Oct 29

The parties in President Uribe’s coalition won governorships in less than half the country, and in only a few of the most populous departments. (Source: votebien.com, adding candidates from the Alas Equipo and “La ‘U’“parties.)

Colombia held municipal and departmental elections yesterday. The voting was mostly peaceful, though the past few months’ campaigning was quite violent, with dozens of attacks on candidates, the majority carried out by the FARC.

Here are a few notes about yesterday’s election results.

  • President Álvaro Uribe and his supporters cannot be happy about the outcome.

Candidates from the pro-Uribe coalition got more votes than any other single party, but failed to win the mayorships of Colombia’s three largest cities. Pro-Uribe party candidates won about 15 of 32 governorships, and the mayor’s offices of about 14 of 32 departmental capitals.

  • Independent candidates did well.

The term refers to candidates from neither the Uribista coalition nor either of the two main opposition parties (the Liberals and the Alternative Democratic Pole). Candidates from small, usually locally focused, political movements – many of them from the left – scored some key victories.

In Medellín Alonso Salazar, an expert on violence and gang activity who served as Secretario del Gobierno (similar to deputy mayor) under popular Mayor Sergio Fajardo, came from behind in the polls to defeat former mayor Luis Pérez by a comfortable margin. Salazar, from the same small independent left-of-center political movement as Fajardo, was polling in the single digits a few months ago, while Pérez had locked up the support of Medellín’s traditional politicians and much of its business community. Though not the most charismatic campaigner, Salazar was helped by his association with Fajardo and by a wide range of endorsements – from the pop singer Juanes to President Uribe’s wife Lina Moreno.

In Cali Jorge Iván Ospina, another candidate from a small left-of-center political group, surprised many by beating Francisco Lloreda, scion of one of the city’s oldest and wealthiest families. The 39-year-old mayor-elect is the son of an M-19 leader killed in combat in the mid-1980s.

Colombia’s traditional parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, had a hard time in Colombia’s cities. They remain quite strong in rural areas, though, judging from mayoral results in rural municipalities and gubernatorial results in more rural departments. The Liberals won nine departmental governorships (out of 32) and about 200 mostly rural municipalities (out of about 1,100); the Conservatives – part of the pro-Uribe coalition – took three governorships and about 200 mostly” rural municipalities.

  • The “united left” did reasonably well, but showed its weaknesses.

Colombia’s united left opposition party, the Alternative Democratic Pole, held onto the Bogotá mayor’s seat, which is often referred to as the second-most powerful position in the country. Samuel Moreno, with a come-from behind victory, beat former mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who was President Uribe’s choice. Moreno succeeds popular Alternative Democratic Pole mayor Luis Eduardo Garzón. Though Garzón did not support Moreno in their party’s primary election – the outgoing mayor is more politically moderate than Moreno – his high approval ratings (consistently over 60 percent) gave the candidate a boost.

In the days before the election, President Uribe gave Moreno a great political gift. On several occasions the president urged voters not to support Moreno and the Alternative Democratic Pole by implying that the party was tied to the FARC. On a visit to the Caribbean coast town of Algarrobo, Magdalena last Thursday, Uribe said, “Today Algarrobo speaks to Bogotá. May they not make the mistake there … of electing mayors supported by the guerrillas who also buy votes.” Uribe made similar statements on Friday and Saturday, and had his ministers of interior and defense do the same.

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Jul 02

Here, with English subtitles, is a brief (3:42) conversation with Wilson Borja, a Colombian congressman from the opposition Alternative Democratic Pole party. It was recorded in Brussels last Thursday, a few hours after we learned of the murder of eleven Valle del Cauca legislators.

Rep. Borja, a labor leader who has represented Bogotá in the Congress since 2002, talks about the necessity of a humanitarian exchange accord to free the remaining hostages. He argues that the Colombian government should be the most subject to international pressure because it is the only legal, institutional party involved. That is a compelling argument, but I don’t give it a full endorsement. In my view, both sides should be pressured to make the compromises necessary to get to the table.

I do, however, share Rep. Borja’s confusion at the Uribe government’s recent release of guerrilla prisoners, which has yielded no results. And I strongly share his concern for the safety of members of Rep. Borja’s political party; an Alternative Democratic Pole leader was murdered in Antioquia department early last week.