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You know how it is--it's every four years so you know it's coming, but with work and play and wasting time on Daily Kos, you totally forget that the Colombian presidential election is coming up and you have no idea who to vote for!  I mean imaginary votes, like for all those House and Senate and Governor races in states you don't live in.  So it's not like you're not used to it.  And who knows, maybe you actually are Colombian (now would be a good time to check) so the information below could be useful to you.

After Alvaro Uribe's plans to rule forever, or at least to run for a third term, were shredded by the Constitutional Court a few months ago, we actually got a real race.  Uribe might not have won a first-round victory (50%+1) as he did in 2006, but he certainly would have won a runoff victory (as in 2002).  Of course, that's easy for me to say now, since we'll never know (although we do have polls).

Having an open seat is healthy for democracy, probably healthy for Uribe (you can't be that tightly-wound forever, I'm guessing), and of course healthy for the other people who'd like to president.  All six serious contenders are good options on their own terms...you might run screaming from one or more of them (probably just one, see below), but there's little chance they would face the challenges of governing Colombia with slack-jawed befuddlement.  In the US we've had some issues with that minimum standard. As for the challenges of governing Colombia, former president Ernesto Samper said it was like piloting a jet with two engines gone, a wing on fire, and the passengers rioting.  Or something like that.

The paper ballot below has 6 serious candidates, 3 non-serious ones (I'm sure their families love them), and if you're really a crank you can vote for none of the above.  We'll go in order of their random placement on the ballot (by the way, ballot placement day is the easiest way to get a media interview if you're a Colombian numerologist).

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Rafael Pardo (Liberal): Colombia's majority party forever and still a legislative force, but its last presidential success was 1994.  (Uribe used to be a Liberal but he doesn't count, having defeated the party's official candidates in 2002 and 2006.)  Pardo is probably the best candidate the Liberals have: he's serious, has done difficult jobs (first civilian defense minister in 40 years when he was appointed in 1990, has Pablo Escobar's demise to his credit), doesn't have unsavory associations, and opposed Uribe when most Liberals preferred to sit quietly. He's got a good program but will mostly get hard-core Liberal legacy voters, and there don't seem to be too many of those.  Right now he's sitting at 4% and I can't imagine he'll do that poorly but it doesn't look like he will get to 10% much less a runoff.

Germán Vargas (Cambio Radical): No, really, he is a serious candidate despite that primitive party logo.  Cambio Radical was one of the two slapped-together pro-Uribe parties of the early years of his regime (the other is below, under Santos), but Vargas couldn't swallow a third term for Uribe.  He has a good reputation but there's not much market for what he's selling, given that there are very clear pro- and anti-Uribe options, plus a third-way option (Mockus) that has captured a lot of would-be Vargas voters.


Gustavo Petro (Polo Democrático):
In 2006 the Polo was the only anti-Uribe game in town, and its candidate won a quarter of the vote, far more than any leftist candidate in recent Colombian history. Since then the party has suffered from infighting between those who dismiss Uribe as a fascist (starting with Carlos Gaviria, the party's 2006 candidate), and those who recognize the public's right to obsess about security in a country that's been at war forever.  Petro represents the latter group, and now that Uribe isn't a candidate the infighting no longer seems important.  Petro has already played a big part in bringing Uribe's popularity back down to earth by revealing the government's secret wiretapping program, but life is unfair and he's not going to get into the runoff.  On the plus side, he's a leftist presidential candidate who can travel anywhere he wants in Colombia with no particular security concerns (save for a bulletproof vest in party yellow, and a big police detail).  So he's an indictment of Uribe but he's also a vindication.  

Nohemí Sanín (Conservative): The Conservatives are the other "historical party" and over the last 25 years they've been at death's door or "feeling much better" like the guy who doesn't want to go on the cart.  Uribe represents the triumph of small-town Antioquian conservative values but the party that's always championed those values hasn't reaped any rewards because Uribe preferred to work with purpose-built parties.  Sanín is perhaps the candidate who inspires the least confidence, because she's had a long political career but hasn't left a mark.  She's currently third and it's a long way up to second and a runoff.

