Colombia Re-elects President Santos

Bump and Update: Colombia Re-elects President Santos

With 99% of the vote counted, President Juan Manual Santos has won the run-off election, 51% to 45%. Challenger Zuluaga has conceded. Santos even won Bogota this round.

He won Bogota, the nation’s capital, with the largest number of voters, a change from the first round, when he placed third in the first round of the elections. Santos also took the vote in the regions most affected by guerrilla groups, including the Putumayo, Nariño, Cauca and Norte de Santander states.
Thanks to Colombians for rejecting a return to Uribe and right-wing politics. Hopefully, the peace talks with FARC will continue and reach fruition. [More...]

Original Post:

Colombia's Run-off Election: Cattle Ranchers vs Peace

Colombia will elect a President in the run-off election today. Will it be current President Juan Manual Santos or his right wing challenger Oscar Zuluaga, whose biggest supporter is Santos' predecessor Alvaro Uribe, a FARC-hating friend to the paramilitaries and lead warrior in the war on drugs, and who is widely perceived as Uribe's puppet?

Who's supporting who:

Santos is opposed by Colombia's cattle ranchers and palm oil plantation owners, beneficiaries of a deal Uribe made with far-right paramilitaries that dismantled their militias. Large landholders had by then consolidated control over territory that the militias had largely rid of rebels while driving at least 3 million poor Colombians off the lands. They dislike Santos' peace pact because it would facilitate the return of stolen lands.

The Guardian yesterday published an editorial backing Santos, saying he is the only candidate who can bring peace.

Zuluaga offers only hatred, distrust and apathy. A former small-town mayor, Zuluaga studied at Exeter University before eventually rising to the position of finance minister under Colombia's former rightwing president, Alvaro Uribe Vélez, the man most closely associated with the worst excesses of the Bush administration's "war on drugs". Initially seen as an outsider in the presidential race, Zuluaga has been relentless in exploiting the understandable resentment and fear of millions of Colombians that Farc, somehow, may be let off the hook.

... If he wins, there is the very real prospect of all hope collapsing and a return to hostilities.

Colombia's economy has done well under Santos. Colombian media puts the choice down to those favoring peace with FARC (President Santos) to those who want to continue Uribe's policy of destroying FARC militarily (challenger Zuluaga.)

Uribe was closely aligned with the paramilitary group (UAC.) In 2006, he implemented the Justice for Peace program under which they received light to no sentences in exchange for confessing their crimes and compensating their victims. The victims still complain they got neither satisfactory answers to what happened to their loved ones or adequate restitution. Many were extradited to the U.S. where those who participated in the program have been insulated from fulfilling their deal with Colombia, after cooperating with the U.S. in its war on drugs.

In the May 25 election in which neither candidate obtained more than 50% of the vote, many Colombians didn't vote. Of those who did, the demographics show Santos did better in the coastal and border areas where the violence continues (like Putamayo which is home to many coca growers) while Zuluaga did better in the urban areas and among the wealthy cattle ranchers.

FARC vs. the AUC has always been the peasants vs the rich land barons, the haves vs. the have-nots. The paramilitary death squads of the AUC were despicable -- and they worked hand in glove with the Colombian military, if not the Government.

The AUC was also entrenched in drug trafficking.

The origins of the paramilitaries go back to the early 1980s, when drug traffickers, facing a wave of kidnappings by leftist guerrilla groups, decided to create a death squad they called Death to Kidnappers (Muerte a Secuestradores - MAS).

This illegal group assassinated not just the kidnappers but any supposed member of the rebels’ infrastructure, which included many innocent civilians, activists, union leaders and politicians. Later "self-defense" groups emerged, some of them initiated by Colombian army officers and politicians who called for the population to organize in their own defense. Many of them were legally constituted. However, rather than protect civilians from the transgressions of the guerrillas, many of the groups simply worked for drug traffickers and or at the behest of large landholders.

Indeed, the rise of the drug traffickers’ economic power would change the face of the war. Powerful members of the Medellin Cartel invested heavily in land and, using the paramilitary groups, sought to shield themselves from the guerrillas’ extortion and kidnapping attempts. MAS expanded exponentially in these rural areas. But soon the “self-defense” groups were protecting drug stashes and cargoes rather than civilians. These organizations also unleashed waves of violence against sectors of the population who were considered supporters of the guerrillas. Thousands of civilians were killed, including state agents and politicians, leading the government to criminalize the paramilitary groups.

The paramilitaries were not motivated by social principles or political philosophy. They were about revenge. And preserving their wealth. The Castano brothers created the groups as revenge for the kidnapping and murder of their father by FARC. Their victims numbered more than 140,000. Human Rights Watch said in 2001,

Castaño and his allies have committed about 80 percent of Colombia's human rights abuses, according to Human Rights Watch. The Colombian Defense Ministry reports that rightist paramilitaries carried out three-fourths of the country's massacres last year.

