What they won’t tell you about Colombia’s Elections

In the midst of all the euphoria in ruling circles over the triumph of Alvaro Uribe Velez in the Colombian presidential elections, there are certain issues that are not being discussed, even though they have everything to do with the elections.

The first is the high electoral abstention: the right-wing candidate was elected by 53% of those who voted, but 53% of the citizenry didn’t vote. In Arauca and Caqueta abstention was 75%, in Putumayo 70%, and let’s not forget Guaviare where they had to cancel the elections in half the municipalities, with 80% abstention. In the former demilitarized zone, there was 95% abstention.

But if in these zones the cause of abstention could be violence, the same can’t be said of the populous and urbanized department of the Atlantic, with Barranquilla, the fourth largest city of the country, that had 65% abstention.

Nor do they remember, any more, the tremendous electoral fraud committed during the congressional elections of March 8, whose final result is still unknown even 3 months later. 42% of the polling stations had irregularities, sometimes for substitutions or subtractions and more often because the names of the electors didn’t coincide with their voter ID.

Other forms of fraud on March 8: payments to senate candidates for reelection by means of the ‘co-financing’ funds of the central government intended for territorial entities– in this way, clientilism was paid for in the name of decentralization.

In the end paramilitaries ‘selected’ 35% of the senators who today sit in the Senate despite the denunciations of the assassinated the archbishop of Cali against the presence of narco-dollars in supporting certain candidates. Nobody wants to put this information out into the main media, especially the international media, because that would endanger our image as ‘the oldest democracy in Latin America’, not to mention endangering international support for the war we have been promised by the triumphant war candidate.

Nor will they tell you about the massacre of May 22 in ‘Comuna 13′ in Medellin, four days before the presidential elections. Nine civilians, four of whom were children, were killed when the Army, Police, State Police, and DAS attacked the neighbourhoods of La Independencia, El Salado, El Seis and Nuevos Conquistadores. They were supposedly fighting guerrilla militias, but it was civilians who got the worst of it, including children who were returning from school.

They will talk about the massacre at Bojaya, but only as the responsibility of the guerrilla, because the only crimes that are mentionable are those of the guerrilla– never the state. The state is not going to include itself on its own list of terrorists.

The media have silenced more than ever the daily assassinations against popular leaders. The day before the presidential election a councillor of El Tambo (Cauca) of Via Alterna, a movement that forms part of the ‘Polo Democratico’ that was the electoral coalition of left-wing presidential candidate Lucho Garzon. Niether the national nor the international television channels said a word.

The visit of Otto Reich to the president elect has been announced with great fanfare. The media are announcing it as a great honour to a public who doesn’t know Reich’s past, a past that is even more dirty than Uribe’s own. These are items they can discuss with one another and with the Venezuelan coup-plotter Pedro Carmona who has recently arrived in Colombia. Presumably none of this will have any effect on Colombia’s relations with Venezuela.

Until May 28 there was an attempt to be discrete about the economic future of the country under Uribe. Under the president-elect’s program of theft known as ’100 points’, prudence has been thrown to the winds and the real actors have come out. The principal is the ex-Home Minister and cardinal of Colombian neoliberalism, Rudolf Hommes. The familiar agenda: structural adjustment, firing of state employees, privatization, dismantling of labour laws and protections.

Surrounding Hommes are advisors from the agricultural sector, the same advisors who set the national agricultural system adrift under the Gaviria government, the same advisors who oppose any land reform that would redistribute the highly concentrated land-holdings.

They propose opening what remains to transnational agri-business under a neo-corporatist system with partial state participation. They pontificate against subsidies and protections of agriculture practiced in Venezuela or by small enterprises and communities in Colombia, but have nothing to say about the subsidies of agriculture in the US, nor do they show any reluctance for state support of the owners of the great banana and african palm plantations.

Nobody voted for the politices of Hommes: not even the right-wing electorate of Uribe who gave a blank cheque to the candidate in a system that has a genius for choosing the worst candidate every four years. If Hommes had campaigned with Uribe, the election might have been different– perhaps it would have been more like the municipal election when Hommes lost spectacularly in his bid for mayor of Bogota.

As they look around, the patrons of the president-elect will no doubt hear the warning of Standard and Poor’s: “Uribe’s honeymoon will be short”, they said, because of the economic situation, the growing external debt, the high unemployment and the structural adjustment.

S & P suggested reforming the retirement pensions system, and immediately Home Minister Santos, from the family of the vice-president-elect, presented a new bill. The bill was protested by the Labour Minister and mobilizations by oil workers who have begun rotating strikes against the bill. It seems the honeymoon is over, before it even started.

Hector Mondragon is an economist and activist in Colombia.

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