After all the debates and arguments, the accusations and the recriminations, the election is over. At the beginning of this penultimate week of June 2010 we know that the uribista political project is still in power in Colombia, and will be for at least another four years. In fact, it was clear that this was going to be the case over three weeks ago, after the first round of voting. But only five weeks ago the political scenario had seemed very different. Indeed, as the weekend of the first vote approached one thing was clear: the 2010 presidential campaign in Colombia had been extraordinary. And it had been so in a number of ways. To begin with this had been an unusually short contest, at least in Colombian terms. As recently as January many analysts had expected the election to be contested and won by the incumbent president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, an authoritarian but extremely popular leader who many in Colombia regard as a kind of Messiah for banishing the guerrillas of the FARC to the periphery of the national territory, if not of political discourse. Yet in late February the Constitutional Court’s finding that the proposal to hold a referendum which might have allowed Uribe to run for a third term was procedurally flawed left him outside the fray, transforming the political landscape in spectacular fashion. The removal from the scene of the figure who has utterly dominated Colombian politics for the last eight years lent an air of uncertainty to the campaign, allowing previously marginalised political forces to flourish and opening the door to a vigorous and open debate about the country’s many problems. However, this unleashing of previously blocked political energies began to pose a threat to the powerful interests that have dictated policy throughout the Uribe years, provoking a reaction that proved beyond any doubt the solidity of the elite alliance which continues to dominate political life in Colombia. Indeed, after the exhilaration of the first stage of the election campaign the final result can only lead one to fear for the health of Colombia’s democracy in the near future.
That, at least, is how things seem today. In what follows, however, I want to go back to the start of the campaign and try to piece together the series of events that led to Juan Manuel Santos’ overwhelming victory last Sunday. As I do so I will consider some of the factors that contributed to a result that now seems so entirely predictable and attempt to assess the implications for Colombia of what will almost certainly be a continuation of the policies of the Uribe administration. In many respects this is not a pleasant story but it is certainly an instructive one. It reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of Colombia’s current institutional order and begins to shed light on the political imaginary shared by much of Colombia’s population. It is a story of hope but also of frustration and at times despair, at least for those of us on the left. However, if one agrees with Gramsci that “the challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned” it is important to try to understand what is essentially a victory for an authoritarian regime which has presided over increasing inequality and multiple human rights’ abuses. Indeed, the very fact that it is hard to see who has benefited from Colombia’s recent high rates of growth other than corporations and cabals makes it all the more pressing to identify the features which helped to make this result possible.
So let us go back to March, when the political class entered a period of feverish activity after it became clear that Uribe could not run again. The candidate favoured by the regime was Juan Manuel Santos, the leader of the Partido de la U (Social Party of National Unity) and previously Uribe’s Minister of Defence. Unsurprisingly, Santos promised to continue the previous administration’s emphasis on “democratic security”, which essentially means doing whatever it takes to defeat the guerrillas militarily and then claiming that such actions are justified by high levels of popular support. One of the most hotly debated questions, however, was whether Santos would inherit Uribe’s unprecedented popularity —over 65% of the electorate approved of the president’s performance after eight years in power, according to the pollsters— or whether his role as Minister of Defence during the falsos positivos scandal in which it became clear that army units were systematically murdering civilians and passing them off as guerrilla casualties would affect his standing in the polls. There was also the question of his part in the bombing of a FARC encampment in Ecuador in 2008 in which guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes was killed. This violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty ratcheted up the tension between the two countries and eventually led to an Ecuadorian court issuing a warrant for the ex-Defence Minister’s arrest.
And then there were the other scandals which were threatening to drag down the Uribe administration in its dying days. Foremost amongst these were the parapolítica cases which link dozens of Uribe supporters in congress to the death squads that have used exemplary violence to kill hundreds of peasants and drive millions from the land, thus denying support for the guerrillas and providing cheap land for large scale agribusiness and property speculators. Through these links dozens of politicians from the Partido de la U and other uribista parties were proved to have been involved in the greatest agrarian counter reform in Colombian history, carried out through threats, extortion and murder. There was also the scandal of the bugging of dozens of opponents of the regime by the DAS (Administrative Security Department) security police, combined with the investigation of their tax records and personal details. This incident, which in effect combined the Watergate scandal with the compilation of Nixon’s “enemies of the White House” list, led directly to the Palacio de Nariño, though the president’s personal involvement could not be proved. Similarly, the case of Yidis Medina, the congresswoman who claimed to have been bribed by government officials into supporting the referendum that had paved the way for Uribe’s re-election in 2006, also led to the presidential palace without directly implicating the president.
But this was not all. There was also the scandal surrounding Agro Ingreso Seguro, a programme designed to support small rural entrepreneurs which handed out paltry sums (often as little as fifty pence) to peasants while providing millions for large scale agribusiness. This was the responsibility of Uribe’s Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias, a conservative politician known as Uribito (little Uribe) for his aping of the president’s style and idiosyncratic delivery. And beyond the question of the corruption or at best ineptitude of this sinister Mini-Me —who many think will one day be president— there were the allegations that Uribe’s sons had benefited from insider information in order to make millions out of land investment in a newly designated free trade zone. Defending the government’s record in circumstances such as these was not going to be an easy job for Santos, especially given his leading role within the outgoing administration.
There was also the question of personal style. Santos is a very different proposition from Uribe, the paisa patriarch (paisa is the name given to the inhabitants of the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío) who has hypnotized public opinion in Colombia for over eight years. In contrast to the irascible president, with his folksy manner and brilliant communicational skills, Santos is a member of an elite Bogotano family who lacks Uribe’s ability to capture the electorate’s imagination with popular sayings and quirky catchphrases. Though by no means working class, Uribe plays the role of the paisa landowner, which cashes in on the popular idea of paisas as stern, thrifty, pragmatic and hardworking people who know what it means to get his hands dirty. In contrast, as Polo Democrático candidate Gustavo Petro acidly remarked, “All Santos knows about the land are golf courses and the only working class person he’s ever met is his maid.” Whereas Uribe has been able to present himself as a maverick politician who owes no favours to the establishment, Santos is a descendant of Eduardo Santos, Liberal president in the late thirties and early forties, and a member of the family which for generations owned the great liberal newspaper El Tiempo and continues to have a crucial influence over its editorial policy. Born into a life of power and privilege, some analysts saw him as a candidate who would be unable to connect with the people and both interpret and influence the popular mood in the way that Uribe undoubtedly has.