...Since the death of Pablo Escobar, no Colombian has terrorized so many members of the Colombian press, to say nothing of Colombian society in general. Carlos Castaño's extraordinary assault against local journalists comes as the Colombian government is receiving a record amount of U.S. aid. On September 10, as U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell was about to leave on a visit to Colombia, the State Department formally designated the AUC as a terrorist organization.

The Castano Brothers didn't just kill left wing rebels, peasant workers and sympathizers. They also killed journalists and tried to bomb a newspaper. In 1997, Carlos Castano admitted ordering the massacre of 49 peasants. As to the corruption:

Human Rights Watch reported that half of the army's 18 brigades were sharing intelligence and other resources with rightist paramilitary groups, most of them under Castaño's command.

Initially the Castanos aligned themselves with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, but had a falling out after Escobar killed two of Escobar's traffickers, Fernando Galeano and Gerardo Moncada, for withholding money from him. Felix Castano, who was also working with Escobar and had been summoned to the meeting where Galeano and Moncada were killed but did not attend, was furious. This led to the Castano brothers creating the PEPEs, the group whose sole purpose was to assist the government's task force known as the Search Block (which in turn was aided by aided by the DEA and US Special Forces) in killing Pablo Escobar. With the demise of the Medellin cartel and Escobar, the Castanos moved on to work with the Cali cartel.

After the Cali Cartel was dismantled, the Castanos concentrated again on destroying FARC and formed the AUC.

...The second generation of paramilitaries came from the PEPES. The remnants of this group formed the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (Autodefensas de Cordoba y Uraba - ACCU). In 1996, the ACCU created a loose federation of self-defense groups comprised of seven regional organizations known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). These paramilitary groups were able to establish local fiefdoms in the main areas of guerrilla influence and drive out the rural population that they accused of collaborating with the rebels.

The profits from their war spoils allowed the AUC to grow exponentially and create an army of more than 30,000 soldiers. But the source of this profit, principally drugs, placed the group in the crosshairs of the United States government, which sought to break up what had become arguably the largest drug trafficking organization in the world. Sensing a showdown and already facing a series of indictments in the US for drug trafficking, the paramilitaries sought a way out by negotiating a peace deal with the Colombian government.

Carlos Castano was wanted in Colombia for multiple murders, kidnapping, and arms trafficking, going back to 1988. The DEA also wanted him, labeling him "a major drug rafficker." The Castanos and the AUC didn't just murder. They raped, tortured, and made entire towns of villagers, including children, watch.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's father was reportedly a drug trafficker who was kidnapped and murdered by FARC. He hated FARC. He had strong ties to the AUC, although criminal charges were never brought against him. He is the President who implemented the Justice and Peace impunity deal with the AUC in the 2006. Under his presidency, repeated military campaigns against FARC killed many of its leaders and radically diminished FARC's numbers.

Eventually, Felix was killed by FARC, Vicente ordered the murder of his brother Carlos and Vicente was reportedly murdered. The official "AUC" was over, but new right wing paramilitary groups, known as Bacrims, who are heavily involved in drug trafficking sprang up to take their place. They continue to be motivated by money and greed, not social injustice.

As Colombian journalist and author Hector Abbad writes in the Observer yesterday:

Uribe and Zuluaga...represent the worst of the Antioquia region: key drivers of the convivir, the government-sanctioned auto-defence groups of the 1990s, beneficiaries of the drug traffickers who raised the prices of their land, and landowners who sympathised with the convivir groups. They are the worst my region has given the country.

If Zuluaga wins, Abbad continues, and follows the path of Uribe, his biggest supporter,

the country will be pushed over the edge and we will live through years of hatred and butchery. Even those of us on the centre could succumb in the anti-Communist crusade.

In yet another article in yesterday's Observer, Don't Throw Away the Chance for Peace, Ed Vuillamy writes that Santos today called on Colombians not to throw away the chance to end the long-running conflict with FARC. Mauricio Rodriguez, one of Santos' special advisers and a key mediator in the peace talks, who is also a former ambassador to London, says:

...a Zuluaga victory would "tear up all the work we have done, all we have achieved to bring peace to Colombia". It would also "overturn social reforms which are lifting millions of Colombians out of poverty and bring about a return to the drug war".

"The stakes," he said, were "very, very high. Colombia is tired of war – we cannot take any more." The election was "not just a national issue, but will fundamentally impact Latin America and the world".

