EL COLOMBIANO, January 2, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Somehow, Álvaro Uribe and Gustavo Petro are the protagonists in the recall process for the Mayor of Medellín.

Uribism and Petrism are both in play in this process, and there is also a high citizen interest component. Here are the liabilities if they end up at the polls.

In spite of the fact that it’s only 48 hours since the statement that at least 3,000 manipulated signatures have been detected, it’s still not clear that Mayor Daniel Quintero has refuted the decision by the Registry that upheld the recall vote that’s being promoted in Medellín to get him out of the Mayor’s Office.

The deadline was December 31, but neither from La Alpujarra (Medellín’s Administrative Offices) nor from the Registry has this step been confirmed, even though already the city—where the political scenario is on fire for this recall—has seen how a week ago Quintero and his officials began a tough campaign to discredit the process of collecting signatures. But, is this context, this recall goes beyond local political theater.

All of the regulars are expecting that the Registry will confirm—after determining whether the decision is appealed and if the decision is affirmed or not—the implementation of the election, which could be in this February, with the purpose of starting up a campaign that will be the first big electoral showdown we will experience in 2022.

Although the contest is hot already, as Quintero’s narrative tries to make Uribism guilty of the attempt to unseat him, and his antagonists–supporters of the recall–feel that they have enough public support to get a little more than the 145,000 votes it will take to obtain their objective; what’s sure is that this process puts Medellín in the center of the national electoral debate.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that the two most antagonistic personages in national politics are charging their batteries to be the protagonists in this recall.

On the one hand, former President Álvaro Uribe spares no effort to shed light on what he considers to be the city’s worst mayor’s office in decades, even though he hasn’t said right out that he would vote Yes for Quintero’s exit.

“Medellín, better luck in 22,” he said in one of his most recent pronouncements of 2021. And he added that Mayor Quintero “knows very well how the criminal gangs can help him to choose (. . .)and try to ruin engineering companies and the EPM (public utility companies) who have founded and consolidated exemplary businesses in Antioquia.”

For his part, the former Senator and Colombia Humana Party candidate for President, Gustavo Petro, has already wrapped himself around the Mayor, warning that—to his way of thinking—the only thing to see here is Uribismo’s loss of power, and not poor management by the city’s leader.

“Faking signature to try to recall a Mayor is a crime against popular suffrage. This is electoral fraud. Will the Attorney General’s Office have the nerve to investigate the collection of signatures for the recall of the Mayor of Medellin?” said Petro in his most recent message supporting Quintero.

And both of them—Uribe and Petro—as the two principal leaders of the most visible powers in the current electoral picture, the former leader of the right and the leftist Member of Congress, both have forces on their side (Democratic Center Party and Historic Pact Party) to carry out strategies to defend their objectives. That said, they are not yet being explicit as to whether they will or will not support the recall that achieved the support of 133,248 citizens of Medellín who, according to the Registry, legally signed the papers used for months to promote the recall process.

And even though Quintero said that there are more than 3,000 fraudulent signatures and was ready to appeal the Registry’s resolution that validated them, the fact is that to overturn this process you would have to annul 42,057 signatures.

The parties are in action.

While this stage proceeds, everybody is following closely the progress of the tough recall campaign. And it’s not an immaterial thing, because on October 2 of 2016—when Colombia said No to the plebiscite for peace after the agreement with the FARC—in Medellín the sector that Uribe pushed, the one that rejected what was signed in Havana, got 431,173 votes out of the 684,721 that were considered valid, more than double the votes for Yes, which got only 253,548.

And in the runoff in 2018, in which Iván Duque—Uribe’s candidate—beat Petro, the difference was also devastating: 693,334 votes for the current President and only 208,427 for the current Senator.

These numbers are being gone over with a fine-tooth, not just in La Alpujarra, but in the movements that are pushing the recall as well, because they are a precedent that serves as a reflection for February, when—if everything plays out—there will be a vote on the recall of Quintero or on, as he calls it, a referendum on his term as Mayor.

Besides that, being the first vote in 2022, just before the congressional elections—March 13—and the presidential primary—May 29–, independent of the result, this will have an impact on those elections. The reason? All of the parties, if there is a major component of citizens, which evidently exists, are involved in this first campaign.

According to Rep. Margarita Restrepo of the Democratic Center Party, Quintero “has turned into a personality” with the recall, and now his situation is a matter for national discussion.

“There’s going to be an election showdown. I think there are some primaries, but the electorate of Medellín has always been characterized as being intelligent and, in truth, it’s that the great majority of us are surprised by the neglect and the corruption,” she said.

Her fellow party member, Senator Paola Holguín, said that Quintero has always been a politician and has known how to do camouflage, but now—as Mayor—“he’s famous for being corrupt, unfortunately.”

“Quintero’s recall goes beyond the two parties. Those of us that support him are not necessarily going to be united in the presidential or in the legislative elections,” she pointed out. Even so, she admitted that the result would have an impact on the coming elections.

A polarized city?

And here, at this point, is where the electoral calculations will have to consider what happens with this recall. In fact, Senator Armando Benedetti, of Petro’s Colombia Humana Party, warned that what we’re seeing for the first time in at least three decades is a politically divided Medellín, which permits—whether Quintero stays or leaves-the opening of spaces for modifying the electoral map in the city.

“This recall, the only thing it does is show the division that exists in Antioquia; a division that has never been demonstrated before. Thanks to Quintero, Antioquia now has a face and a stamp. That difference could flag an important direction in other elections,” said Benedetti. And he recalled that, if what he called polarization continues, it’s difficult to see it going back to cohesive results “on the right” as in the plebiscite for peace—when Uribe’s No won—or those of the runoff where Duque beat Petro.

And for Antonio Sanguino, of the Green Alliance, and Omar Yepes, of the Conservative Party, what’s happening with the recall will serve to resolve the forces in a key stronghold like Antioquia, but they agreed that—the way they see it—it would be better to avoid the burnout and polarization that it’s going to leave behind.

At all events, the cards are on the table. Quintero knows that this recall is an opportunity to maximize his anti-Uribist statements and arguments for uniting with Farjardism, they tried to get rid of him too, and he won’t concede the citizen component that exists in this process.

And, secondly, the supporters of the recall and the parties that support them know that if they can achieve a massive voter turnout—there have to be a few more than 150,000 Yes votes for Quintero to be recalled—they can build a route that will be key to re-positioning political power in Colombia in 2022.

Medellín is the electoral ring where the political matchup of this year will be commenced.

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