“Mientras Uribe respire que nadie aspire” Three campaigns
Sep 072009

Colombia’s media over the past few days are full of elite, “respectable” opinion writers using some unusually dire language to describe the state of their country’s democracy. The cause, of course, is last week’s bare-majority vote in Colombia’s Congress allowing a referendum to let President Álvaro Uribe run for a third term.

Some examples follow.

The future dynamic appears to be one of the enthronement of a plebiscitary democracy without counterweights. The political-institutional cost of this phenomenon could be incalculable. …

What I still cannot understand is the President’s attitude. That of submitting the country to this exhausting and disconcerting process and that of castrating any possibility of democratic alteration in power. That of not having sown, after seven years, the continuity of his ideas through so many uribista leaders willing to take his place. That of thinking himself, in the end, indispensable and irreplaceable.

This reveals an egoism that could devolve into a caudillismo that is indigestible and, in the long term, damaging to the country. What Uribe is proposing, without saying it (because he doesn’t speak of such issues) is that in today’s world things are different, and we must overcome all of these democratic scruples, all of this legal formalism and all of this institutional tradition in order to consolidate the politically correct ideas that he embodies.

A conviction that is no doubt sincere. Just as those of Chávez, Evo or Correa might be in their governing platforms. …

I esteem and respect President Uribe and I admire his capacity for work and leadership, which few Colombian presidents have shown. I supported his first reelection, but today it gives me the shivers to think that he believes that two were not enough and that he is seeking, at any price, a third term.

- Enrique Santos Calderón, co-director of El Tiempo and brother of Vice-President Francisco Santos, writing in El Tiempo.

This is not the moment to be complacent about Colombian democracy, nor with the will of the majority. It is time to pass from yellow to red alert. The government and its congressional supporters possess absolute power, and they have demonstrated that they will not be detained by legal or regulatory barriers, nor will they respect the Constitution. It must not be forgotten that the majority of coups d’etat have been directed by charismatic leaders – prominently that of Hitler in 1933 – … and that they are carried out with the collaboration or complicity of legislators who are captive, attracted, coopted or intimidated by the executive backed by the military or by popular majorities.

- Rudolf Hommes, minister of finance in the government of César Gaviria, writing in El Tiempo.

From this point forward I announce that I will not vote again for President Uribe, though I admire him and though I thank him for all that he has undoubtedly done for the country.

My complaint with Uribe is about what I consider to be the two largest failures of the sum of his two terms: his unwon war against corruption and his impotence when it comes to redistributing income among Colombians.

Doing away with corruption was even his campaign theme. But not only do we not breath any air of political or administrative health, many of the government’s attitudes – including the methods used to approve the referendum – are acting directly and publicly as terrible examples for the collective unconscious of the Colombian people, which already shows a propensity toward easy money and get-rich-quick schemes. I can’t remember the country ever having a worse atmosphere when it comes to the issue of corruption.

- El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, a professed supporter of Uribe since he was governor of Antioquia department in the mid-1990s.

Let’s see whether in twelve years the caudillo Uribe is able to beat the FARC, but maybe not four but eight more years will be needed, until 16 or 20 are completed (or perhaps 40 or 50, like Fidel and like Franco). Why don’t we just prepare another constitutional reform that will allow our Perón, our Porfirio, to govern until 2030? Or until there is a soldier for every coca plant and half the country’s budget is sucked up by a big-bellied army.

- Bestselling (in Colombia) author Héctor Abad Faciolince, writing in El Espectador.

4 Responses to ““This is not the moment to be complacent about Colombian democracy””

  1. lfm Says:

    Just to follow up on my previous post, I forecast that we will see a lot of intoning these days from “very serious people” about checks, balances, limits on personal power, rules of the game, constitutional democracy, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it will be fun to see by May how many of those will be voting for Uribe.

  2. Louis Says:

    Sadly, lfm is probably right. But this is an opportunity for people who would not normally break ranks to express concern, however symbolic. It validates those of us who are pushing for some more accountability, it allows for these confessions to be used as leverage with the administration, and it reminds everyone of the responsibility to question the intransigence of Uribe’s government.

  3. Tambopaxi Says:

    I agree with lfm’s and Louis’s comments.

    Lfm’s take on the (probable) election outcome next year is the most realistic, regretably. I think Uribe’s done a good (not great, good) job in dealing with the FARC. However, he’s failed to address the deeper and more serious(in my opinion) issues of the paras and their insidious relationships with the military, the cops and traditional politicos, in any convincing or sustained manner.

    While the performance issues are important, I believe that the points Louis makes are critical to the future of democracy in Colombia. The system of checks of balances is fading, and with it, accountability by, and control over, the executive branch of government in the country. At some point (if we haven’t passed it already), who will be able to control Uribe?

    This same sad process is taking place in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where the executive branch has compromised, subordinated or outright subjugated, all other branches of government and then has proceeded, to varying degrees, to go after other aspects of democratic society such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, private property, etc.

    To be clear, no two countries/situations are identical, but the similarity in trends is obvious and predictable in its direction toward the accrual of as much political power as possible (while stifling any opposition to that accrual), and toward holding on to that power for as long as possible.

    What’s ironic about this is that Bolivar, in his speech to the Congress of Angostura (all 26 members) warned explicitly against the danger of the strong executive and the potential for abuse by that person. I wonder what’d he’d say today…

  4. Marcos Says:

    I wonder how many of you will realize that “plebiscitary democracy without counterweights” describes Chavez’s Venezuela a lot more accurately than Uribe’s Colombia, at least until the referudum is approved, and has done so for an even longer amount of time.



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