[Marxism] First round of Colombian Presidential elections

Anthony Boynton anthony.boynton at gmail.com
Thu May 29 18:04:16 MDT 2014

*A quick note on Colombian Presidential Elections*

Last Sunday the first round of Presidential elections was held here in
Colombia, on the same date as sundry other elections in sundry other
places. The final round between the two top vote getters will be on June 15.

It could have been an election at the country club. There were five
candidates: former Presdient Alvaro Uribe’s former girlfriend, two of his
former Defense Ministers, a candidate he had earlier supported for Mayor of
Bogotá, and his current pet dog.

Sixty percent of the eligible voters failed to show up at the polls. Six
percent of those who did show up cast blank ballots.

Here is a rundown of the candidates.

Clara Lopez, the ex-girlfriend, was the candidate of the leftist Polo
Democratico Alternativo. Lopez was appointed acting Mayor of Bogotá after
former Polo leader Samuel Moreno was removed on grounds of massive
corruption. She served in the position for a few months and tried to defend
Moreno without damaging the party.

Lopez, through luck and hard work, received more than 15% of the votes
cast. This puts the Polo back where it was in terms of vote share before
the disastrous term in office of Samuel Moreno led to a split in the Polo
and seriously tarnished the party’s reputation.

Her lukewarm campaign emphasized change, but gave few details about what
she wanted to change.

Juan Manuel Santos, currently serving his first term as president of
Colombia, was the Minister of Defense under Uribe. He was responsible for
most of the military operations that killed much of the central military
leadership of the FARC. He is the candidate of the Partido de la U and the
Liberal Party. He came in second place with 25% in the first round of
voting and will be on the ballot in the final round.

Santos campaigned as the peace candidate on the basis of his negotiations
with the FARC. The Santos government and the FARC have signed off on three
of the six original negotiating points and seem to be making slow,
difficult, but steady progress toward an agreement.

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga is currently Uribe’s pet dog and the candidate of the
Centro Democratico Uribe, Uribe’s personal political vehicle. Zuluaga came
in first with almost 30% in the first round and will be on the ballot on
June 15.

Zuluaga campaigned against the peace negotiations. He wants the FARC
leaders to spend a minimum of six years in jail and said he would not
continue negotiating unless the FARC unilaterally stops fighting within
eight days of his election. Zuluaga also promised to raise the pay of
everyone and make the schools better.

Martha Lucia Ramirez was the candidate of the Conservative Party. She is an
unsmiling former fashion model who became a Senator and then Uribe’s first
Minister of Defense. While Minister of Defense she fired a lot of the
corrupt old generals and told the rest that they could only continue
stealing if they would get off their asses and fight.

She campaigned against corruption, for jails, and for adding more
conditions to any peace deal with the FARC. She got 15% of the vote in the
first round, and promptly endorsed Zuluaga for the second. Zuluaga promptly
adopted her “peace proposal” which was never really very different from his.

Enrique Peñalosa was the candidate of the Green Alliance. Another former
Mayor of Bogotá, this is his third loss in a row in a campaign for high
elected office. Peñalosa campaigned for a change, too. He wants to
establish a Ministery of Campesino affairs in response to the two recent
agrarian paros (farmers strikes, protests and road blockages.)

Peñalosa only got 8% of the vote.

Now the two first round leaders are scrambling to make deals with the other
parties. The conservative Party promptly split, with Martha Lucia Ramirez
supporting Zuluaga and most of its members of Congress and Senators
supporting Santos.

It seems that the Catholic Church which is historically tied to the
Conservative Party is also split between Santso and Zuluaga. The new pope
favors a peace deal and Santos and the local hierarchy is split for other
reasons including ties of some of it to the paramilitaries and thus to
Zuluaga, and including antipathy to Zuluaga for his promises to improve
public education.

Similarly the Polo Democratico Alternativo seems to be split as well.
Senator Jorge Robledo, the leader of the MOIR faction within the Polo
(descendant of Colombian Maoism) has called for people to vote blank, but
Clara Lopez and Senator Ivan Cepeda  who are allied with the Communist
Party faction of the Polo have called for a vote for Santos as a vote for

The Green Alliance has said that its supporters are free to vote their
consciences, but key Green alliance leaders like Senator John Sidarsky have
called for a vote for Santos.

Besides Uribe, there is another significant figure lurking just outside of
the elections: Gustavo Petro.

Petro and Antonio Navarro Wolf are the two visible leaders of the
Progresistas, the descendants of the M-19 guerrilla movement. Petro blew up
the Polo when he revealed the corruption in the Mayoral administration of
Samuel Moreno and then went on to win election as Mayor of Bogotá on the
newly formed Progresista ticket.

As Mayor he tried to reverse years of municipal privatizations, build a
subway system, and introduce a radically new building code. With only a
minority on the city council, Petro failed and was removed from office by
the Procurador (more or less the Inspector general of the country).
Miraculously, he was reinstated after one of hundreds of lawsuits against
his removal won.

In the meantime, Petro and Wolf had decided to join forces with the Green
Party which was not an environmentalist party, but rather the electoral
vehicle of the technocratic former mayors of Bogotá and Medellin. One of
those was and is Peñalosa whose own term in office was tainted with
corruption scandals, and who supported Alvaro Uribe off and on during his
two terms in office as President.

When Peñalosa won the presidential nomination of the new alliance, Petro
split again to head a campaign for peace. And then he and his new campaign
made a deal to support Santos for President! That deal almost certainly
cost Santos votes in the first round of elections. Clara Lopez recovered
all of the votes the Polo lost to Petro in the Mayoral elections while
Santos lost votes from conservative voters who hate Petro more than they
fear Uribe

Two scandals blew up in the last month of the campaign.

Uribe and Zuluaga accused Santos’s 2010 election campaign of taking money
from drug dealers. So far no one has presented any proof that this
happened, but it could be a factor in the runoff.

The police arrested the head of Zuluaga’s information technology company
for hacking into the communications of the peace negotiations in Havana as
well as various other government communications channels from the military
to the office of the President. This scandal involves much more extensive
and dirtier politics than Watergate although Zuluaga did not seem to lose
any votes as a result.

If I have more time, I will continue this in another post.

Regards, Anthony

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