Colombia. On the eve of a historic change? Elections, Social War and Paramilitarism – Against

By Diana Carolina Alfonso and Lautaro Rivara

In Colombia, two different, but simultaneous, elections took place on Sunday 13 March. On the one hand, the election of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in a complex electoral system that – thanks to the groundbreaking constitution of 1991 and after the Havana peace agreement of 2016 – recognizes different constituencies: national and territorial (equivalent to federal). and provincial or state constituencies in other countries), but also some “special” constituencies: for indigenous peoples, for Afro-Colombians, for the Raizal community, for Colombians abroad, for victims of the conflict and for the Comunes party (former party of the FARC revolutionary armed forces in Colombia), following the demobilization of the self-proclaimed guerrillas. Total: 108 senators and 188 members of the House of Representatives were elected Sunday.

On the other hand, within the framework of a newer and increasingly consolidated mechanism in the country, the consultations (of the primary elections) have taken place between the parties in the main electoral coalitions, which will contest the presidential election on May 29: for the left and progressivism, the historic pact (Pacto Histórico), for center, Coalition Center Hope (Coalición Centro Esperanza), and for right, Team Coalition for Colombia (Coalición Equipo por Colombia).

Left: a historic but inadequate victory

The former guerrilla and former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, won the historic Pact primary without any problems with a resounding score of 80.51% predicted by all polls. However, Francia Márquez’s performance, an Afro-Colombian leader and environmentalist from Cauca (southwest of the country), one of the focal points of the internal armed conflict, was also remarkable: without a party apparatus, with 14% of the vote and nearly 800,000 votes, she even beat traditional political figures such as the winner of the Center Coalition and former mayor of Medellín, Sergio Fajardo.

The debate now is whether Gustavo Petro will allow Francia Márquez to join him on the presidential ticket, as they are two personalities who have clearly proved to be complementary in public debates. They may therefore be able to reconcile the difficult task of representing a country resembling a broken mosaic, between militant sectors and ordinary citizens, between big cities and rural areas, between central regions and the most neglected areas, and those who are hardest hit. affected by violence. Or would Gustavo Petro rather seek an agreement with the liberal sectors that is likely to expand his parliamentary margin of action, which seems to be inferred from his initial statements after the election about the need to form “a coalition of progressive majorities”.

However, the scenario is not as promising as expected at the parliamentary level, especially given the proximity of the presidential election: the Pacto Histórico won only 16 of the 22 seats expected in the Senate, despite having recognized strong candidates. The political shift in progressive sectors, such as the Fuerza Ciudadana movement and the feminist organization Estamos Listas, is particularly remarkable: their total of 600,000 votes could have secured three more seats in the Senate. Feminist currents supported Francia Márquez in the primary election, but went alone in the parliamentary election, precisely when Congress is to regulate the implementation of the recently approved voluntary abortion.

At any rate, historically, the left is celebrating the best elections in the country’s history, even if it is a story broken by violence and the opposition’s policy of extinction, such as the assassination of three presidential candidates and 5,430 Patriotic Union activists. [Unión Patriótica, parti issu du mouvement de guérilla qui s’est reconverti dès 1985, mais a été l’objet d’une politique d’assassinats) dans les années 1980. En 2002, le candidat Luis Eduardo Garzón a pu recueillir un peu plus de 600 000 voix lors des élections primaires: 20 ans plus tard, le Pacte historique, aujourd’hui consolidé comme la première force nationale, dispose de plus de 5 millions de voix.

La droite amortit le choc, le centre s’effondre

Comme à son habitude, la droite colombienne a présenté une infinité de visages et de profils lors des élections législatives, afin d’élargir sa base électorale vers le centre, de capitaliser une partie du mécontentement contre le président Iván Duque [son mandat a commencé le 7 août 2018] Very weakened after the shock of the national strike [d’avril 2021] – and then move towards unification to the right in the first round of the presidential election (and even more so in a likely second round against Gustavo Petro). As for the formation of the parliament itself, the execution of the strategy is remarkable: although the historic pact was the most voted coalition and wants one of the largest minorities with 15 seats on the other side of the chessboard, there are about 70 seats between the conservatives party, the Liberal Party (if there are no alliances with Petro), the Democratic Center, Radical Change, the U-Party and MIRA, a not insignificant result considering that the right wing has had one of the worst government leaders in all its history.

