Colombia: Possible Upset in Presidential Elections

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, May 21, 2010 | Go to article overview

Colombia: Possible Upset in Presidential Elections


By Andrés Gaudín

Colombians are to elect a new president on May 30, and what did not enter anyone's mind until late April was that the winner might be Antanas Mockus, who had been running last in all the polls. But even more surprising is that the loser might be governing-party candidate Juan Manuel Santos, who has the backing of two-term President Álvaro Uribe. Had Uribe been constitutionally allowed to run for a third term, he would likely have swept the election.

Seven candidates--six men and one woman--will be on the ballot, all hoping to find favor with the nearly 30 million eligible voters. Only three candidates show voter-preference numbers in the double digits: Mockus, of the Partido Verde (PV); Santos, of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (Partido de la U); and Noemí Sanín, of the traditional Partido Conservador Colombiano (PCC).

Mockus represents the new, the leadership uncontaminated by corruption in a country where, within a democracy, corruption has reached levels seldom seen in Latin America.

In contrast, Santos and Sanín--both prominent Cabinet ministers during the Uribe administrations, he as minister of foreign trade, treasury, and defense, she as minister of foreign relations--symbolize the old, the leadership tainted by corruption but also by the systematic violation of human rights and the growth of paramilitary and drug-trafficking mafias.

Being Uribe's pick could be hurting Santos

What has happened in recent weeks that has caused Santos and Sanín to lose their preeminence in the polls? Or, turning the question around, what has happened to send Mockus' numbers on a seemingly endless upward spiral?

Regarding the first question, in recent years, human rights organizations around the world--led by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)--have the Uribe government topping the lists of all forms of threats to life (see NotiSur, 2009-07-17, 2010-03-05). The two rightist candidates are as compromised as Uribe in those aberrant practices.

Now new accusations have come to light. The attorney general (fiscal general) released details of a plan by the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS)--the state espionage and secret-police agency--to implicate opposition leaders and even nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in crimes, including kidnappings, acts of terrorism, blackmail, support for guerrilla groups, and links to paramilitary drug traffickers. (The DAS reports directly to President Uribe, and both Santos and Sanín had direct participation in decisions.)

In addition, the Red Cross presented a document in Geneva alleging that Uribe's repressive policies and his refusal to negotiate peace with the rebels have turned Colombia into the second country in the world--after Sudan and before even Iraq--in the number of persons displaced by conflict. In Colombia, the displaced are a result of the four-decade-long conflict, a reality that Uribe stubbornly ignores.

Moreover, the Ecuadoran judiciary requested an international arrest warrant for Santos for having ordered and been responsible for invading its territory, which led to a rupture in Colombia's diplomatic relations with both Ecuador and Venezuela since March 2008, with dire economic consequences (see NotiSur, 2010-04-16).

Last but not least, former President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) and traditional Partido Liberal Colombiano (PLC) candidate Rafael Pardo accuse Santos of having planned assassination attempts against them.

Regarding the second question, Mockus has presented himself as the standard-bearer of the struggle against corruption, the issue that most concerns Colombians, and he has generated what has been called the "green wave," taking it upon himself to extol the virtues of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. …

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