Furthermore, Santos’ personal image was already less than positive. Santos was a hate figure for the left which had long before taken to calling him Chucky, partly because of his role as Minister of Defence during this murderous period and partly because he bears a passing resemblance to the evil doll of the Child’s Play horror films. (As he was chased out of Sergio Arboleda University in Cali by protesting students he even referred to the use of this juvenile nickname himself, noting that as far he was concerned it could only be associated with supporters of the FARC, a strategy that has long been used by Uribe, who brands the regime’s opponents as terrorist sympathisers or traitors to the nation.) But he was also seen as shrewd but unreliable by other members of the political class and had a reputation as a politician quite capable of switching sides to further his own career (it was said that Santos would even extradite Uribe if he thought it would serve his interests). Originally a Liberal, he was accused of plotting a coup against President Ernesto Samper in the mid 90s, a charge he has consistently and vigorously denied. He did not support Uribe’s first candidacy because it was outside the official Liberal party process but three years later he joined the uribista movement, creating the Partido de la U in an attempt to bring together all of the diverse forces that supported the president.
Whether as a result of the falsos positivos and other scandals or because of his personal and political image, as the pollsters began to practice their dark arts it did seem that Santos could not automatically be regarded as Uribe’s anointed successor, in spite of the inclusion of a voice over that sounded remarkably like the president’s in a campaign broadcast. (Colombian law prohibits any show of favouritism by the president during the election campaign and later on Santos would describe this cashing in on the presidential image as a picardía, a crafty trick.)A complicating factor was that in spite of wanting to be able to take advantage of the president’s undoubted popularity, Santos’ advisors initially thought that the relationship with the previous administration might prove to be a problem, especially as the scandals received increasing coverage in the media. They therefore made an effort to distance their candidate from the more controversial aspects of Uribe’s eight years in power and to give him an identity of his own. However, this strategy was clearly not paying off, as the would-be successor seemed to be becalmed at around 35% of the vote.
Instead, the headline-grabbing phenomenon of the moment was Antanas Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and the most eccentric and flamboyant mayor in Bogotá’s history. Mockus had joined forces with two other previous mayors of the capital, Enrique Peñalosa and Lucho Garzón, and the ex-mayor of Medellín, Sergio Fajardo in an alliance hosted by the Partido Verde (Opción Centro), a party that pre-existed the arrival of the “three tenors”, as Mockus, Garzón and Peñalosa were dubbed in the press, though it was totally transformed by them. At first, however, it seemed as if this political option, which has little in common with Green parties elsewhere, was unlikely to make much headway in the electoral campaign. A fundamental problem was that while there were those who could stomach an alliance between moderate conservative Mockus and the liberal technocrat Peñalosa, or between Mockus and renegade left-winger Garzón, it seemed unlikely for there to be many who could accept a combination of all three. Indeed, the union of these very different public figures led to confusion about what their programme actually was, a problem compounded by the return to the fold of Sergio Fajardo as vice presidential candidate after an initial split with the other three leaders. Yet although the verdes were stuck on around 9% for the first few weeks of the campaign, a sudden change in its fortunes seemed to be taking place as the pollsters began to put them on over 30%, with Mockus virtually tied with Santos. This sparked off the so-called Ola Verde, the Green Wave, which quickly began to make an impact in Colombia’s cities, as many people, especially young activists, took to the streets to show their support for change. Seventh Avenue in Bogotá was on more than one occasion flooded with the green shirts and sunflowers that symbolised Mockus’ campaign.
Mockus’ message was similar to the one that had made him famous in his days as mayor of Bogotá, stressing the need for austerity and honesty in public office combined with a change of attitude on the part of the citizenry. This emphasis on “citizen culture”, on the need to develop trust and a sense of community, had some success in changing the chaotic reality of Bogotá in the late 90s and won Mockus many admirers. The surprising surge in his popularity during this campaign seemed to have something to do with this reserve of political capital but it also owed much to the fact that his campaign was quickly identified as the best hope of defeating Santos. It therefore began to attract both the so-called “opinion vote” (voto de opinión) of those who genuinely supported his proposals and the “tocosan” —todos contra Santos (everyone against Santos)— voters who could contemplate anything but a continuation of the policies of the Uribe regime.
One of the most striking aspects of what was initially a slow burning campaign was the media presentation of the debates between the six candidates with most support in the opinion polls (there were nine in total). Apart from Santos these were Germán Vargas Lleras, leader of Cambio Radical, a prickly and combative ex-Liberal who had originally supported the uribista project but distanced himself from the president after the first term, Rafael Pardo, the leader of the Liberal Party, a thoughtful intellectual who has published an important study of paramilitarism, the Conservative candidate Noemí Sanín, who had been Colombian ambassador in London, and Gustavo Petro of the Polo Democrático, the party of the democratic left, which in the previous presidential elections had been the main opposition with over 20% of the vote. The polls, however, suggested that Petro was not doing anything like as well as Carlos Gaviria had in 2006 and gave him around 5% of the voting preference. Vargas Lleras’ support was of the same order, with Sanín slightly ahead. In fact, both Sanín and Pardo seemed to be teetering on the brink of electoral disaster as their parties, which had once utterly dominated Colombian politics, were riven by internal divisions, most of which stemmed from their members’ desire to support the uribista candidate and thus secure their share of the bureaucratic spoils.
Even though the polls suggested that the polarization of opinion between Santos and Mockus was quickly squeezing out the other candidates, the debates were eagerly awaited and certainly lived up to expectations. Compared to the predictable exchanges that characterize American presidential debates, with their dreary repetition of sound bites, or the depressing spectacle of the party leaders in the British general election agreeing about the benefits of a bankrupt economic model, these debates provided what was in many respects a stunning exercise in democracy. Hosted by a number of private media companies, including Caracol, RCN and La W radio, as well as the private Bogotá TV station CityTV, the precise format of the discussion varied, but never failed to produce a fascinating confrontation between a distinct range of political opinions. Furthermore, the eight debates not only allowed the candidates sufficient time to explain the details of their political programmes but also to challenge each other with unexpected questions which elicited unrehearsed responses. Perhaps most striking of all, however, was the fact that all this took place in an atmosphere marked by a serious attempt to debate the issues which was far removed from the antics of British or American politicians with their tedious repetition of pre-packaged slogans, regardless of the questions they are asked.