The Center Coalition, for its part, achieved a disappointing result: almost 2 million votes for those who tried to pursue politics “beyond polarization”: without any kind of programmatic unity, without an economic plan, with candidates not gaining momentum such as . Ingrid Betancourt, without common answers to such pressing questions as war, peace, agriculture and illegal crops. Sergio Fajardo ended up winning less comfortably than his presidential candidates and will find it much harder than them to attract the votes of a coalition that without leadership could easily be knocked out by right- and left-wing moves.

The ruling Democratic Center, the party of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez and current President Iván Duque, in turn led a clear sanctions vote. The latter alone pushed Iván Zuluaga’s candidacy out of the right-wing coalition. He went from the most voted force in the Senate in 2018 to a fourth place today. However, after a quick meeting convened by Uribe himself, Iván Zuluaga announced that he had rejected his candidacy to support Federico Gutiérrez, winner of the primary elections in the Equipo por Colombia coalition, with 54.18% of the preferences, confirming that Fico Gutiérrez has always for Uribe’s party been a piece on someone else’s chessboard.

As is often the case, Antioquia [nord-ouest] was once again the antithesis of Bogotá. At the regional level, the coffee region has once again secured the extreme right-wing position in the Legislative Assembly. It is one of the most important regions of the country, not only because the business sector in Medellín controls a large economic pole, but also because of the diversity of paramilitary structures. The Department of Antioquia has produced important cadres for the drug-paramilitary state project, ranging from Pablo Escobar to Uribe himself. The scenario is also not straightforward in the Caribbean, where petrismo [Gustavo Petro] expected higher levels of support: at least in the Senate and House of Commons, right-wing family clans retained the majority of preferences.

As a result, the classical right continues to rule by force over the regional landscape. It is obvious that urbanism has succeeded in reinventing itself within the Conservative Party, as has the great territorial influence which the Liberal Party preserves. After 20 years of urbanism, regional hegemony has returned to traditional structures, in a development that is not free from atavism, but which is only understandable given the loyalty of a country characterized by the violence of the two parties.

Elections in war or democracy for peace

For those who know and those who do not know, the weight of the parliamentary result is inseparable from the projection of the next presidential election: so far, and if Gustavo Petro wins the presidency on May 29, conservative forces will retain their majority parliamentarians and their ability to veto the initiatives of a progressive, historic, eventual government that Colombia has never known before. However, caution is of little use in a country with a criminal elite and a long history of political violence and electoral fraud.

The election on Sunday 13 March, seen from the perspective of progressives and leftists, offers a very good scenario for winning (even in the first round) and a very complex scenario for government (disregarding extra-democratic power factors such as paramilitary and criminal). The scale of Colombia’s challenges – impossible to compare with other emerging progressive countries in the region – can be illustrated by what happened to the special constituencies for peace. [circonscriptions réservées dans le cadre de l’Accord pour la paix de 2016], thanks to which 16 persecuted from the social and armed conflict would have access to a guaranteed seat in Congress. In the Guajira region [département à l’extrême nord], on the other hand, social leaders were unable to stand for election due to harassment by paramilitary gangs. Eventually, the seat went to Jorge Tovar, son of the drug paramilitary known as Jorge 40, author of countless massacres, now in prison but active in his son’s campaign. In other regions, such as Arauca, Catatumbo, and Caquetá, the persecutors were also able to retain the positions reserved for the persecuted during the increased clashes.

In other words, the background to electoral challenges is war: the same war that has long since ceased to affect the world. But there is also an opportunity to make peace, to respect and revive the Havana agreements, to start negotiations with the aim of demobilizing the guerrillas in the National Liberation Army (ALN), to discuss Colombia’s status as since 2017 [la coopération Colombie-OTAN a commencé en 2013]one of the “global partners” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to stimulate a land redistribution policy that would create a vacuum for paramilitarism, which benefits from good health, thousands of soldiers, endless resources and broad political support .

What will happen in the coming months will also not be independent of the new regional and global geopolitical situation and the need for the US to relax on the Latin American front, ensure control of raw materials and add allies to the sanctions policy against Russia. Neither with the emergence of governments belonging to Gustavo Petro, like Gabriel Borics in Chile, and with a weak second progressive wave, which, if it no longer has the living forces of the past, will at least be able to provide some support to a country that will be the whirlwind of the regional hurricane in the coming months. (Published by the weekly magazine violatedMarch 18, 2022; translation writing Against)

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