Santos has called for a re-thinking of the war on drugs which Uribe championed. Rodriguez, who has been instrumental in promoting a change in drug policy, says:

At the Summit of the Americas at Cartagena in 2012, Santos called for a radical new approach to drugs – focusing on co-responsibility among consuming nations in Europe and North America – to money-laundering by banks caught shifting vast quantities of drug money and to social and economic issues. Without Colombia's leadership, it is unlikely that its supporters can continue the challenge alone.

...I dread the consequences of losing this initiative. An Uribe government would bring back not just a latterday version of the [US-backed] 'Plan Colombia'. Full of resentment, they want to undo all we have done on the drugs crisis, to bring back the old war on drugs, and worse".

... Uribe is a good communicator, a populist, charismatic – and, full of anger and resentment, he wants power back and we all know that Zuluaga would be his puppet – giving comfort to the extreme rightwing, and people who made fortunes from the war".

Other differences between the candidates: Aid to the poor. Rodriguez says:

Santos' years have been marked by social progress: huge spending on poor districts in the former narco-bastion of Medellín and legislation for the restitution of land to those who were expelled from it by paramilitaries and Farc. "Colombia is a fairly rich nation and yet it still has one third of citizens living in poverty and four million of them in extreme poverty. This is completely unacceptable," said Rodríguez. "But we have taken 2.5 million Colombians out of poverty and 1.3 million from extreme poverty – something no government has ever done in Colombia. We have operated a social democracy, in place of the military economy that an Uribe-run government would bring back. We are trying to grow for the general prosperity, they want prosperity for just a few business people in their entourage."

Colombians, particularly those leaning left who are not enamored of Santos, need to get out and vote for Santos today.

The most optimistic scenario, if the left helps Santos keep power, Colombia could expect a government more open to adopting some of its ideals and policies over the next four years.

On the other hand, a decision to abstain at this critical moment in Colombia's story, would be a historic abdication of responsibility. If Zuluaga takes power, those who suffer as a result will be found not in the political cafés of the main cities, but in the fields and mountains of Colombia's conflict zones, another generation lost to war.

The alternative, Zuluaga, and a return to the policies of Uribe, is unacceptable -- for peace in Colombia and for continued progress towards ending the War on Drugs. Plan Colombia was a failure and cost us billions. Cocaine is as prevalent as ever. The drug seizures and extraditions have had a negligible effect on supply. FARC has spent two years at the peace talk table and major agreements have been reached, including one to cease its involvement in drug trafficking and another to establish a truth commission and recognize the rights of victims to be heard. FARC is not responsible for all of the ills in Colombia, particularly the AUC's death squads, the killings by the Colombian military and police, or the AUC and corrupt officials' profiteering in drug trafficking. They still advocate for the rights of the poor and the workers, including the right to participate in governing process. Let them in and keep the cattle barons out.

On a lighter note, another reason not to vote for Zuluaga: He looks like a double for Richard Nixon. (See here and here too.)

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  • Display: Sort:
    Relieved to see that all those Colombian (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Peter G on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 04:02:04 PM EST
    TalkLeft readers took J's advice on how to vote!

    Being pretty ignorant (none / 0) (#4)
    by CaptHowdy on Sun Jun 15, 2014 at 09:54:46 AM EST
    I was googling and found a site called ColombiaPolitics.  It was a little hard to tell the political leanings.  They say they are neither left or right but then so does FOX NEWS.

    They do seem cynical.  Here's a sample-

    Uribe, Santos: A plague on both your houses

    A sulphuric stench hangs over Colombia's presidential election race.
    There are dirty negative campaigns and then there are Colombia's politics.
    Last week we learnt that narco-scandals go right to the presidential palace. Also that wire-tapping is back; with President Santos' main rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, accused of sabotaging the peace process with the FARC.

    Colombia's politicians make FIFA look legit

    Neither Juan Manuel Santos nor Oscar Ivan Zuluaga deserve to be elected president.
    Colombians go to the polls a day after "la selección" plays its first World Cup finals game since 1998.
    You could excuse them for nursing their hangovers in bed and declining to vote.

    We're voting for a president not for peace

    Let's be more than single issue voters. Peace, yes - but what else?
    In these elections we're not really talking about peace, but instead the `destruction/demobilization' of the guerilla groups.
    This is a pretty limited view of what the word peace means, and while, yes it is a key consideration in these elections, we must not forget that peace has been the buzz word for every election for about the last 100 years.
    Be that war between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the guerillas and the army or the peasants and the land-owners, war and civil conflict has been the status quo for generations of Colombians.

    I guess politics is pretty much the same everywhere these days.


    curious if someone smarter than me thinks they have a political axe to grind.  They seem a bit rightish to me.  

    l can't tell. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Jun 15, 2014 at 12:00:10 PM EST
    Maybe if I knew more about Columbian politics I could say.