Colombia: Left awaits Uribe in Congress

March 14, 2014
The four 'lions of the left' elected to Colombia's congress. Graphic by Leonar Alvarez.

Colombia's election results are all but in and one thing is clear: Álvaro Uribe, the first ex-president to run for senate, is the man of the moment.

President Juan Manual Santos's U Party may have come out on top with 21 out of a possible 102 seats in Congress, compared with 19 from Uribe’s newly formed ultra-right party Democratic Centre ― Firm Hand, Big Heart, but it is clear where the momentum lies.

Given the reemergence of Uribe, it was always going to be difficult for the left to break through in ultra-conservative Colombia. Yet, on individual popularity alone, four left candidates managed to rally significant support. Right-wing candidates, on the other hand, relied on their party to carry them through.

The two big traditional Colombian parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, came third and fourth respectively. On the left, Jorge Robledo of Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) with 1.34% of the national vote secured more support, in his own right, than any other candidate.

His colleague Iván Cepeda and the two candidates from the Green Alliance ― Claudia López (the surprise of the election) and the ex-M-19 guerrilla Antonio Navarro Wolff ― also roared into the senate.

The Democratic Centre relied entirely on Uribe's name to carry its candidates to victory. It was a clever, albeit controversial move. It ends the ideological power vacuum experienced by Uribistas after Uribe's second presidential term ended in 2010.

Uribe may have been constitutionally denied a third term, but his party's victories in its first electoral outing is to ruffle more than a few of Santos’s feathers. He remains a powerful figure and an important critic of the current regime, with wounds still yet to heal after the very public spat between Uribe and Santos in 2010.

With these two right titans steering at the government’s helm it is going to take a lot of courage to challenge state policies. Even the capital, traditionally a stronghold of left ideas, is now home to ultra-right Uribistas.

The centre-left parties of PDA and the Green Alliance do, however, punch above their weight, with key senators having shown real electorate appeal. They will not contentedly settle for the crumbs that fall from the main parties’ tables.

Colombian magazine La Semana has predicted life for Uribe could be made more difficult by the scrutiny of the widely respected López and Cepada. It suggested the thousands of votes both received were driven by the strong need, for the few in the left camp, to dampen Uribe's stronghold.

The first of the “four lions of the left” elected to the Senate in a challenge to the right’s dominance, is Claudia López from the Green Alliance. Winning more than 80,000 votes in her first outing into national politics, she is the revelation of the elections.

Described as “the rebel with a cause”, she has used her investigative journalism skills to bring down the elite. In Colombia, she is best known for her role in revealing and denouncing paramilitary activity, linked to voting corruption. Some 42 members of the congress have subsequently found themselves in jail.

Iván Cepada, from the PDA, is another first time congressperson. He created the National Movement for Victims, which highlighted crimes against humanity that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. His work was dangerous and ultimately ended in a forced exile to France.

On his return to Colombia in 2003, he defended yet more victims of paramilitary activities and corrupt public officials. He helped create the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes. This work brought him into direct combat with Uribe, over the ex-president’s alleged ties with paramilitaries.

Jorge Robledo, from the PDA, opposed Uribe's desire to sell off all of Colombia’s natural resources in the name of short-term profit. Robledo is an opponent of US-pushed free trade agreements in Latin America.

Antonio Navarro Wolff from the Green Alliance is an environmental engineer who, after fraudulent elections, joined the socialist urban guerrilla group M-19 in 1974.

Navarro was a key contributor to writing the 1991 Colombian Constitution. Today, he is a spokesperson for the Progressive Movement, which aims to promote social justice and freedom within Colombia.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the left were much better represented in the Chamber of Representatives, Colombia’s second tier of parliamentary power within the congress.

A clear winner in Bogota, scoring an important victory for the Green Alliance and Colombia’s under-represented LGBTI community, was Angélica Lozano. Among other policies, Lozano is committed to passing a gender recognition act and clarifying the highly contested right for same-sex civil partnerships.

It is now only a few weeks before the May presidential elections. Only time will tell who will be elected to serve in Colombia’s highest office. But one thing is certain, it will not be Uribe.

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