Antanas Mockus (Green Party):
Son of Lithuanian immigrants, philosophy degree from Dijon (France), rose through the ranks at the National University to become rector in 1990, became famous by mooning students who wouldn't let him talk.  Twice elected mayor of Bogota, where he successfully changed civic culture with mimes, clowns, and extreme preachiness.  The end of his second (non-consecutive) term overlapped Uribe's first term, and Uribe effusively praised Mockus in a speech he (Uribe) must regret now.  Just a few months ago Mockus and the two also-reformist Bogota mayors who succeeded him, Enrique Peñalosa and Lucho Garzón, formed the Partido Verde and ran a joint primary campaign in which all three promised to work with the winner.  This feel-good approach was shockingly successful in attracting voter and media interest, and true to their word, the three are almost inseparable.  

Mockus is the most programmatically conventional of the three--Garzón is a lifelong socialist, and Peñalosa is a radical exponent of public infrastructure and amenities--but he's the most "antipolitics" of the three which is how he won in an open primary that attracted "antipolitics" voters.  He never raises his voice (in enthusiasm, much less in anger) and he's probably the only candidate who would stop a speech to observe a flock of birds (in Monteria, I think).  He's the candidate of radical self-improvement, aided by the government.  While Vargas's slogan is "Better is Possible," Mockus says (finger pointing into the crowd) "you can improve, you can improve, you can improve, I can improve."  A semi-lapsed Catholic, he's all about the sacred; his two dominant themes are "Life is Sacred" and "Public Resources, Sacred Resources." If you don't mind mumbly Spanish, Mockus's parable of "the hair in the cheese" tells you everything you need to know:

Executive summary: Let's say you find a hair in your cheese.  You pull out the hair and keep on eating.  But what if it's a cheese factory that does a lot of exporting, and someone finds a hair in the cheese: they don't just pull out the hair, they send the whole order back.  So what do you do?  You can hire a bunch of overseers and make everyone wear caps and punish anyone who doesn't conform...or you can create a culture in which everyone feel like they can gently remind those around them about the need to keep hairs out of the cheese.  (The first model is Uribe, the second model is Mockus.)

Mockus is the Facebook candidate--he's now #9 on the friended-politician list worldwide, with over 600k.   His supporters are enthusiastic but they may or may not be reliably representative of the Colombian population...they're like Obama supporters in late 2007, kind of an enigma.  But they have a Hitler video, so they're definitely getting somewhere--Hitler complains to his generals (representing the Colombian media) that he's being defeated by "a martian and his green midgets" which is pretty much the traditional political class's assessment.


Juan Manuel Santos (Partido de la U):
On paper that's the "Social Party of National Unity" but the U really means Uribe and nothing more.  The U is the party that stuck with Uribe through everything including a failed re-re-election bid, and Santos was the reserve candidate in case Uribe wasn't allowed to run.  At one point there was a contender for Uribe-in-waiting, a former Minister of Agriculture, but he was sunk by a scandal leaving Santos intact.  And it's hard to deny that Santos is the perfect neo-Uribe, if that's what you want: like Uribe he's a hard worker who's succeeded at everything, and he's completely single-minded about security.  For show, he now claims to be equally single-minded about job creation but nobody believes him or cares.  Santos was, most recently, an effective Minister of Defense, but under his watch hundreds of people were picked up off the street by criminal gangs and killed, their bodies sold to the military to bulk up their "killed in combat" figures.  This has been called the "false positives" affair, but now most candidates have the decency to preface that with "badly-named" to counter the euphemism.

This ought to be a deal-breaker for any candidate, and it may end up doing that for Santos, but his defense is that he fired everyone involved (including the top army commanders, despite their successes against the guerrillas), and that dozens of people are in jail.  That's been the standard Uribe defense against both pecuniary scandal and human rights violations: it happens, but now there's accountability.  It's not clear that this is enough for voters, now that the security threat isn't what it used to be, and now that there is a Mockus candidacy that (without ever criticizing Uribe or Santos directly) emphasizes every day that for Santos, life isn't all that sacred.    Santos is a perfect test of whether it's possible to steamroll another four years of uribismo into power: he's so uninterested in countering Mockus antipolitics that his web page brazenly highlights "Politicians with Santos," a bunch of video clips by people that most Colombians might assume were dead (Jorge Mario Eastman) or in jail (Jose David Name).  Like Nixon in 1972, Santos kind of doesn't give a shit.  And he may be right, since it's almost impossible to claim that Colombia in 2010 is worse-off in any way than it was in 2002; even the majority faction of the Polo would admit that, and certainly Mockus would.  