The result of all this was that in the final debate on the Friday before the first round of voting Juan Manuel Santos was definitely on the ropes. And this was not the result of a tocosan conspiracy but of the candidates’ willingness to discuss the real problems that confront Colombia today. The connivance of many of Uribe’s supporters in the crimes of the paramilitaries, the abuse of state power, the flaws in the Law of Justice and Peace, the realities of forced displacement, the structural problems of the rural economy, the failure of Colombia’s high growth rate to produce jobs, the critical state of the health service, the erosion of workers’ rights under Uribe’s labour reforms, the illegal nature of the incursion into Ecuador, the disastrous economic effects of the continual spats with Venezuela, the attempts by the executive to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the regional consequences of allowing the US to use seven military bases on Colombian soil, the problems surrounding the third TV channel, all of these and more were discussed and analysed. Rather than avoiding difficult questions most of the candidates engaged with them, debating the issues vigorously but politely. And as a barrage of criticisms threatened to brush aside his demurrals even Santos had to accept some of the regime’s failings. For a glorious moment, uribismo seemed to be a spent force, ready to be swept away on a rising tide of dissent.
The president himself was perfectly well aware of the ways thing were going in these debates. Infuriated by the revival of claims that his brother Santiago had been involved with a paramilitary group known as the Doce Apóstoles (the Twelve Apostles) and visibly shaken at some of the candidates’ forthright criticisms, Uribe was in combative and intransigent mood when he appeared in an interview with RCN journalist Claudia Gurisatti the night before the final debate. Florid of face and occasionally shaking his fist in anger, he defended both his brother’s innocence and the honesty of his regime, emphasising the need for the next president to protect the tres huevitos (“three little eggs”) of democratic security, investor confidence and social cohesion. Yet in spite of Gurisatti’s fawning approach, which allowed the president to appear statesmanlike even as he appeared to endorse one of the candidates, it seemed as if the snake charmer-in-chief’s intervention would not be enough to turn the tide, as the regime’s failings were increasingly exposed to public scrutiny.
Against this uncertain background the election was expected to be one of the most exciting and hard fought in Colombian history. After weeks of heavy rain election day in Bogotá dawned fine and an unusually large number of electors seemed to be flocking to the polling stations across the city. In Suba, one of the largest and poorest of Bogotá’s twenty localities, occasional comments on the way to the polls allowed glimpses into the way people were thinking, though in general the atmosphere was one of tense calm, as if the voters were pretending that they were not actually involved in an election at all. “They may be corrupt but this has been a good government” (“Pueden ser corruptos pero ha sido un buen gobierno”), muttered a woman to another, much to the disgust of the Polo supporter who accompanied me to the polls. “Santos”, muttered another, as he brushed past on his way into the long queues that snaked towards the open-air voting area in Suba’s central plaza. The surrounding streets were crowded, and some people seemed confused about which was their voting station but the management of the voting booths seemed orderly and transparent apart from occasional complaints about people wearing party colours near the voting stations. (Colombian law forbids all campaigning on election day.) And all over the city, particularly in the huge voting station at Corferias, where over 900,000 people were to cast their votes, the turnout was approaching 60%, well above that of previous elections in the Uribe era.
The polls closed at four p.m. and as the results began to be announced a striking change in fortunes seemed to have taken place. Although the first results were based on tiny outputs from single voting stations the consolidated national returns showed that Santos was doing far better than he might have feared while Mockus was doing a lot worse than expected. The Registraduría, which had been subject to severe criticisms after the congressional elections in March, in which thousands of votes were proved to be fraudulent and the dead voted, showed extraordinary —some said suspicious— efficiency in getting well over 90% of the results out within three hours of the polls closing. And the results were startling. At just over 46% of the vote, Santos was tantalisingly close to the 50% plus one that he required to be declared president without need of a second round. In contrast, the much-vaunted green wave had rolled back to the low 20s, a crushing disappointment for the Mockus campaign. Vargas Lleras, however, had received over 10% of the vote, while Petro had managed just over 9%. Sanín had tanked badly at 6% and the official Liberal party candidate Pardo had been almost wiped out, gaining only 600,000 out of the nearly fifteen million votes cast nationwide. (Contrary to expectations, the turnout was not particularly high, with an abstention rate of just over 50%, with the exception of Bogotá where 60% of the electorate went to the polls.)
More importantly, Santos had won every department except Putumayo, the southern region where the government’s handling of the collapsed DMG pyramid scheme had infuriated local voters, many of whom were victims of what was one of the most notorious financial scams in Colombian history, and subsequently showed their displeasure by voting for Mockus and Petro. Overall, however, this was an even better result for Santos than that achieved by Uribe in 2006, when both Nariño and the Guajira had been won by the Polo Democrático. The Polo had fared badly in Bogotá where it is still the party of local government, though it emerged as the second force in the Caribbean coast, where Petro’s tireless efforts to expose the parapolítica scandal were only exceeded by the ability of the local political machinery to grind out a winning result for Santos. In the heartland of uribismo, the paisa territories of Antioquia and the departments of the eje cafetero, conservatism triumphed, with Santos coming out on top everywhere, followed by Vargas Lleras and Sanín. In these areas the solidity of the marriage between traditional paisa values and uribista ideology showed no sign of wilting and the influence of regional power brokers remained strong. And given the near idolatry with which Uribe is treated in those parts, the malicious rumour that with Mockus in power the ex-president might be extradited to face charges of human rights violations did little to help the cause of the verdes.
In the midst of the electoral hangover suffered by anti-uribista forces on the following morning the question on many people’s minds was what exactly had happened. How could the polls from a week before the elections be so spectacularly wrong? A difference of twenty-five points in the course of a week suggested a completely skewed set of polls, a dramatic turnaround or massive fraud. But which of these possibilities was most likely to be the real explanation for what had happened?
The practices of polling agencies in Colombia have long been under question. The use of phone surveys in a country where many people still do not have a landline and where there are striking regional differences in voting patterns has occasionally led to anomalies in the past. Yet Napoleon Franco, Invamer-Gallup and the University of Antioquia had all agreed that the race was too close to call, with the leading candidates favoured by between 33% and 39% of the electorate. When questioned about this some of the pollsters’ claimed that the week’s difference meant that they were in effect taking a photograph of a race fifty metres before the finish line. Others said that they had noted the increase in the voting intention for some of the smaller candidates, such as Petro and Vargas Lleras, during the final week. But what remained unexplained was just how support for Juan Manuel Santos had surged from the mid 30s to over 46% of the vote.
