Colombian politics, notable for corruption, bossism and violence, took a positive turn Oct. 28 when candidates of the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA), Colombia’s new, left-progressive coalition party, won local electoral victories. Leaders are looking to 2010, when the party will contest the re-election of President Alvaro Uribe, a U.S. protégé.
During the campaign, right-wing enforcers killed 29 candidates. Throughout the nation, votes reportedly sold for $50 to $100 or for favors from local powerbrokers. Right-wing and center-right forces ended up winning 694 of the 1,098 mayoralty races and 17 of 32 governorships.
But PDA candidate Samuel Moreno gained 900,000 votes, 44 percent of the total, to keep the Bogota mayor’s office — reputedly the second most powerful job in the country — in left-wing hands. In Bogota, a record 48 percent of potential voters turned out. Colombia’s national daily El Tiempo called Moreno’s victory a “notable and significant political defeat for the president.”
In Nariño, voters chose former guerrilla leader and PDA founder Antonio Navarro Wolf as governor of a state burdened by drug war conflict, herbicide fumigations and displaced populations. In Santander, notorious for paramilitary massacres, longtime Uribe foe Horacio Serpa became governor with PDA support, as did new governors in Atlántico and Cesar. Left-oriented candidates won mayoral races in Medellín and Cali on their own.
Overall, the PDA elected 20 mayors, 22 assembly delegates, hundreds of municipal councilpersons, 41 council spokespersons, and in Bogota, 11 members of the City Council, taking political control of 16 of 20 districts.
Scapegoating figured prominently among tactics of the right. President Uribe once more charged political opponents with supporting guerrilla insurgents, this time targeting Moreno, current PDA head Carlos Gaviria and Carlos Lozano, the editor of Voz, the Communist Party’s weekly. That Uribe broadcast the allegations on the eve of elections apparently worked in Moreno’s favor.
For his part in the smear campaign, Moreno’s defeated opponent, Enrique Peñalosa, hired Alex Castellanos, a Cuban American specialist in media dirty tricks, who tried to connect Moreno with both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Cali drug cartel. According to the PDA web site, Castellanos worked previously for George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The PDA has become a “national reality,” according to Voz. An editorialist described “a pluralist and convergent party” whose future success will depend upon “its unwavering decision to firmly follow its left course … without sectarianism.”
The prospect of mass participation in Colombian electoral politics is clouded by history. Guerrilla insurgents, notably the FARC, joined communists, unionists and other leftists in the late 1980s to form the Patriotic Union, a coalition aiming to recast left politics from armed struggle to election victories. Right-wing hired thugs massacred thousands of Patriotic Union activists, presidential candidates included.
Analysts see the present moment as ripe for another try at building an inclusive movement for democratic change. The Uribe government is mired in paramilitary and drug scandals. Poverty remains rife, as does the massive displacement of Colombia’s rural poor. Political assassinations continue.
The PDA, formed in 2005 by existing left-wing parties, ran Carlos Gaviria in the 2006 presidential elections. He gained 2.6 million votes, enough to establish the PDA as a political force. At a June 2006 “Congress of Unity,” delegates defined party characteristics and devised an action plan.
The PDA web site describes a “process of convergence … to take Colombia out of [its] deep, prolonged crisis.” Steps along the way include defending national sovereignty, rejecting neoliberal globalization, promoting the “universalization” of social, economic, cultural, and political rights, defending workers’ rights, protecting the environment, ending armed conflict, and building democratic mass struggle.
Among those elected to office in Bogota was Jaime Caicedo, general secretary of the Colombian Communist Party and a PDA leader. Caicedo will join Bogota’s City Council, having gained the second-highest vote total among the new PDA council members.