In the end there are two completely continuista candidates (Santos and Sanín, though she doesn't really say much), two who reject Uribe personally while pledging not to undo his security accomplishments (Petro and Pardo), and two who are agnostic about Uribe while pledging to reach a new stage of legality (Vargas and especially Mockus).  So there's something for everyone although it's almost certain the runoff will be between Santos and Mockus.  There's plenty more to be said, on topics from health care reform to free trade to relations with Venezuela and Ecuador and the United States, but I just saw a flock of birds so I'm out of here.

Originally posted to Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 12:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

    by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 12:06:17 PM PDT

  •  Interesting article (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, terjeanderson

    I tipped and recd before reading it just for the correct spelling of Colombia. Lo del pelo en el queso es muy ... no tengo adjetivos xD

    Arizona is the meth lab of democracy

    by Iberian on Sun May 23, 2010 at 01:00:32 PM PDT

  •  Very informative & interesting (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for all the great detail and insights into the Colombian election.

    Once social change begins,it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read...You cannot oppress people who are not afraid anymore.

    by terjeanderson on Sun May 23, 2010 at 01:22:21 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the breakdown. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Iberian, mariachi mama, Rich in PA

    Mockus's success as mayor of Bogota will, I think, be a major factor in the election. Sure, many of his initiatives seemed playful and off-the-wall, but they worked. Bogota became a very attractive place to live or visit. Mayors of big cities in Colombia have a major impact on the quality of life of the residents, for good or ill. An important part of Uribe's considerable resume was his effectiveness as the mayor of Medellin. By contrast, Cali, which used to be regarded as a very desirable place to live, had a succession of weak/corrupt mayors, and the city went into visible decline.

    It probably is also wise for Mockus to be agnostic regarding Uribe. The Colombians I know (my wife is from Cali) are generally very grateful for how effective he has been at reducing the violence of the FARC, particularly in contrast to the non-corrupt but feckless Pastrana, his predecessor. Of course, Uribe got a boost from the fact that the aged Tirofijo finally died (gracias a Dios), but the fact is that the country is much safer than it was prior to Uribe. Similarly, Bogota is much safer and more attractive than it was prior to Mockus.

    It'll be very interesting to see what the Colombian people think. Thanks again.

    "Bush legalized torture. Obama just legalized health care for all. Which line would you rather stand in?" Frank Schaeffer

    by psnyder on Sun May 23, 2010 at 01:33:53 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, and I'm like your wife in that regard (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      psnyder

      I can see how many people would be reluctant to vote for the two most anti-Uribe candidates, Petro and Pardo, because at one point nearly 80% of Colombians supported Uribe and they may not want to feel like they were mistaken.  Which is a shame, because it took a lot of political and physical courage for those two to oppose Uribe--in a way it was more courageous for Pardo because Petro was a leftist and didn't have much choice (short of defecting like Angelino Garzon, now Santos's running mate), while Pardo and his Liberal godfather Cesar Gaviria had a choice.  But now both of them are being crowded out by Mockus, whom I like a lot but he does represent an overly easy way out in terms of a coming-to-terms with Uribe.

      This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

      by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 01:40:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think it's just that 80% (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rich in PA

        don't want to feel that they were mistaken. The improvements in security have been real. My wife's father and both her former suegros were murdered by the FARC. The reduction in violence is viscerally appreciated by many. They won't want to lose that. It's the minimum Hobbesian contract.

        I don't know much about them, but it sounds like either Pardo or Petro would bring an appropriate gravitas to the job that Mockus may not. Uribe has always been quite "presidential," and if Colombians don't see Mockus in the same light, that may be a glimmer of hope for Pardo or Petro, although at 4%, it doesn't sound like Pardo's got a prayer.