There were several ways of thinking about this. One suggestion was that Mockus supporters had simply not gone to the polls, though this seemed far-fetched as these “voters for change” were likely to be particularly well motivated. However, the youth vote, which with around four million first time voters registered had been a source of hope for the Greens, certainly did turn out to be a disappointment. Many of the newly registered did not vote and the majority of those who did opted for Santos, continuing a recent trend amongst Colombia’s young people to support right wing and authoritarian programmes. Indeed, like Uribe Santos drew strong support from all age groups and demographic categories, though his support amongst the most disadvantaged socioeconomic groups was particularly strong and a higher proportion of women than men voted for him. It certainly seemed possible that the pollsters had simply got it wrong by using methodologies which focused attention on urban areas, though the vote in the major cities was in any case heavily in Santos’ favour. In Bogotá, for example, Santos received 40% of the vote to Mockus’ 27% and won every one of the twenty localities except Teusaquillo, Chapinero and the outlying rural area of Sumapaz. This was a much lower margin of victory than in the country as a whole but it was still a long way from the technical tie predicted by the pollsters.
Another suggestion was that Mockus’ patchy performance in the debates had caused this dip in his support but it was impossible to see exactly which issue might have accounted for such a dramatic turnaround. Mockus had certainly alienated the entire medical profession at a stroke by saying that $500 dollars a month was an adequate salary for a doctor but this particular guild was neither large nor influential enough to have had a profound effect on the overall level of his support. He was also open about the fact that he intended to raise taxes, an approach which might have been disastrous in a US or UK election but which in Colombia seemed unlikely to have much of an impact given the country’s historically low rates of tax. This point was certainly not discussed in detail in the early debates, though it was to achieve greater prominence in the second round. Thus while Germán Vargas Lleras and Gustavo Petro, widely recognised as the most impressive performers in the debates, may well have increased their support as a result there was nothing sufficiently negative in Mockus’ performance to explain the discrepancy between the polls and the results of the first round of voting.
There were also accusations of fraud, though these as yet remain unsubstantiated. It is highly likely that some level of fraud took place in the paramilitary dominated rural areas but the claims now circulating on the internet of voting urns being switched or burnt by the national police have not been backed up by any evidence. Another possible factor, however, is what consistent Uribe critic Daniel Coronell, in an article in Semana magazine the day after the elections, called “another form of fraud” (“otra forma de fraude”). Coronell’s argument, which was repeated by Gustavo Petro and then picked up by Mockus, was that Familias en Acción (Families in Action), a government programme which provides basic subsistence support for poor families, had been manipulated for electoral gain. Thus it was claimed, for example, that busloads of beneficiaries were ferried into Bucaramanga for a Santos rally and malicious rumours were being spread which suggested that under Mockus the programme might be closed. Given that over two million families are registered with Familias en Acción across the country this was certainly an impressive constituency. An investigation into the use of this programme for electoral advantage by the NGO Global Exchange is yet to be published though Coronell based his article on information contained in this document. In an interview with me two days after the elections, Jorge Enrique Robledo, the Polo Democrático senator, gave credence to Coronell’s claims, adding that around 50% of the population receives some form of government aid.
It is difficult to gauge the extent of wrongdoing of this sort, though we will have to wait for the full report to see how the conclusions were reached. It may be a question of blatant and systematic manipulation. On the other hand, if a particular welfare programme is linked with a given administration then the association will be translated into political support from its beneficiaries. This is not clientelism, though it does come very close to it when there is little continuity in public policy and programmes are clearly linked to partisan politics. Indeed, given Colombia’s intensely transactional political culture it seems likely that state aid was indeed politicised, though to what extent remains to be seen. In the first debate between the two remaining candidates, Mockus claimed that a number of mothers on the programme had personally told him that they had been threatened with the withdrawal of their benefits if they did not vote for Santos and in the course of the last week of campaigning he made further accusations about the abuse of the programme for electoral gain, as well as noting numerous other irregularities which suggested outright fraud, such as the drawing up of two records for voting stations rather than one. Meanwhile, Enrique Borda, one of the Green Party campaign managers, denounced the negative approach of local officials, including mayors, to the witnesses and other representatives of the Green Party. What no one mentioned, perhaps because it is such an obvious habit, was that in many areas mayors were putting pressure on contractors to work for a pro-Santos vote.
Beyond these and other potential sources of manipulation, however, there remains the question of why hundreds of thousands of Colombians voted for a government that has been associated with so many scandals. In part, this means assessing the extent to which uribista ideology has made inroads into the popular imaginary, a task which goes well beyond the scope of this essay, though I have dealt with it in some detail elsewhere. However, it is worth noting here that the claim that the FARC guerrillas are the single main cause of Colombia’s problems has become a extraordinarily widespread discursive reflex, repeated so often it is rarely questioned. This view covers up the many problems that brought the guerrilla movements into existence and ignores the structural inequalities in Colombian society —particularly in the countryside— which have consistently been a source of conflict. Instead, uribista discourse has focused on identifying enemies and laying blame, on whipping up patriotic fervour and reducing complex issues to the binary logic of “us and them”. This is why neighbouring presidents Chávez and Correa are habitually represented as hostile and aggressive figures who pose a threat to national sovereignty, even though Colombia’s military expenditure far outstrips its neighbours’, and it is also why Liberal senator Piedad Córdoba has been branded a traitor to the fatherland for her contacts with both Chávez and the FARC when negotiating the release of kidnap victims (there is even a Facebook page called “Colombia sin Piedad” dedicated to attacking this courageous and uncomfortably honest figure). Intolerant and belligerent, uribista discourse has had tremendous success in influencing the collective imaginary of Colombians today, not least because it uses elements that were already deeply rooted within it. For example, the need for a strong government to avoid the chaos of the Pastrana years, when much of the country fell under guerrilla influence, has become a shibboleth for many Colombians.
By focusing on a few perverse but extremely potent simplifications uribismo has been extraordinarily successful in shifting the focus of political struggle from the issue of social exclusion to the question of the nation and its enemies. In this respect the official appeals to fear, hate and national pride seem to have counted for more than Gustavo Petro’s eloquent insistence on the need for reparations for the victims of the conflict or Rafael Pardo’s emphasis on social justice. That this is so is partly related to the way in which the conflict has been experienced by the population and framed by the media. Rapid urbanization means that the vast majority of voters live in cities and the predominantly rural conflict seems distant, even though forced displacement itself has lent added momentum to this process through the arrival in the cities of over three million refugees. The apparent indifference of urban Colombians to the acts of extreme violence that have sparked off this massive influx is one of the aspects of the conflict that the Law of Justice and Peace (Ley de Justicia y Paz), which is aimed at achieving some kind of reconciliation and reparation, has helped to hide. There has already been a great deal of criticism of this legislation, which allows members of paramilitary groups to receive reduced sentences in exchange for telling the truth about their activities. Amongst other things, it has been presented as a mechanism for absolving paramilitaries of their crimes without providing adequate reparation for their victims. But a less clearly understood problem of this sort of legislation is that it reduces the understanding of the conflict by focusing attention solely on the perpetrators and victims of violent actions, masking the indifference of important sectors of Colombian society to systematic human rights abuses.
