The failed referendum of Uribe Velezâ€™s government has had the same effect as the child who declares: â€œthe emperor has no clothesâ€. The mainstream media all over the world had proclaimed just days before that â€œ70% of Colombians support Uribeâ€, but he got hardly 18% of voters to vote â€˜Yesâ€™ (7% spoiled their ballots or voted â€˜Noâ€™), while 75% abstained in accord with the proposal of the united social and political opposition movements.
The response of the President has pitted the real Alvaro Uribe against the country in the same way that he pitted himself against human rights and agrarian reform in his speech of September 8. The chatty, provincial charm is gone. It has been replaced by the whip of a thoroughly mediocre rancher who had already promised punishment for the â€˜few enemies of his perfect regimeâ€™. Today he shouts threats of new taxes and new miseries in every direction.
The US Ambassador to Colombia had called upon Colombians to vote â€˜Yesâ€™ in order to please the IMF. But the very polls that declared Uribeâ€™s supposed high approval rating also registered that 64% of Colombians reject the economic policies of Uribe (policies synonymous with those of the IMF). In the minds of the people, Uribe has changed from anti-guerrilla hero to a symbol of hunger who managed simultaneously to reactivate the economy (of the wealthy) while reducing the consumption of basic foodstuffs among the general population.
Every trick in the book was employed to make people vote in the referendum: economic offers to voters; a demand by pro-Uribe businesses that their workers show certificates that they voted; a day off work for state workers who voted; a decision by the Electoral Council making null votes valid. None of them worked. Instead, the Colombian people handed Uribe a massive â€˜NOâ€™ to his plan to demolish fundamental constitutional rights. The plan continues, however, with the constitutional reform bills now being presented to the Congress. The Congress, nearly at the same time as the referendum, rejected the proposal that would have permitted Uribeâ€™s re-election.
The triumph of the opposition in the local elections in Bogota, Medellin, Valle del Cauca, Narino, Barrancabermeja and other key locations the day after the referendum completed the electoral disaster for the government. The loser in Bogota had spent his days declaring his fidelity to Uribe, trusting that the magic of Uribeâ€™s 70% approval rating would rub off on him. He accompanied the president to the big public events of the â€˜Yesâ€™ campaign and has now paid the price.
Lucho Garzon — oil worker, ex-president of Colombiaâ€™s Union Central, the CUT â€“ is now the mayor of Bogota and a great tribute to the workerâ€™s struggle against those who triggered the devastating offensive of Uribeâ€™s government from the day it commenced its mandate. it is a tribute to the workers against whom Uribe applied his â€˜labor reformsâ€™, his privatizations, his liquidations of enterprises, his wage cuts and freezes.
Lucho went on television and demanded that the guerrillas return Ingrid Betancourt (a presidential candidate whom they kidnapped last year) and cried, remembering his assassinated companions in the struggle, 184 unionists in the past year, 60 this year, 100 during the term of this government. Some he named: Leonardo Posada, Bernardo Jaramillo, Carlos Pizarro of M19.
We cry with him. We remember Jaime Pardo, Orlando Higuita, Teofilo Forero, Manuel Cepeda, Jose Antequera, Miguel Angel Diaz who was disappeared. This is the saddest part of this victory: to know that we wonâ€™t be able to count on so many hundreds of irreplaceable people in the days ahead. Because the days ahead will be hard: Uribe, in naked aggression, against the rights of the people.
It is impossible to overestimate the effect of the loss of thousands of leaders, peasants, workers, indigenous, in this time that massive resistance of the people has found a new road, has begun to walk again.
The people want to open a new route to peace: this was especially evident in the election of Angelino Garzon as governor of Valle with 61% of the vote. Angelino is a symbol of a negotiated, political solution to the conflict, a solution he has spent his lifeâ€™s work looking for, and his election means that the people have understood that Uribeâ€™s war demogoguery has taken the country to the brink of disaster. In Medellin, where the highest percentage of the population voted for the referendum, the centre-left candidate of the opposition to Uribe still won the mayoral election.
In Barrancabermeja, ruled by paramilitaries brought by the official army, the left opposition overthrew the previous mayor who stands accused of links to paramilitarism, corruption, and the assassination of an opposition journalist. In Pasto and Narino teacherâ€™s union leaders as mayor and governor after the seat of the union was attacked by the paramilitaries and after the IMF declared that it would be necessary to â€˜break the spineâ€™ of the teacherâ€™s unions.
The popular victories of October 25 and 26 are an oasis in the middle of difficult days. We are still far from our destination. We lost a lot in the first disastrous year of Uribeâ€™s government. In 2003 workers lost $2 billion dollars because of Uribeâ€™s reforms. Telecom and the Agrarian Reform institute have been liquidated. Ecopetrol has been converted from a public enterprise. 100 more unionists have been killed. Hundreds of indigenous, campesino, and union leaders have been detained in every corner of the country.
Esperanza Amaris of the Popular Womenâ€™s Organziation (OFP) has been assassinated, like the Kankuamos, like the indigenous Betoye Omaira Fernandez and her baby or the indigenous leaders of Caldas or the Afro-Colombians of Sabaletas and Jiguiamiando or the Kuna de Paya in Panama or the massacred peasant leaders of the Atlantic coastâ€¦
Meanwhile, the accord pardoning the paramilitaries is being prepared. So are a set of dictatorial constitutional reforms, floods of taxes with simultaneous cuts to transfer payments to departments, municipalities, indigenous reserves, to pay debt service and war costs. A bilateral free trade agreement is being negotiated with the US. Uribe wonâ€™t be diverted from his project.
It is impossible to not feel, with our friends, a happiness at reaching this oasis. But it is also impossible to escape nostalgia and sadness for those who have fallen. It is impossible not to think of the difficulties of the future. It is impossible to not prepare ourselves for what is coming. It is impossible to not resist.
[translated by Justin Podur]
Hector Mondragon is a Colombian economist and activist.