Colombian elections headed for upset? Pt.2
Hylton: Mockus a rupture with Uribe but not a break with US; but could relax tension with Venezuela
FORREST HYLTON, AUTHOR, PROF. HISTORY AND POLITICS, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES, BOGOTÁ: [Juan Manuel] Santos is somebody who’s a real political insider. And although [Antanas] Mockus has been the mayor of Bogotá two times, he’s able to run as a political outsider to some degree because he has no ties to either of the two traditional parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, or the new right-wing parties that have grown up around President Uribe. Now, Mockus’s campaign slogan is "democratic legality", which is a direct reference to the fact that the rule of law has largely been thrown by the wayside in the pursuit of Uribe’s democratic security policies. Santos is running as the inheritor and the person who will continue Uribe’s democratic security policies, as someone who was Uribe’s minister of defense during key moments in the struggle against the FARC insurgency. So Mockus really represents a centrist option in Colombia’s generally very polarized political panorama, and that’s what is taking people by surprise. But when you look at the polling data, you see that Mockus was really able to move forward once former mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo joined the campaign as a vice presidential candidate, and it’s really the two of these figures together representing an image of clean, efficient, independent municipal politics that has allowed Mockus to project an image nationwide as someone who could in fact govern Colombia.It’s interesting. The base agreement with Colombia and the United States that would allow the United States military to use seven Colombian military bases actually took place at the behest of the Colombians when the Manta base in Ecuador expired. The Colombian government of Uribe was eager to have the US set up camp in seven of Colombia’s military bases. It’s very unlikely that either Mockus or Santos would change those. It’s possible that Santos would try to negotiate more base agreements. But the difference between Santos and Mockus in this respect, although minimal, would be that while Santos is extremely belligerent towards Venezuela and has really tried in some ways to use this election to run against Chávez on a national security ticket, with the idea that Venezuela somehow threatens Colombia’s national security. That really hasn’t worked very well for him, because people’s sensible concerns today in Colombia have to do with their own economic situations, with the state of the health-care system in Colombia, and a number of other concerns that can’t neatly be [inaudible] the security rubric. So that’s part of what has Juan Manuel Santos’s campaign in the dumps. And certainly when it comes to education, Mockus is a former director of the National University, and his vice presidential candidate, Fajardo, is a former professor with a PhD in mathematics. So their commitment to education, to health care, to improving the situation of the country’s unemployed—Colombia has one of the highest unemployment rates in Latin America right now, and Mockus and Fajardo are wisely pursuing a strategy which emphasizes their ability to create employment. I think one major difference between the two candidates as far as Venezuela’s concerned is that Mockus is likely to ease diplomatic tensions with Venezuela and, you know, resume what would be considered normal relations with Venezuela, in Colombian historical context, whereas Juan Manuel Santos is clearly angling for an escalation of conflict, at least on a rhetorical level, and perhaps in reality as well. Juan Manuel Santos has long cultivated very close ties in Washington, and he has influential and powerful friends in the Pentagon and at State, and he certainly knows his way around Washington. Mockus really is much more of an outsider, because he has only governed Bogotá, which clearly hasn’t brought him into close contact with the US embassy, whereas Juan Manuel Santos has long interacted with the embassy, as well as with US government officials in Washington itself. So you would think that the United States would have a clear preference for Juan Manuel Santos and would be trying to influence the outcome. That may be in the scenes. If it is, it clearly isn’t having the desired effect. And indeed the United States might well be kind of repositioning itself in anticipation of a possible Mockus victory in the second round. It’s pretty clear that neither candidate’s going to win in the first round, although you never know until it happens. I don’t think anybody sees Mockus as a particular threat to the relative autonomy that the armed forces in this country enjoy, and I think they see him as somebody who would be forced to back the struggle against the FARC to a considerable degree.I think what we may be seeing is something similar to what happened with Obama’s campaign [inaudible] energy and the social networking and so forth is taking place in the Mockus camp. And the more economic and social issues become the chief issues in the campaign, the more difficulty Juan Manuel Santos has, because he really is a kind of one-note candidate who keeps pounding away at the theme of security and is somewhat deaf to the responses of public opinion. So, in fact, the big problem that Santos has is that he really has some of the sort of sclerotic qualities that characterized McCain in the McCain campaign. I think Mockus would be quick to realize that it’s in fact in Colombia’s interest to have good relations with its neighbors in the region, and that it could have both relations with its neighbors in the region and good relations with the United States—it’s probably not an either/or proposition for a skillful politician. But the Colombian right has obviously emphasized its ties to the United States at the expense of its neighbors, and we have every reason to expect that that’s what Santos would do if he were president. But Mockus would have little to lose by drawing closer to leaders like Lula, for instance, and normalizing relations with Chávez through a figure like Lula.It’s interesting to see that many of the most powerful economic forces in Colombia have begun to swing their weight behind Mockus’s candidacy in very much the same way that we saw the powerful sectors within the US economy weigh in in favor of an Obama candidacy, leaving McCain kind of high and dry towards the end in terms of campaign fundraising. And it looks like Mockus is going very strong right now with backing from some of the country’s major economic players. This has all happened so rapidly, and US policy in Latin America right now, you know, except for supporting outlaw regimes like Honduras or hard-right wing regimes like Uribe’s regime, US policy in Latin America is in a bit of disarray. So I would be surprised if they’ve really been able to kind of keep up with developments and kind of plot a strategy as to what to do, although there may be people who see, along with the country’s powerful business interests in Colombia [inaudible] really going to continue a number of economic and security policies that have taken place throughout the neoliberal period—which is to say, very much as was the case with Obama, I think the powerful elites and folks who benefit from the status quo don’t really have any concerns about Mockus rocking that status quo.
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