After all, a vote for Santos was in effect a vote for the prolongation of a regime that has presided over extraordinary political scandals and multiple human rights abuses, over an agrarian counter reform that has produced an extreme concentration of land ownership, over the use of intelligence services as political police, and all of the other crimes and irregularities mentioned above. Addressing this issue in Semana on the third of June, Juan Diego Restrepo noted that las mayorías, by which he meant the majority of those who voted rather than the majority of the electorate who abstained, were uninterested in the issues which had been at the centre of national politics for the last few years. His argument was that rather than punishing the government for its many misdeeds they had rewarded it. Perplexed at this outcome, Restrepo put forward a series of plaintive questions:
Are people well informed? Do voters process the information about “the scandals” correctly? When a “scandal” blows up and the various versions are published do people just believe the authorities because they are the authorities, even though they lie? Do they just assume without thinking that the “political enemy” are those who accuse the government and no one else?
Restrepo’s questions raise a number of important issues. If the answer to all of them is a tentative yes, then we are forced to contemplate the existence within Colombia today of what are probably best thought of as fascist tendencies. Indeed, we need to ask just how close we have come to the triumph of the Estado de Opinión (The State of Opinion) which is so beloved of the head of state and his éminence grise, José Obdulio Gaviria. This way of understanding political legitimacy spurns legal process and constitutional authority and appeals to the popular will as the only true source of political authority. From this perspective, violence and corruption may be sanctioned as long as their results chime with the popular mood. And the popular mood, it seems, is disposed to forgive almost anything in return for authority and stability. This was precisely what the notorious Venezuelan master of black propaganda J.J. Rondón understood when he refocused the Santos campaign, presenting Uribe as a paragon of virtue and branding Antanas Mockus as a dithering atheist. If a significant proportion of the Colombian population really believes that the FARC, alongside Chávez, Correa and supposed “fifth columnists” like Piedad Córdoba, are the main cause of Colombia’s woes and also agrees that todo vale (anything goes) in the fight against these enemies, if violence against minority groups is condoned in the name of development, if dissent is both criminalized and silenced through threats, then we are approaching something like a proto-fascist moment. It may be painful to recognize this but it is important not to avoid this uncomfortable issue. As Jorge Enrique Robledo put it with tragicomic solemnity, “el pueblo está pasando por un muy mal momento” (“the people are going through a very bad moment”).And although Robledo’s words reveal the frustration and disappointment of the Polo at its failure to consolidate its successes in the early years of the century, there a sense in which they provide an insight into the meaning of recent events.
If the pueblo really is in the grip of a love affair with authoritarian populism then what explains the emergence of the Mockus campaign, which many analysts saw as the awakening of a form of civic resistance to uribismo? The Green programme undoubtedly sought to revitalise political life in Colombia by fighting corruption and demanding respect for the law. Yet it was always a fundamentally conservative programme, especially when it came to the management of the economy. Mockus did not emphasise the importance of the struggle for equality in the way that Petro did, even though Colombia is currently the most unequal country in South America (though by no means the poorest) and there was something in the Polo’s criticism that what Mockus actually proposed was to “share out the poverty” (“repartir la miseria”) rather than promote social justice. In contrast, Petro’s programme was the only one which promised a thorough overhaul of the creaking health system and real structural change in the rural economy. In contrast, Mockus is a neo-liberal administrator whose emphasis on decentralisation and citizen initiatives is quite in tune with demands of corporate globalisation. Thus even though in his much criticised speech at the end of the first round of voting he orchestrated chants of “Mafia No, Minga Sí” (Mafia No, Minga Yes), a reference to the Minga indígena (the Indigenous Standing Council) which became a focus of opposition to the regime in 2008, his political manifesto did not represent the beliefs of the citizen activists and social movements involved in that process. Instead, it attempted to change the way that Colombians think about their institutions through the promotion of a political “pedagogy” designed to combat clientelism and corruption. At base, then, what Mockus proposed was the construction of a state in which the rules of the game are observed without making any fundamental changes to the underlying economic order. In short, the Green Party offered efficient administration rather than deep social change.
The adoption of a culture of transparency would undoubtedly represent a significant shift in Colombian political life, putting an end to what Piedad Córdoba describes as a “patrimonial” understanding of the state, which is typical of a political class which sees the control of institutions as an opportunity to make a profit. However, rather than being a radical alternative to the economic model defended by uribismo the Mockus campaign is best thought of as a movement that sought not only to mobilise the support of “civil society” —which in any case is a decidedly vague aim— but to appeal to a sector of the national elites that is tired of the violence and corruption of the uribista project. These elites want to eradicate the disease of paramilitarism which attracts criticism from abroad and continues to grow in spite of the regime’s claims that it has combated these groups with the same vigour with which it has confronted the guerrillas. They recognise that the extradition of a generation of paramilitary leaders to the US on drugs trafficking charges simply meant that a new ones took their place. And they have not forgotten the links between dozens of Uribe supporters in Congress and these armed actors. Furthermore, they want to lower the levels of corruption that are simply bad for business.
The openness of these sectors to Mockus’ programme was apparent in the high levels of support that the Greens achieved in the elite universities and amongst the wealthier socio-demographic groups. And it was also evident in the way the debates were presented and reported in the media. The owners of RCN and Caracol are the two great urban industrial conglomerates, the Ardila Lülle and Santodomingo groups, and the editorial line of the news bulletins and the management of the debates suggested that the Mockus campaign was being taken seriously. After years of servility it was almost shocking that anti-uribista views should have been expressed with such freedom on the two main private channels. In the end, however, the machinery of the uribista parties was too strong for an alternative to flourish. Instead, the interests of the lumpen bourgeoisie, the most intransigent force within uribismo, of large-scale agribusiness, of the military, and of corrupt regional politicians, won out. And once it was obvious that Santos would win the election the desire to get close to power brought dissident forces within the elites back into line with these dominant tendencies, as is apparent in the changing editorial line of the media stations.
