Bittersweet. Colombia: Electoral Results of March 12th and Perspectives for the May 28th Presidential Election
Official reports called it a “comfortable” victory for President Alvaro Uribe. Of the 100 contested seats for the Colombian senate, Uribe’s supporters obtained 61 seats while those counted as opposition (Liberals and the leftist Polo Democratico Alternativo) obtained 29 seats, while “Independent” parties obtained the remaining 10 seats. At the Chamber of Representatives, the seats went 91 for Uribe, 45 for opposition and 30 for independents of the total 166 seats. In practical terms, this means that Uribe counts with an absolute majority for the upcoming legislative agenda which includes ratification of the recently signed Free Trade Agreement with the USA and a number of reforms that will facilitate corporate control over wealth, resources and territories, as well as savings, investments and cheap labor.
More than 60% of the 27 million potential voters abstained from participating in these elections and almost 10%, close to 1 million voters either deposited unmarked ballots or these were invalid. In other words, 60 out of every 100 voters did not vote, 4 voted but did not select candidates, 3 deposited invalid votes, and 1 had their electoral card returned. This means that Uribe’s candidates obtained less than 19% of electoral support, or less than 4 out of the 10 million votes. If this is compared to the 5.829.958 votes with which Uribe obtained the 53% majority with which he was elected 4 years ago, the President’s popularity is falling. One must remember that Uribe needed to mobilize close to 6.5 million votes at the 2003 referendum his government convened to have the structural adjustment and neoliberal-war reforms “democratically” approved, which he failed to do. This led to a crisis that almost forced his resignation. If Uribe did poorly, the others, it must be said, did much worse.
The leftist PDA obtained 11 seats and close to 1 million votes. Although far from a threatening result for the establishment, this is an excellent result for united left congressional elections. Gustavo Petro and Jorge Robledo obtained the second and third strongest mandate for senate among all candidates from all parties.
The Liberal party elected Horacio Serpa for the third time as Presidential candidate, but he hardly obtained 50% of the votes. According to most analysts, his weak advantage was due to a strong anti-Uribe discourse resembling that of the PDA. His past considered, Serpa remains a weak challenger for Uribe.
Carlos Gaviria won the primaries for the PDA over Antonio Navarro, with close to 54% of the votes and became the Left’s Presidential candidate against most predictions and contrary to the results of all poles. Carlos Gaviria is a very strong challenger to Uribe and to the corporate transnational model.
Given these results, the elected congress will impose an anti-popular, pro US-corporate agenda in favor of a totalitarian terror-ridden neoliberal regime consolidation from Colombia but for the entire region, which will escort trans-nationals into these territories at the expense of people and life.
The upside is that the PDA has consolidated itself and that one major hurdle has been overcome: Carlos Gaviria, who represents a clear and direct opposition to the neoliberal imperial model, did the impossible by uniting the left and defeating Navarro who will now support him. He predicted this and also that now, Uribe will not be able to obtain a majority on May 28th and a second round will be required. “We will go into a second round and once this happens, with the support of Colombians, I will defeat Uribe”. The fact is that Uribe has been unable to increase his support (and is losing it) in-spite of his control over the State and the media with enormous US support. In-fact the US media expert (Rendon) who developed the campaign in favor of the US invasion of Iraq has been working from Colombia’s Ministry of Defense since last year. The challenge ahead for popular sectors (between now and May 28th) is to mobilize those who abstained (close to 17 million voters), to cast their votes against Uribe and force a second round among the fore-runners. This is not only numerically possible; it is actually likely to happen because electoral history in Colombia has shown that the popular sectors increase their participation on Presidential elections while the right cannot increase their numbers. The challenge then is to win the media and information battle against machinery that is being used to convince people that Uribe cannot be defeated, when the opposite is the truth.
There are some in the left calling people to abstain at the upcoming elections. Their assumption is that the more than 60% who did not vote are in-fact against the establishment. While this is a doubtful and ungrounded assumption, I join those who believe this position to be mistaken and dangerous for two reasons: 1. Abstention will help Uribe and the US-Corporate project as it has on these congressional elections (they right now control Colombia’s Congress) and 2. History should not be ignored: in 1960 father Camilo Torres Restrepo mobilized Colombians to abstain at Presidential elections based on the same assumption. Camilo could have won a landslide Presidential victory for the revolutionary left. Later, he went underground with the ELN and died in combat in 1963. ELN today has called on the people of Colombia to actively and massively vote against Uribe. While it is truth that winning electoral control over the establishment’s institutions is not equivalent to achieving revolutionary change, it certainly can help, as parliamentarians of the democratic left have shown. Losing will certainly worsen the already devastating conditions imposed over the impoverished and terrorized majorities, so that it seems unethical and anti-popular to promote abstention in this context. Mobilization and rebellion by any and all means becomes more feasible if spaces are opened and popular sectors can take advantage of opportunities created.
These electoral results are bitter-sweet. At the moment, Colombia is probably the most important country in the electoral landscape of the continent given that an adverse result for the Uribe-Bush project would change the correlation of forces and the direction of political processes in the region because this country has become the beach-head and the base of the terror-propaganda-reform corporate agenda for the Americas. The challenge then is to force a second round on May 28th.
Indigenous and Popular movements and organizations have to engage immediately in a critical analysis of the context and of their own actions and decisions. While the partisan left is finally united, many strong social movements allowed themselves to become confused and fragmented during the congressional electoral campaign under the influence of petit political and personal interests, which promoted contradictions between electoral decisions and stated political positions. The outcome was abstention and defeat in some key regions. Much of the future of the country depends on the ability and commitment of the leaders and organizations to look back recognize the mistakes made and follow their expressed mandate for social justice and transformation into their electoral decision-making.
Pueblos En Camino
Toronto, March 23, 2006