader to make sure trade relations continue to grow the way they have been and to secure that insecurity indexes continue to drop the way they have been. The Colombian president seems to have had no trouble doing so in the past.