Indeed, at the end of the first round it was clear that apart from the Green Party the big losers were the traditional parties which had to all and intents been swallowed up by uribismo, and the Polo Democrático, which during the Uribe years began to establish itself as a serious opposition force on the left. For the moment, at least, the emergence of the Green option seemed about to displace the Polo from its position as the main opposition to the uribista project. Though there is some truth in Senator Robledo’s claim that the Polo’s very survival in the midst of a hostile political atmosphere was an important success, the party had clearly lost the momentum it had acquired when it won two successive terms in local government in the capital and provided the losing candidate in the 2006 election. While Samuel Moreno’s administration of the city has maintained Lucho Garzón’s social programmes and made further advances in health and education, there have been repeated accusations of clientelism in the distribution of bureaucratic posts and the awarding of contracts. Furthermore, the internal divisions within the Polo, which from the beginning was a collection of factions and cliques, have continued to hamper efforts to consolidate a party with a coherent identity. Indeed, Petro was not the candidate favoured by the radical wing of the party and it came as a surprise when he won the nomination. Thus although he was an articulate candidate with a programme that offered real change he was not supported with any enthusiasm by a significant faction within his own party. He also had to contend with the negative propaganda that had been circulated for years by uribistas about his past as a member of the M.19 guerrilla movement. With this in mind, the million votes he gained in the first round should be thought of as a personal triumph.
As for the winner of the first round, Santos was now very close to the seven million or so votes he needed to reach the presidency. Indeed, with the support of the Conservatives, Cambio Radical and a majority of Liberals there was no doubt that he would win the second round by a considerable margin. The polls —this time accurately— put him on over 65% of the vote compared to Mockus’ 27%. What seemed to be an obvious alliance between the Polo and the Greens never came about because although Mockus and Petro worked out a common platform the fledgling alliance was sabotaged by Enrique Peñalosa’s refusal to enter into an agreement with the party that had destroyed his hopes of becoming mayor of Bogotá for a second time. This failure to reach an agreement with the only force that could have helped it make common cause against uribismo shows just how conservative the Green movement is. The alliance might have counted on between four and five million votes, not enough to get close to the presidency but nonetheless an important electoral base from which to organise opposition. In the absence of this common front, the Polo called for its supporters to vote for neither candidate or abstain and this doomed Mockus, even though in polls a majority of Polo voters suggested that they would indeed support the Greens, such was their fear of a Santos government.
After the failure of the only alliance that could have mounted a significant challenge to the uribista project the second round became a low-key affair, with only two televised debates. Mockus tried to make some inroads into Santos’ popularity by emphasising the corruption of the regime but with little success. Instead, Santos presented Mockus as an eccentric and unreliable academic incapable of governing a country that needs a firm hand, and also as Mockus One and Mockus Two, the former a polite and considerate opponent, the latter a belligerent electoral brawler. Mockus’s hesitant delivery and diffident demeanour did not help his cause in the slightest, revealing that of the four ex-mayors he was the worst choice as candidate. He lacked the charisma of Fajardo, the smooth delivery of Peñalosa and the populist wit of Garzón, and constantly indulged in poorly explained conceptual digressions. The fact that he had been diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s disease was not used by his opponent but may also have been a factor. However, he had won his party’s candidacy by a significant margin and in spite of his limitations there was nothing to be done about it at this late stage. In contrast, in the absence of articulate opponents like Petro and Vargas Lleras, Santos appeared increasingly confident and on several occasions forced the Green candidate onto the defensive by revealing his lack of experience.
As if things were not already bad enough for Mockus the situation became even more difficult in the final week of campaigning. With perfect timing the commentary on the World Cup match between Holland and Denmark was interrupted by the news of the rescue of three police officers and an army sergeant held for twelve years by the FARC in the forests of eastern Colombia. The success of Operation Chameleon, which led to the release of General Luis Mendieta, Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Murillo Sánchez, Lieutenant William Donato Gómez and Sergeant Arbey Delgado, was a master propaganda coup by the regime which served to remind the Colombian people of its resolute opposition to the FARC. Apparently the work of army infiltrators, this liberation could not have come about at a more opportune moment and dominated the news bulletins for the first four days of the week. President Uribe took a dramatic though clearly staged phone call with the coordinators of the operation live on TV during the communal council in Quibdó and made further references to it the next day in the communal council in Caldas.
At 7.23 on the evening of Monday the fourteenth of June all of Colombia’s TV channels carried the press conference at which Uribe and top army commanders appeared with the released hostages and their families. As the national anthem played, the TV cameras zoomed in on the national coat of arms, highlighting the motto “Liberty and Order” as they always do before a presidential intervention. Beginning proceedings with his customary “Buenas noches a todos los compatriotas” (“Good evening to all our compatriots”) the president launched into an extraordinary eulogy of the armed forces. After expressing his affection for the families (“los quiero mucho queridas familias, ustedes son un ejemplo para la patria”) and discussing some of the details of the operation (though most of these were kept secret, for reasons that would later become apparent) he began to outline the importance of the armed forces for contemporary Colombia. Noting that “this nation has had barely 47 years peace in its 200 years of history” (“esta nación en 200 años ha vivido escasos 47 años de paz”) and referring to “a fatherland plagued by narco-guerrillas and narco-paramilitaries” (“una patria flagelada por las narco guerrillas y los narco paramilitares”) he claimed that “all of our compatriots on this happy night applaud our armed forces” (“todos los compatriotas esta noche de júbilo aplauden a nuestras fuerzas armadas”). The military, declared the president, were the harbingers of a better future, as for Colombia there was only “one road: the constitution, the armed forces and the people” (“un camino: la constitución, las fuerzas armadas y el pueblo”). Yet given his numerous attempts to reform a constitution which proclaims Colombia to be a Social State of Law, a definition which is at odds with his preferred notion of the Communitarian State, the president is an unlikely defender of the existing institutional order. Indeed, he emphasised one of the key aspects of the Communitarian State, namely the importance of duty, in this case “our duty to support the armed forces, a source of pride” ("nuestro deber es apoyar a las FFAA, una fuente de orgullo”). The army was also described as the “hope of the fatherland, a great road of support for new generations” (“esperanza de la patria, un gran camino de apoyo a las nuevas generaciones”) and an institution that has shown a “great commitment to transparency” (“gran compromiso con la transparencia”) and has “purged itself” (“han liderado su propia depuración”). Making a direct appeal to the guerrillas, Uribe said that they needed to follow “the road of authority, the road of rectification and reconciliation” (“el camino de la autoridad, el camino de la rectificación y de la reconciliación”), and noted that “we can never give up on the road of authority” (“jamás podemos renunciar al camino de la autoridad”).
