The Colombian presidential election – Macondo and its surprises

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By GUSTAVO MENON*

Traditional parties have already lost and the left has a chance to win

“The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and to mention them you had to point with your finger [...] In an instant they transformed the village. The inhabitants of Macondo suddenly found themselves lost in their own streets, stunned by the crowded fair. […] The only effective thing — he said — is violence”. (Gabriel García Márquez, in One hundred years of Solitude).

“I discovered a country where the impossibility of carrying out a social revolution made violence the constant, universal and omnipresent essence of public life” (Eric Hobsbawm).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in One hundred years of Solitude, narrates the rise and fall of Macondo, a town full of stories, where the family of José Arcadio Buendia goes through revolutionary episodes, corruption, wars and even madness that involve the characters of this great literary classic, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Gabo's magical realism, always in love with his country, serves to this day to establish parallels and analogies with Colombian political life. In this sense, next Sunday, June 19, more than 20 million Colombians will go to the polls to elect the next President of the Republic. In a context characterized by political violence, inflationary pressure and electoral polarization, Gustavo Petro (Historical Pact), on the left, and Rodolfo Hernández (Liga), on the right, compete vote by vote in the second round of the presidential race.

On the one hand, Gustavo Petro, a senator and former mayor of Bogotá with a passage through the guerrillas during the 1970s and 1980s, intends to become the first progressive president in the country. Its political program is based on the agrarian reform project, on advancing the measures of the peace agreement, on an economic policy that puts an end to the autonomy of the Central Bank and, above all, on an energy transition that gradually replaces oil exploration in favor of renewable energy. However, it should be mentioned that the oil sector is the main source of exports in the Colombian trade balance. Gustavo Petro's name is also questioned by sectors of the right due to his proximity to former guerrilla groups. This means that his name is rejected by conservative sectors, who see Gustavo Petro's candidacy as a threat to the Colombian social and economic order.

In socioeconomic terms, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) there is a forecast that poverty in the country will increase from 36,3% in 2021 to 38% or 39,2% in 2022, the worst scenario of increasing poverty in all the countries of the region.[I] On the other hand, there is a projection of economic growth of around 3.8% of GDP in 2022,[ii] much due to the appreciation of primary products in the international market due to recent conflicts in the war between Russia and Ukraine and in view of the exponential growth of Chinese investments in the Colombian economy – the most emblematic example involving works with Chinese capital is the construction of the Bogotá subway .

From a geopolitical point of view, the election in Colombia can be defining in relation to the performance of US and imperialist forces in the region. Since the formulation of Plan Colombia and through various agreements and bilateral cooperation instruments created between Colombia and the United States at the turn of the millennium, the country has historically been led by right-wing governments sympathetic to Washington's commands. Faced with a scenario of the war on drugs and the intensification of military cooperation between the countries, from the 1980s onwards, Colombia witnessed the arrival of soldiers, resources and the creation of military bases of US origin that spread throughout its national territory. on the pretext of containing alleged threats and the impetus of the Chavista government in Venezuela.

It is in this belligerent climate and spiral of violence that supporters of Rodolfo Hernández, a businessman linked to civil construction, try to take advantage of Gustavo Petro's rejection rates. Rodolfo Hernández, during the first round, carried out a notorious campaign on social networks, gathering votes from the old Colombian right. Overcoming the Urib candidate, Federico Gutiérrez, who came in third with 23.94% (with around 5 million votes), Rodolfo Hernández is betting on the unification of the sectors of the right to reach the presidency. Receiving the support of conservative segments and fractions of the dominant classes, it is projected that Hernandes will absorb the more than five million votes of Uribism in this second round. That puts him at a slight advantage in the latest election polls. However, it is necessary to observe the participation and abstention rates before the election, since voting is not mandatory.

Being a recent character in electoral political life, Rodolfo Hernandez tries to place himself as a kind of “Colombian Trump”, where his campaign was strongly addressed in speeches against corruption and even denouncing certain practices of the governments of Ivan Duque and Álvaro Uribe, such as the vision about the size of the State, individual freedoms/guarantees (such as equal marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana) and, above all, being favorable in the campaign for the adoption of peace treaties.

However, the right-wing candidate has controversial declarations of a fascist nature in his past. In an interview given to a Colombian radio in 2016, the right-wing candidate went so far as to state that he was “an admirer of a great German thinker who calls himself Adolf Hitler”.[iii] Upon being questioned, he mentioned that he had a memory lapse and was referring to Albert Einstein and not Adolf Hitler.[iv]

In the first round, the candidacy of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, a black woman and defender of human rights, took first place with about 40% of the valid votes (8.541.617 votes). In the sequence, the intra-bourgeois disputes, placed two candidacies in second and third place, where Hernandez surpassed the Uribismo candidate with 28,17% of the valid votes, obtaining almost 6 million votes.

The concern of the progressive sectors resides in the fact of the unification of the right sectors in this second round. In view of this, there is a natural tendency to absorb Uribismo votes – which make up about 1/3 of the electorate and cast more than 5 million votes in the first round – in Hernandez's candidacy. Furthermore, Gustavo Petro finds it difficult to expand his range of alliances after a surprising vote in the first round, where he clearly ended up inheriting the social protests and popular struggles of recent years that put the neoliberal model in check.

Regarding the difficulties of expanding the left, the centrist candidate, Sergio Fajardo, fourth in the dispute, for example, upon acknowledging his defeat, explicitly said that he would not vote for Gustavo Petro in the second round, in such a way that the candidate represents a threat to the Colombian reality. This means that Petro's growth trend is lower than Hernandes' in the second round, giving the right-wing candidate a slight advantage.

It is on this feeling of “Petrophobia” that the fractions of the ruling classes bet their chips on the election of Rodolfo Hernandez. However, the left has never been so close to taking office since the mid-9 assassination of popular leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, executed by conservative forces on April 1948, XNUMX, ushering in a long period of violence and civil war in the country. Since then, Colombia has presented itself as one of the most violent countries in the world, showing insoluble crime rates supported by State terrorism policies.

May next Sunday's elections not be supervised by paramilitary forces or with old measures of using tactics and instruments to frighten the most vulnerable populations. The traditional parties have already lost. It is now a question of observing the changes that will be formulated in the social and political life of the country. Macondo is a town full of surprises! And Colombia too…

*Gustavo Menon Professor in the Public Policy Management course at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP.

 

Notes


[I] The Republic. According to ECLAC, Colombia is the country where the highest levels of poverty will increase in 2022. Available at: https://www.larepublica.co/globoeconomia/colombia-el-pais-en-donde-mas-aumentarian-los-niveles-de-pobreza-durante-este-ano-3378484.

[ii] ECLAC. Latin America and the Caribbean: growth projections, 2021-2022. Available in: https://www.cepal.org/sites/default/files/pr/files/tabla_prensa_pib_estudioeconomico2021-port.pdf..

[iii] COLOMBIACHECK. Rodolfo Hernández said he was a follower of Hitler (2021). Available in: https://colombiacheck.com/chequeos/rodolfo-hernandez-si-dijo-que-era-seguidor-de-hitler.

[iv] EL TIEMPO. 'Fue un lapsus': Rodolfo Hernández after declaring that he admired Adolfo Hitler (2021). Available in: https://www.eltiempo.com/cultura/gente/rodolfo-hernandez-dijo-que-admiraba-a-adolf-hitler-ya-se-retracto-611171..

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