Colombia: Leftist candidate for Bogota mayor race appears to triumph

Candidate Gustavo Petro casts his ballot in October 30, 2011 mayoral election in Bogota, Colombia.

Colombia held local elections on October 30 as soldiers and police made a show of force at voting stations around the country, as well as other locations, after the most bloody electoral campaign in 10 years. In the run up to the poll, 41 political candidates were murdered, allegedly by criminals seeking to ensure the election of their chosen ones. However, on the Sunday election day there was no reported violence thereby countering concerns over any erosion of security since the election last year of conservative President Juan Manuel Santos. Colombia is still emerging from a violent past, despite advances over the last few years. Whole regions of the country are under the control of narcoterrorists and also live in fear of paramilitary hit squads.

Colombia’s presidential election takes place in 2014. While former president Álvaro Uribe is constitutionally prohibited from running again, it is presumed that he will back anti-Santos politicians. The local elections that were just held are believe to serve as a barometer of popular support for President Santos and how he might fare in a re-election bid.

Colombia is benefiting from foreign investment, exports, and rising oil and mining profits that appear to be due to better security and a fast-growing economy. President Santos passed laws following his 2010 election to bolster government finances, distribute petroleum profits more fairly, and return lead to peasants displaced by decades of bloodshed. Casting his own ballot in the local election, President Santos said "Vote with conscience, vote for the best and most honest candidates, vote against corruption, against violence."

Santos’ approval is now stratospheric: above 70 percent, even while the Colombia has seen a spike in violence on the part of criminals and leftist rebels, who often appear to be one and the same. The Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), killed 20 soldiers in the week before the election, while criminal organizations putt up their own candidates to try to control the distribution of oil wealth. Struggles over natural resources, the remoteness of many parts of the country, and the overwhelming number of candidates make local elections more important in the lives of Colombians than national elections. They also tend to be bloody.

Colombia has achieved remarkable progress in its security and business climate, beginning with the 2002 election of Uribe, whose U.S.-backed military offensive hurt the rebels. Uribe left office with a 75 percent approval rating and since then has made use of internet social networks to ridicule President Santos with Twitter messages and speeches over what he believes is lax security. 

Former President Uribe has endorsed for the mayoralty of Bogota – Colombia’s capital city of 8 million people -  Enrique Penalosa of the Green Party, who held the post in 1998, against Progressive Gustavo Petro, a former combatant of the now-defunct M-19 leftist rebel group. In pre-electoral opinion polls, Petro was in the lead, followed by Peñalosa and the Harvard-trained Gina Parody of the Social Party of National Unity. Late on election day, Petro appeared to have a substantial lead over his opponents with 85% of the votes now reported. 



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

Filed under colombia, elections, politics, leftism, Latin America

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