Monday, October 31, 2011

Colombia Elections a Big Win for Non-Traditional Candidates, Parties

Colombians went to the polls Sunday to elect mayors, governors, councilors and members of state assemblies. One of the most significant developments was the victory of independent candidate Gustavo Petro, who, with 32 percent of the vote, won one of Colombia’s most important political positions: mayor of Bogota. Petro, a former member of the now defunct M-19 guerrilla group, ran as an independent in part to distance himself from his political party, the far-left Polo Democratico. Bogota’s previous mayor, Samuel Moreno, also from the Polo Democratico, is now in jail awaiting trial for allegedly accepting kickbacks for several public works projects.

Semana credits Petro’s victory to his senatorial experience, his oratory skills and his ability to present himself as Bogota’s true alternative candidate. His election appears to prove what many analysts predicted: the Bogota race was basically a referendum on corruption. By adopting this issue as his campaign’s central theme, and backed by a strong record as an anti-corruption crusader in Congress, Petro was able to win a tough race. His main opponent, Green Party candidate Enrique PeƱalosa, is the popular former mayor of Bogota but may have been hurt when he accepted the endorsement of ex-president Alvaro Uribe. The decision angered many in his party and created the perception he was more of an establishment candidate than Petro.

Petro was among five leftist candidates who won mayorships in seven of Colombia’s major cities. Nationwide, voting trends did not indicate a shift to the left, but certainly showed that the non-traditional parties like the Greens and the Alianza Social Independente are gaining strength. In one important win, Green Party candidate and ex-mayor of Medellin Sergio Fajardo won governorship of Antioquia. Fajardo is credited for leading urban renewal and social initiatives in Medellin during his term as major, when violence dropped dramatically in the city. In other parts of the country, traditional political bosses, including some associated with “parapolitics,” won key positions, reports El Tiempo.

Election day saw few incidents of violence reported, despite a violent build-up which saw 41 candidates killed while campaigning. According to the government, violence dropped 86 percent compared to the last municipal elections, held in 2007.

For more analysis, La Silla Vacia lists the top ten trends made evident from the voting results. More English-language coverage from Colombia Reports, Miami Herald, LA Times, the BBC and the Wall Street Journal.

News Briefs

  • Computer hacker and activist group Anonymous released a video threatening to share intelligence on Zeta collaborators, after a member of their group was kidnapped in Veracruz. In the video, a speaker wearing a mask says Anonymous will expose police officers, journalists and other Zeta accomplices, stating, “You have made a great mistake by taking one of us. Free him.” It remains to be seen whether Anonymous will follow through with their threat and make such information public, and whether this could spark a violent reaction from the Zetas. Bloggings by Boz predicts such an outcome, noting that if purported anti-Zeta groups like the “Mata Zetas” make use of the information to target those working with the Zetas, this gives the Mexican criminal gang plenty of reason to respond aggressively to Anonymous’ threats.
  • The Washington Post profiles economic consultants in Argentina who release inflation statistics that differ sharply from the numbers released by the government. President Cristina Kirchner´s recent electoral victory appeared to signal Argentines are happy with her government’s economic policies. But other private consultancy firms, U.S.-based credit rating agencies, and international bodies like the IMF and World Bank are questioning the government’s economic statistics. But as the Post reports, such complaints by private and international firms may be connected to another issue, namely, Argentina’s refusal to prioritize paying back its loans to the Inter-American Development Bank, and to let the IMF evaluate the country’s economy. Foreign Policy also has an argument on why Kirchner’s populist economic policies are not sustainable.
  • Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva has been diagnosed with throat cancer. Today he starts undergoing treatment in a Sao Paulo hospital. The Wall Street Journal notes that the diagnosis casts Lula’s future as the main advisor to President Dilma Rousseff into question. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President and fellow cancer-sufferer Hugo Chavez sent a message of solidarity to the Brazilian politican.
  • The AP reports on drug trafficking in Honduras, an increasingly important transit country for U.S.-bound cocaine. The article summarizes the top reasons why drug trafficking organizations have become so reliant on offloading and storing cocaine in Honduras, and the detrimental effect on the country’s homicide and crime rates.
  • At the 21st Ibero-American Summit, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa caused a stir when he walked out during a speech by a World Bank representative. The Latin America Herald Tribunereports that Correa said his exit was a symbolic demand that the World Bank apologize for the damage neoliberal economic policies have inflicted in Latin America.
  • In Foreign Policy, ex-World Bank director and neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz co-authored an article arguing why the “Plan Colombia” approach is the best option for Afghanistan. The article is accompanied by a timeline of what the program achieved (and failed to achieve) in Colombia.
  • Al Jazeera released a video report on violence in Jalisco and Zacatecas, profiling the residents of three towns affected by the current turf war between the Zetas and Sinaloa Cartels.
  • In Puerto Rico, the number of unsolved murder cases is rising fast, according to the AP. One homicide involving an 8-year-old boy has become a media sensation on the island, where police forces are frequently criticized for carrying out ineffective investigations. Puerto Rico may be on track to register over 1,000 murders by the end of year.