The abstention of more than half the citizenry; the vote for traditional parties of the extreme right; the continuing proportion in the legislature of 70% traditional bipartisan electoral barons, and the surprising growth of an alternative vote for the left and centre-left were the characteristics of Colombia’s 2002 parliamentary elections.
As usually occurs, 38% of the citizenry voted this Sunday March 10 for the Congress of the Republic. 56% abstained, and 6% spoiled their ballots.
The reigning climate of war fed the vote for the extreme right: the liberal senator German Vargas Lleras was elected to the senate in the third vote; General Canal was elected in the Cauca Valley in the first vote.
The predictions of the triumph to the presidency of the extreme right-wing candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez, who advocates a total war against the guerrilla, caused various liberal and conservative candidates to switch sides at the last minute. This is what the ex-mayor of Medellin and liberal Luis Ramos did, winning in the first vote.
Several candidates of the traditional parties were not re-elected, however, and among these were candidates who were prominent in struggling for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict with social and economic reforms. This was the case for senators Piedad Cordoba and Amilcar Acosta, liberals, and Juan Manuel Ospina, a conservative.
The alternative and independent candidates had better results. Antonio Navarro, an ex-militant of M-19 was elected to the senate in the second vote and chose as the second on his list the indigenous Gerardo Jumi.
The left vote was bigger, surprisingly, than in previous elections, despite the decimation of the left since the extermination of the Union Patriotica in the 1980s. The candidate from the ‘Social and Political Front’, Carlos Gaviria, was a surprise winner in the fourth vote.
As representatives of the Valle del Cauca, the same left movement chose Alex Lopez, president of the combative Sintraemcali municipal workers’ union and for Bogota, the president of the state worker’s union Fenaltrase, Wilson Borja. Borja is a communist who barely survived an attempt on his life on December 14 2000.
Also elected to the senate were two Maoists, the president of the agrarian worker’s union, Jesus Bernal, and the president of the Association to Save Agriculture from Neoliberalism, Jorge Robledo. Efren Tarapues, an indigenous authority was also elected to the senate, and the administrative unionist Jaime Dussan was re-elected.
As for the presidential elections, the parliamentary results support the polls in predicting the possible triumph of Uribe Velez. Every other presidential candidate has lost ground. Naomi Senin (a conservative who leads an independent movement) and Juan Camilo Restrepo (another independent conservative) have lost any opportunity to maneuver in the debate.
The liberal candidate Horacio Serpa has lost terrain in the Congress, even though he continues to insist he is still in the election. The left candidate, Luis Eduardo Garzon seeks to use the coming presidential elections as a platform to debate and struggle against war and for political, social, and economic reform: he does not have a chance at winning the presidency.
The debate on political reform, whose absence explains the abstention of a large part of the electorate, is crucial. Will it be a political reform on the Fujimori model, centralizing corruption in the president and his aides, fuelling war and repression? Or a reform that will increase democratic rights, create a new level of seriousness to electorial and party politics, and open a way to a negotiated solution to the armed conflict?
Another debate has to do with economic reform which, unfortunately, Uribe Velez has closed off. He is the author of laws in parliament that have re-destroyed worker’s rights in accord with the international dictatorship of neoliberalism. Senator Vargas Lleras, an ardent follower of Uribe, is also the most well-known opposer of agrarian reform in the parliament. The left candidates, by contrast, have tried to bring labor rights, agrarian reform, and an end to the opening to agricultural imports, to the agenda.
But still more consequential is the debate on war. Luis Eduardo Garzon, the left presidential candidate, considers the breakdown of peace negotiations a grave historical error.
Despite the success of war demagoguery, the culmination of months of national media campaigning, the population will begin to realice that there is no quick victory for any armed group, only growing sacrifices for the civilian population and growing intervention by the United States– seen by the government, by Uribe Velez, and by the Armed Forces as the solution and by the United States itself as the gateway to a convulsing Latin America upon which it is trying to impose the FTAA.
Despite its bombardment of Caguan, the Armed Forces have not been able to contain the guerrilla offensive. Athough the success of the elections is shown off as a defeat of the guerrilla– and it is obvious the guerrilla was far from being able to stop them– it is also obvious that the guerrillas have made military advances throughout the country in their attacks of recent weeks.
These attacks have seen a disastrous destruction of the country’s infrastructure, between the FARC (all over the country) and the Air Force (in Caguan, Ariari and the old demilitarized zone) that has destroyed bridges, roads, and energy towers. The guerrillas have launched attacks against paramilitary bases in el Valle, Choco, Antioquia, Putumayo and Catatumbo, attacks that the paramilitaries have not been able to withstand, perhaps because of a lack of air support.
Both the right and the guerrilla are trying to impose war. The strengthening of the movements of the left for peace, could possibly resolve the conflict. This is the possibility that the dirty war and the assassinations have been designed to prevent.
Hector Mondragon is a Colombian activist and economist. He lives in Colombia, where he works with various peasant and indigenous organizations.