In the course of the conference the freed hostages received a phone call from Ingrid Betancourt, the ex-presidential candidate kidnapped in 2002 and held for six years by the FARC. The media circus was interspersed with the president’s expressions of concern for the well-being of the rescued officers and the army top brass’ declarations of support for the head of state and subservience to his orders. Thus General Oscar Enrique González noted sycophantically that “we have internalized very well the instructions that you constantly give us” (Hemos interiorizado muy bien las instrucciones que used nos da permanentemente) while General Freddy Padilla, the head of the armed forces, claimed that for the struggle against the guerrillas to be won it was crucial not to undermine the morale of the armed forces (“no se puede atentar contra la moral de las fuerzas armadas”).
In fact, Padilla’s comment hinted at what lay behind this appeal for popular support for the armed forces. This was the conflict between the executive and the judiciary over the thirty-year prison sentence given to Colonel Plazas Vega, the officer who in 1985 commanded the military forces that stormed the Palace of Justice in Bogotá after it had been taken by M.19 guerrillas intent on staging a public trial of President Belisario Betancur on national radio. The guerrilla operation was a typical M.19 publicity stunt, designed to exploit the symbolic location of the Palace of Justice to maximum effect. However, the plan backfired horribly when the building was subject to a reckless frontal assault by the army. All of the guerrillas and most of the hostages died in the attack, while sixteen survivors of the fighting and the subsequent blaze which gutted the building, mostly innocent civilians, were tortured and then “disappeared” by the military. The court’s finding that the ultimate responsibility for this atrocity fell on the commander of the operation was publicly criticised by President Uribe, who suggested that there needed to be a reform of the way the alleged crimes of military officers are investigated. In his bad-tempered assault on the judiciary he once more used the term “scribblers at the service of terror” (“tinterillos al servicio del terror”), equating opposition to his policies with support for terrorism. This came hard on the heels of a further conflict with the Fiscalía in which he claimed that the detention of Mario Aranguren, the head of the unit within the DAS charged with investigating the accounts of opposition politicians, represented an attack on a man who was simply doing his job. Uribe’s intervention in judicial matters brought a stinging rebuke from the president of the Supreme Court, Jaime Arubla, who accused the president of “intimidating and pressurising his judges” (“amedrentar e insinuar a sus jueces”), but for servants of the state who were already subject to threats from shadowy forces this lack of support from the president was deeply disturbing. At the same time it can have come as no surprise because the President’s intervention was part of a strategy aimed at concentrating power even further in the executive, a strategy which is now continuing through the suggestion that the Fiscalía, the most important investigative institution in the Colombian state,should come under the control of the executive.
The razzamatazz surrounding the liberation of the hostages was undoubtedly designed to shore up public faith in the armed forces and emphasise the importance of continuing the policy of democratic security. What was not common knowledge at this point, however, was that the operation had depended on a bribe of 2,500 million pesos given to three FARC informers. As in the case of the much-vaunted Operación Jaque, which had freed Ingrid Betancourt, the details showed that the liberation efforts relied on greed, treachery and duplicity rather than heroic military action. And they also suggested that there might have been some leeway involved over the timing of the liberation, though this was emphatically denied by Juan Manuel Santos in the final debate with Mockus.
In any case, the propaganda coups and rumours tipped the scale even further in Santos’ direction, as did the reaction of the political class. As Santos made a triumphal appeal to the unity of all parties, a call ridiculed in a superb column by ex-finance minister Rudolf Hommes in El Tiempo, Colombia’s political class seemed to be falling over itself to join the winning side. Indeed, public squabbles were even breaking out over the sharing out of the spoils, such as the leadership of the House of Representatives, which Andrés Felipe Arias was demanding for the conservatives. Some of these “adhesions” to the Santos campaign, however, were causing problems. The most extraordinary of these was that of ex-president and previous leader of the Liberal Party César Gaviria, a bitter critic of the Uribe government, who announced that he would support Santos in the hope that he would deal with the corruption and la cultura del atajo (the culture of the short cut) that had marred the previous administration. This led to an irate phone call from the president, never one to let such a slight pass, to which Gaviria’s reply was that “the disgusting thing is your government” (“lo que da asco es su gobierno”). Neither of them came out of this process with their dignity intact, nor did the Colombian political class, which yet again showed its ability to reach an accommodation with what it had previously denounced as repugnant. Indeed, the difference between appearances and reality, between words and acts, between the formal mechanisms of democracy and the machinations of real politics, was a constant theme of this campaign. In the final debates, Mockus complained plaintively about the difference between the urbane demeanour of his opponent and the dirty tricks that were being carried out during the campaign itself. Yet this should not have surprised him, as dirty tricks are hardly unusual in electoral campaigns, especially in Colombia. Only extreme political naivety could have made Mockus expect anything different. After all, he could have found the same complaint expressed even more plaintively in nineteenth century newspapers, though it was most eloquently expressed by the populist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in the 1930s and 40s. Indeed, Gaitán’s famous distinction between the political country (the political class) and the national country (the people) is just as relevant today as it was then, as is his withering critique of the professional politicians who see politics as an essentially entrepreneurial activity.
The second election day in three weeks was very different from the first. The rain began early and continued all day, suggesting that the abstention rate was likely to be high. At Corferias in Bogotá there were no queues, and voting stations all over the city were predicting fewer voters than in the first round. In fact, rain was affecting the turnout throughout the country, as did a strong sense that the result was a foregone conclusion. Brazil’s match against the Ivory Coast also kept people indoors and as the downpour continued much of Bogotá seemed like a ghost town. The polling stations emerged as small islands of activity in the damp and deserted streets.
The results came in even more quickly than in the previous round and within minutes it was clear that Santos had won the expected crushing victory. In the end the uribista candidate gained 67% of the votes cast (just over nine million) compared to Mockus’ 27% (three and a half million). However, the scale of the victory was interesting not so much because it was so convincing but because it showed that the alliance of forces that had constructed the uribista project is still able to dominate national politics, even in the absence of Uribe himself. Indeed, the way the vote had split was very similar to Uribe’s victory over Carlos Gaviria in 2006 which suggests that for the moment, at least, Santos does seem to be the inheritor of Uribe’s political capital. But as well as demonstrating the candidate’s ability to cash in on the incumbent’s undoubted popularity what stands out is that with the core vote holding firm dissident factions within the elites ended up coming back into the fold. This has left Colombia’s opposition extremely weak and divided. Indeed, in his final speech Antanas Mockus did not even mention the word “opposition” but focused instead on the idea of providing oversight of government policy. In any case, the Senate has only eight Polo and five Green senators, while in the House each party has four and three representatives respectively. This means that the brief moment of hope ushered in by the election campaign has disappeared and instead we have the prospect of an executive run by a president whose party enjoys an absolute majority in Congress, even though nearly a third of its members are mixed up in parapolítica cases, as political analyst Claudia López noted in the Caracol TV special on the elections last Sunday night.
