READERS of this column will doubtless be aware of my obsession with Colombian football, a passion that dates back to that fateful day in 1990 when I caught sight of Carlos Valderrama and Rene Higuita playing simultaneously. And yes, it went beyond the hairstyles!
As a nation, Colombia is known for giving the world Shakira and the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose life has been somewhat glorified in the hit television show Narcos.
I was, however, watching last Sunday’s election in Colombia eagerly, only to see it peter out into a predictable affair that merely confirmed what we were all thinking. First off, those who negotiated the peace deal came off badly. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose lengthy armed conflict finally came to an end, took part in the election and saw its candidates get less than one percent of the vote! The only reason it has any representation is that as part of the peace agreement, the party is guaranteed five seats each in Congress and the Senate for the next two electoral terms.
You can say that this is due to the violent struggle but that doesn’t explain the electoral success of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) both of whom have gone on to lead the nation.
Instead the recent election read as a repudiation, not just of FARC, but of the peace treaty negotiated by outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos. His ruling Social Party of National Unity plunged to fourth place and lost most seats in Congress.
To make matters worse, the Democratic Centre party of hawkish former president Alvaro Uribe experienced big gains, making it all the more likely that the peace process will be affected.
As things stand only a quarter of the promises of the peace agreement have been met.
One can’t help but wonder how this is going to impact on peace talks with the admittedly less influential guerilla group National Liberation Army (ELN).
Just in case you are wondering, the Colombian conflict dates back to La Violenca, in 1948 when a bloody war broke out between supporters of the Conservatives and Liberal parties. Prompted by the slaying of popular Liberal Party presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, it resulted in a 10-year armed confrontation in which the Communist Party participated on the Liberal side.
Even after peace was temporarily established, the communist splinter movements FARC and ELN took up arms against the government (which for many years included a unity team of both conservatives and liberals).
Colombian society itself fought a descent into violence and madness as death squads, kidnappings, and drug warlords ruling large swathes of territory as their private fiefdom became the norm.
So what does the future look like now?
Well, in the primaries for May’s presidential election to choose a successor to dos Santos, the big winner was Ivan Duque. He easily won the right to represent Colombia’s right-wing coalition and on this showing you can bet that he is a shoo-in for president.
Gustavo Petro won the nomination for the left, but based on the number of votes he received in primaries he is going to come a distant second to Duque.
One bit of good news to come out of the elections is that the anti-corruption, environmentalist Green Party is also growing, but hopefully we aren’t sitting here in a few years discussing a resumption of hostilities.
- News editor Martin Vengadesan is still buzzing about Colombia’s performance at the last World Cup.
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