Should the Colombian Left Vote for Juan Manuel Santos?

(Translated by David Van Den Brandt, a CSN Volunteer Translator)


Should the Colombian left vote for Juan Manuel Santos?
by Andrés Felipe Parra
May 26, 2014

The results of the first round of the presidential election are not surprising. The majority of surveys, which ask the people that don’t live in Bogotá and don’t spend time on social networks, show Zuluaga to be the winner, or show a technical tie. The congressional elections had already demonstrated that uribismo [the politics of Uribe], although suffering diminished electoral strength, continues to compete to be the principal political force in the country.

Society’s progressive sectors always hope to defeat uribismo in elections and yet always are surprised, seeing the results like a slap in the face. The reason is that they poorly diagnose the phenomenon of uribismo. Those who don’t like Uribe make clear that he and his supporters are a political sect that brainwashes people, buys their consciousness with tamales, and deceives fools with propaganda. There’s no doubt that Uribe’s government was rife with dishonest practices from beginning to end, including violations of national and international law and “anything goes” politics. But this doesn’t imply that uribismo is a political tendency that lacks ideas and arguments and buys everything with “families in action” subsidies. To the contrary: the meaning and the strength that uribismo has in our country lie in the fact that they have reasons to justify their actions and behavior. Those who are followers of the uribista cause understand those reasons and are capable of arguing with them.

This allows us to understand why the controversial video of Andrés Sepúlveda did not affect Zuluaga as it did to many others. The uribista argument is summed up as follows: the terrorist threat is a situation in which we can’t establish ethical distinctions between good and bad nor between legal and illegal. Terrorism is a lawless situation, and since there’s no law, one can and one should do whatever is necessary to establish it, to bring the State of Law to the wildernesses and jungles, just as our national spirit dreams about Santander’s maxim that linked law with liberty forever.

While the media’s attack against Zuluaga for spreading the video was going on, I consulted, quite curiously, with a known uribista to ask his opinion regarding the events. His reaction was not anger, nor despair, but rather he remained serene: he compared Sepúlveda and Zuluaga with Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who through illegal spying leaks information about US government actions in name of freedom of expression and democracy. The comparison is absolutely odious, first because Assange acts against war and Zuluaga in favor of it. But the comparison shows that for uribistas, a controversy or scandal is not really a problem, because all of the leaders’ actions are just minor sins compared to the scandals in the terrorist situation and the existence of the FARC. It also shows that uribismo intelligently takes advantage of the distance between the peace talks and common, everyday people.

If the scandals and controversies, along with their intense and well-covered representation in the media, can’t defeat uribismo, what can? The answer seems simple and predictable: peace means the defeat of uribismo. However, this is not an answer. Rather, it’s a question about the sense and meaning of peace.

There is where the democratic project of the left and social movements is different than the right. For Santos, peace is the subsumption of illegal armed actors in the law and in the State of Law through punitive concessions and political participation. There, Santos is not that different from Uribe: he only differs in the method (military defeat or negotiations) but never the idea that both have something to do with peace. For social movements, on the other hand, peace is synonymous with transformation and profound changes. For the left and social movements, it is not about inviting the insurgency to be part of the current law, because the current state of things forms part of the conflict.

Therefore, and at first sight, those who after the publication of the electoral results are calling for blank votes or abstention seem to be right. The idea of a vote for Santos as a vote for peace is a meaningless saying, since “peace” means different things. Santos’ peace is only a chance and opportunity to broaden and lengthen the sales catalogue of Colombian territories for mining interests and extraction methods. To vote for Santos’ peace would be, therefore, to vote for the advancement of the mining locomotive—in peace. The connection between voting for peace and voting for Santos is, consequently, null and inexistent.

But this argument that reproaches the lack of political consequence of all those who vote for Santos for a second time, even if based on some truth, is in itself absolutely superficial and profoundly mistaken. Those who argue it accept, along with uribistas that just as much criticize and accuse them of stupidity and ignorance, that the peace process and the dialogues in Havana are “santista” [of and in favor of Santos]. This is not true because the existence of the peace process does not imply Santos’ peace. The peace process is not santista, but rather a stage where there are two ideas of peace in dispute and in conflict, where the left must put together what it learned in the campaign of Clara López and learn to show the country that peace happens by overcoming the great problems of social segregation and lack of opportunities. It must show that these great changes cannot be realized without a political solution to the armed conflict.

It’s true that Santos is not a guarantee for peace. In fact, his idea of the post-conflict confuses peace with silence and consensus. But the continuance of the peace process and the peace talks in Havana do indeed depend on Zuluaga losing the presidential election. Continuance depends also on a plebiscite against uribismo, which demonstrates that the great majority does not want a war. With triumphalist energy, the first-round winning candidate in the elections assured us that if president, he would suspend the talks on the first day of his presidency, which he is authorized to do legally and politically, if the FARC don’t get up from the table on their own on the 16th of June.

The question of to vote for Santos or not in the second round should not revolve around defending or attacking the idea of the “least bad option.” What is in play is not two people, their ideas and their moral qualities, but rather two situations: one, the peace process and its gains that little by little have constructed the Left to confront and face Santos and his idea of peace, defeating him through the ballot box, social mobilization, and if the case, a constituent national assembly. The other situation is the end of the peace process and the rise of an emboldened uribista project that would take the military solution to the point of no return. Therefore, even if the individual persons are the same, the situations that will come out of their election are indeed different and distinct. One bets on the maintenance of a situation close to a political solution; the other is the burial of such a possibility.

For these reasons I will vote against Uribe in the second round, which implies that I will mark Santos on the ballot. I’m not capable of egoistically putting my “dignity,” my “memory,” nor the satisfaction of feeling politically conscious and consistent ahead of the opening of the doors for the right’s definitive victory for my generation.

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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