        "Bush legalized torture. Obama just legalized health care for all. Which line would you rather stand in?" Frank Schaeffer

        by psnyder on Sun May 23, 2010 at 01:58:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's gravitas, not just conventional gravitas (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          psnyder

          http://www.partidoverde.org.co/...

          That's serious stuff, just unheard-of in a Colombian (or any other) presidential program.

          This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

          by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 02:04:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I mean "just not" n/t (0+ / 0-)

            This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

            by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 02:05:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Nice. Thanks. (0+ / 0-)

            I particularly like this part:

            Además de incentivos o sanciones, se impulsará el cambio de hábitos y normas sociales. Así comenzaremos a derrotar la cultura del atajo, esa inveterada capacidad colombiana de tener resultados a cualquier costo, violando la Constitución y sembrando odio o resentimiento.

            This positive cultural politics instead of self-destructive cultural war.

            "Bush legalized torture. Obama just legalized health care for all. Which line would you rather stand in?" Frank Schaeffer

            by psnyder on Sun May 23, 2010 at 03:04:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  And it would seem crazy... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              psnyder

              ...except that he showed it can work in Bogota.

              This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

              by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 04:52:30 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I wish him luck. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Rich in PA

                I hate to tell you that after I mentioned him to my wife, who is admittedly not that interested in politics, she said she didn't care for him. She said she thought his politics sounded like Chavez, that he was involved in drugs at the university, and that he's "media chiflada." Don't think he's going to get her vote; and I don't have one.

                "Bush legalized torture. Obama just legalized health care for all. Which line would you rather stand in?" Frank Schaeffer

                by psnyder on Sun May 23, 2010 at 06:14:36 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  She's not really a Mockus voter. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  psnyder

                  Even without those (totally weird) reservations, she's got excellent reasons to vote for Santos.  I honestly don't think Mockus will get the votes of many people who've had close relatives killed by guerrillas or paramilitaries; those are Santos or Petro votes.  I see a Mockus voter as someone who's lost someone more distant, or maybe they've lost someone closer but to non-political violence.  

                  This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

                  by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 06:26:39 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Yeah, well, (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Rich in PA

                    like I said. She's not that into politics. It's more a visceral thing for her. I'll try to talk her out of Santos, though (shudder).

                    "Bush legalized torture. Obama just legalized health care for all. Which line would you rather stand in?" Frank Schaeffer

                    by psnyder on Sun May 23, 2010 at 07:49:27 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this breakdown. (0+ / 0-)

    I wish I was more informed on Latin American politics. I know the major players but that is about it.

    •  The details don't matter (to us) as much as... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      askew, psnyder

      ...understanding that it's a real country with a democratic political system, albeit under some pretty serious pressures and constraints.  It's not a puppet state of the US, or drug traffickers, or oil companies.

      This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

      by Rich in PA on Sun May 23, 2010 at 02:49:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  hoping Mockus wins by landslide. (0+ / 0-)

    thank you for a very important diary.

  •  Damn! Almost missed the election - thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti

    Seriously - great diary! Loved the intro, valued the discussion of candidates, especially surprised that there are so many who have actual promise (another great bit of writing there about our own shortcomings in that area). Hotlinking this so I can look back and understand the results later. (Sorry - not likely to remember it all after one reading!)

    Yet another food diary... What two people have for dinner: My 365 Dinners

    by pixxer on Sun May 23, 2010 at 09:58:18 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for reading (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer

      I see this morning that the Colombian weekly Semana made my point about all of the candidates being pretty credible and that Colombians (of all people!) should consider themselves lucky:

      Esta campaña, además de apasionante, tiene elementos que la han hecho ejemplar. En primer lugar, el abanico de candidatos podría ser la envidia de cualquier país. Y no es una exageración decir que los colombianos quedarían tranquilos votando por cualquiera. Ninguno de los seis es un aparecido en la vida nacional y todos han dejado huella en los cargos que han desempeñado en su vida pública.

      http://semana.com/...

      This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

      by Rich in PA on Mon May 24, 2010 at 04:47:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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