In spite of the rhetoric of national unity that was used in the run up to the second round what we can expect from Santos is a continuation of uribismo, with its polarising discourse of friends and enemies, of heroes and traitors. Indeed, rather than being inclusive and even conciliatory, as even Uribe was in victory, Santos’ speech was extraordinarily intransigent and combative. Declaring that there was not the slightest chance of negotiation with “cowardly terrorists” (“terroristas cobardes”) and “enemies of the fatherland” (“enemigos de la patria”), the president elect bellowed, much to the crowd’s delight, that “the FARC and the violent ones’ time is up” (“a las FARC y a los violentos se les agotó el tiempo”) and that “we will continue to confront them with utmost severity and conviction” (“los seguiremos enfrentando con toda la dureza y toda la firmeza”). This declaration of renewed intent, which conveniently ignores the fact that in the late 90s Santos was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the peace process, was combined with yet another extraordinary eulogy of the armed forces. The seven soldiers and policemen killed in guerrilla ambushes in North Santander and Meta departments on election day were described as “martyrs” and having invoked his own military service, Santos led the crowd in chants of “Long Live the Armed Forces of Colombia” (“¡Qué vivan las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia!”). All of this was lapped up by an aggressive and triumphalist audience who broke into chants of “U-ri-be, U-ri-be”.
Santos’ supporters, both in Colombia and abroad, have focused on the need to maintain Uribe’s “legacy”. But what is that legacy, exactly? The Uribe government was successful in forcing the guerrilla movements back to the mountains and heavily forested periphery of the country, thereby securing the roads between the main cities. Indeed, the state’s authority was imposed on an ever-greater proportion of the national territory and military operations such as the Plan Patriota pursued the FARC into what had once been their jungle stronghold in the south and east of the country. This policy of keeping up the military pressure on the FARC has had impressive results when it comes to freeing the victims of the guerrillas’ policy of kidnapping for political leverage and economic gain. In this climate, foreign investment and public confidence undoubtedly increased.
But, one must ask, at what cost? Santos once wrote a book on the “Third Way” with a foreword by Tony Blair, but apart from this twaddle what is the model of development that is being promoted and implemented in Colombia today? Do the government’s policies only serve powerful business interests or do they provide for the needs of the population as a whole? Is the only road to economic development the one symbolised by the African palm plantations, so vigorously promoted by the president, or by the hopes of a new oil boom? If this is so, who really benefits from a form of investment that destroys both the environment and rural communities and is part of a discredited model of export-led development? What happens to the peasant organizations and ethnic minorities which stand in the way of these interests? Is their fate to be that of Edwin Lagarda, the husband of minga leader Aida Quilcué, murdered in 2008 by an army attack at a roadblock which riddled his vehicle with over a hundred rounds? Or that of the dozens of Afro-Colombian families driven from their homes in the Curvaradó basin in the Chocó by paramilitary violence in order to make way for the African palm plantations? And what is one to make of the fact that the title to this illegally acquired land was initially approved by Uribe’s Ministry of Agriculture, only for the judiciary to hand down swingeing jail sentences to the owners of the palm companies? Indeed, what is one to think of the attitude of a president whose first reaction was to accuse the NGOs helping the local communities in this case of being “neo-colonial”? What will become of indigenous groups opposed to oil exploration on their lands? How much longer can the judiciary and the Fiscalía, the institutions that have done most to investigate the executive, maintain their fast eroding independence in the face of a full-scale assault by the supporters of the “State of Opinion”?
The recent past has already given us the answers to most of these questions and provides strong clues about the others. For many in Colombia the future is bleak yet for the supporters of the uribista project this is simply a price that has to be paid. Indeed, as the second round of the elections approached support not only flooded in from politicians but also from certain intellectuals. Last Friday, for example, El Tiempo reported that Mario Vargas Llosa had endorsed Santos, along with Carlos Fuentes and other Mexican intellectuals such as Enrique Krause and Jorge Castañeda. Depressing though it may be, the approval of a model that in spite of its limited successes has been so murderously destructive makes a certain kind of perverse sense in the case of Vargas Llosa. From his perspective, popular movements such as the minga indígena may well represent something like the Canudos described in his novel The War of the End of the World, an archaic obstacle to be destroyed in the name of progress.
But “development” achieved at this price is surely not worth having. Furthermore, to justify these policies one also has to believe that they are rational in terms of furthering the common good. Santos has promised to take seven million people out of poverty and four million out of indigence. If this can be done it will be a major achievement, yet there is nothing in the previous administration to indicate that this will be possible. Indeed, at present neither Uribe’s patriotism nor Santos’ triumphal call to unity can cover up the shameful inequalities that characterise Colombia today. In fact, the appeal to national unity continues to be a justification of authoritarianism. In the presidential address which followed Sunday’s result, Uribe referred approvingly to Mockus’ promise to carry out a deliberative and observational role, rather than what he termed “opposition to the fatherland” (“oposición a la patria”), which in turn echoed Santos’ call for an end to “useless divisions” (“no más divisions inútiles”). In a country with a much weakened political opposition and a government that clearly intends to brook no dissent, the weight of this intransigence will fall disproportionately on those who inadvertently stand in the way of policies designed to favour corporate interests rather than those of the poor who make up half of the population. And this is why social movements, Afro-Colombian and indigenous movements, human rights activists, trade unionists, dissident journalists and the community workers struggling to organise people in the impoverished urban barrios where most Colombians live are anticipating the beginning of the Santos era with great apprehension. But it from these sectors that the most immediate resistance to the continuation of uribismo will come. Whether this will be fragmented and easily overcome or whether it will develop into a coherent programme of opposition remains to be seen. It seems more likely to be the former given the relatively successful attempts to isolate and disarticulate the minga. The war on populism, which in many respects sums up the history of Colombia from the 1940s to the present, continues to be promoted by one of the most deeply entrenched bourgeoisies in Latin America and has been used to justify the violence that is used to undermine popular movements today. However, unless the diverse forces that oppose uribismo find some way of making common cause against a political class which still sees the state as booty, which ignores or justifies the murderous tactics used to neuter dissent, and which supports some of the most destructive forms of corporate globalization, Colombia will continue to be out of step with the rest of a region in which grassroots movements not only have to be reckoned with but have also proved themselves capable of making governments of their own.