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 Ãlvaro 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 MedellÃn 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 PÃ©rez 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 PÃ©rez had locked up the support of MedellÃn’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 IvÃ¡n 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 BogotÃ¡ 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 PeÃ±alosa, who was President Uribe’s choice. Moreno succeeds popular Alternative Democratic Pole mayor Luis Eduardo GarzÃ³n. Though GarzÃ³n 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 BogotÃ¡. 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.
(Uribe based his guerrilla-linkage accusations on the flimsiest evidence: pro-Democratic Pole articles posted to a pro-FARC website hosted in Sweden. The “buying votes” remark came from a campaign gaffe in which candidate Moreno, when asked the hypothetical question of whether he would buy 50 votes if “saving the city” required him to do so, answered “yes.”)
Trying to link the legitimate political opposition with a group on the U.S. and EU terrorist lists is an act that deserves international condemnation. Even Karl Rove never went that far. Those in the United States who still claim to admire President Uribe should be aware of this behavior. The Alternative Democratic Pole’s chairman, 2006 presidential candidate Carlos Gaviria, put it well: “That was not only unconstitutional, but beyond all norms of decency.”
Encouragingly, Uribe’s tactics backfired spectacularly. Last night Moreno’s campaign credited Uribe with helping to lift Moreno’s margin over PeÃ±alosa.
The only other Alternative Democratic Pole candidate to win a major election was former M-19 leader and Senator Antonio Navarro Wolff, who is the new governor of NariÃ±o department. Navarro is the third consecutive left-of-center candidate to govern the violence-plagued province in Colombia’s southwest.
While they won the biggest race – BogotÃ¡ – the “Pole” showed a significant weakness elsewhere. Particularly in rural areas, the party’s candidates – lacking both funds and a well-developed organization – often finished way behind the winning candidates. The party’s leadership blames this weak showing on their decision to devote the bulk of their resources to the campaign to hold on to BogotÃ¡.
- The “para-politicians” suffered some reversals, but remain strong.
The past twelve months have seen more than 40 members of Colombia’s Congress, and several more governors and mayors, investigated – and even imprisoned – for alleged ties to paramilitary groups. A big question during the runup to these elections was whether people would vote for (or feel compelled to vote for) candidates believed to have paramilitary ties, or ties to politicians caught up in the “para-politics” scandal.
The record is mixed. Gubernatorial candidates associated with “para-politicians” were beaten in Santander, AtlÃ¡ntico, Cesar, and BolÃvar departments, as were mayoral candidates in Cartagena and Santa Marta.
Especially encouraging was the victory of CristiÃ¡n Moreno for the governorship of Cesar, a department that, at least until very recently, was regarded to be under the firm control of paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar (alias “Jorge 40″). During the 2003 gubernatorial elections, paramilitary threats forced Moreno, from the small “Green Centrist Option Party,” to withdraw his candidacy.
On the other hand, those accused of para-political ties won the governorships of Sucre, CÃ³rdoba and Magdalena. In Antioquia, the victor was Luis Alfredo Ramos who, while a former senator, mayor of MedellÃn and ambassador to the OAS, has had his name associated with the para-politics scandal. Ramos ran as the candidate of Alas Equipo Colombia, a right-wing party largely discredited for its association with imprisoned CÃ³rdoba Senator Ãlvaro AraÃºjo.
In San Onofre, a town in Sucre that has become notorious for the large amount of mass graves holding paramilitary victims there, the new mayor stands widely alleged of paramilitary ties.
Even more disturbing is evidence of laughably obvious fraud that may allow the “para-politics” candidate to win the governorship of Sucre. This from Semana magazine’s website:
A point of uncertainty … is the citizen alarm after the partial triumph of “Tuto” Barraza – candidate of Congressman Carlos GarcÃa, imprisoned for “parapolitics” – over Julio CÃ©sar Guerra Tulena, for governor of Sucre. Until just before eight at night Barraza was losing by 2,000 votes, when mysteriously the Registry’s data transmission system broke down. Shortly afterward, the Registry’s officials ordered the exit of all overseers and witnesses from the political parties. When the system went back online, Barraza was winning by 200 votes. The Registry (RegistradurÃa) assures that it will investigate what happened, while the region’s voters recall that these were the same strategies by which GarcÃa won elections before being sent to prison.
Last week, investigator Claudia LÃ³pez published a list of candidates with a “high risk” of being tied to paramilitaries, guerrillas, or organized crime. The list was reproduced by Semana magazine and its elections portal, VoteBien.com.
Of the twenty-three major candidates LÃ³pez listed as being “extreme risks” of illegal ties, eight appear to have won on Sunday. (Many more listed as “high” or “medium” risks won as well.) They are:
- Governor of Amazonas department: FÃ©lix Francisco Acosta Soto, Convergencia Ciudadana party
- Governor of Antioquia department: Luis Alfredo Ramos, Movimiento Alas-Equipo Colombia party
- Governor of CÃ³rdoba department: Marta del Socorro SÃ¡enz Correa, Liberal party
- Governor of Magdalena department: Omar Ricardo DÃaz Granados, Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (La “U”)
- Governor of Sucre department: Jorge Carlos Barraza Farak, Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (La “U”)
- Governor of Valle del Cauca department: Juan Carlos AbadÃa Campo, Por un Valle Seguro party
- Mayor of Sincelejo, Sucre: JesÃºs Antonio Paternina Samur, Colombia Viva party
- Mayor of Maicao, La Guajira: Ovidio MejÃa Marulanda, Alianza Social IndÃgena party
- The fullest election results can be viewed on the website of Colombia’s National Registry.
On a final and more personal note, we extend a congratulation to Pedro Arenas, the new mayor of San JosÃ© del Guaviare, the capital of Guaviare department in southern Colombia. In 1998, when Pedro headed a local NGO, the Guaviare Youth Movement, he helped organize my first-ever visit to Colombia (I traveled with colleagues from several other U.S. groups). Pedro went on to be a member of Colombia’s Congress, was hounded by paramilitary threats and lost his seat last year. He won 52 percent of the vote yesterday as the candidate of the Green Centrist Option Party, the small movement of which CristiÃ¡n Moreno, the new governor of Cesar, is also a member.
I’ve met few people in Colombia who understand the dynamics of the conflict, the coca trade, fumigation and alternative development better than Pedro Arenas. He will now be administering a troubled territory that is larger than the state of Connecticut. I hope that Pedro can move San JosÃ© forward.