Right-wing candidate Juan Manuel Santos won the second round of the Colombian presidential elections on June 20. This re-affirms Colombia’s position as the US’s chief proxy in the region, playing a similar role to that of Israel in the Middle East.
Santos won 69% of the run-off election against Green Party presidential candidate and former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus. However, IPS said on June 21 that, with just 45% of registered voters taking part in the poll, Santos won with a mere 30% of potential votes.
The left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) won 1.3 million votes (9%) in the first round. However, IPS said Mockus refused to negotiate for PDA support, and the PDA refused to call for a vote for either candidate in the run-off.
Allies of Santos will also control 80% of the Congress.
Colombia is a deeply unequal society. Less than 1% of Colombians own more than half of the Andean nation’s fertile farmland. Other statistical indicators paint a similar picture of a grossly unequal society.
A quarter of Colombia’s 44 million people live on less than US$1 a day in a country possessing abundant natural resources.
Little has changed since the era of Spanish colonialism — the new imperial master in Washington has worked to ensure it. Little wonder that faith in the ballot box has collapsed and voter turnouts are regularly below 50%.
Santos’ win was hailed by the corporate media — the June 22 Australian called it a “ringing endorsement” of “US-backed security policies”. But his victory was the manipulated outcome of a nominally democratic electoral process. It occurred against a backdrop of decades of systematic repression against all forms of opposition to the power of the oligarchy.
Colombia, which receives the world’s third-largest share of US military aid, is waging a decades-long terror campaign against its impoverished people.
In 1948, US president Harry Truman’s administration declared war on Latin American “communism” at the 9th Pan-American Conference in the Colombian capital of Bogota. The event coincided with the mysterious assassination of the populist land-reforming presidential candidate Jorge Gaitan.
Since then, the Colombian state has done Washington’s bidding by responding to internal dissent with exceptional violence.
Whether or not the CIA was involved in Gaitan’s murder, the US took advantage of the ensuing unrest to lend unconditional financial, military and propaganda support to the traditional conservative interests contesting for control of the state against more liberal sectors.
The conservatives came from the white elite, openly admired Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain and subscribed to a Colombian racist ideology known as “hispanidad”.
With US backing, the campaign of targeted murder was applied with indiscriminate vigour. It resulted in the collapse of “legitimate” liberal opposition and the rise of left-wing guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
In response, the Colombian military created paramilitary organisations such as the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia(AUC) to carry out large-scale atrocities against civilian targets deemed sympathetic to the rebels.
Foreign corporations worked closely with the paramilitaries, who massacred peasants and indigenous groups by the tens of thousands, clearing huge swathes of Colombian territory for resource extraction and agribusiness activity.
The US has sent military advisers to fight alongside the Colombian military and conducted aerial fumigation campaigns against peasant populations in regions where resistance was strongest.
The “war on drugs” has provided the pretext for this chemical warfare.
Santos’ has played a key role in the repression, serving as outgoing President Alvaro Uribe’s defence minister. Santos prosecution of the war on the FARC extended to bombing Ecuadorian territory in 2008, bringing the region close to war.
Santos also presided over attacks on trade unionists, radical clergy, dissident journalists, peasants, peace activists, indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians. He cynically pointed to a lower civilian death rate (which still numbers in the thousands annually) during his time in office as a sign of progress.
The Santos family are a powerful and wealthy dynasty in Colombia. Juan Manuel Santos, now 58, was educated in elite Colombian and overseas institutions.
He is committed to expanding the network of US military bases in Colombia, partly to threaten the social gains won by the Venezuelan revolution next door.
He is also committed to increasing the scale and scope of multinationals’ exploitation of Colombia’s resources.
“Santos won’t change the rules of the game”, the chief economist of an elite Bogota brokerage told Bloomberg on June 21. “This win is a positive signal for investors who have their sights on Colombia.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Bogata on the eve of Santos’ win: “Colombia is a valued partner and we hope to be able to deepen and amplify our alliance.”
Mockus’ campaign was smothered from the outset by the hostility of corporate media (such as the daily newspaper El Tiempo, majority owned from the early 1900s until 2007 by the Santos family).
That a candidate who promised to support Ecuador’s bid to extradite Uribe still managed to garner a fifth of the national vote, combined with the 1.3 million votes for the PDA, is a testament to the desire of many in Colombia to seek an alternative to endless repression.
Two decades may have passed since the official end of the Cold War, but Washington’s anti-democratic crusade is still raging in Latin America. Self-perpetuating oligarchies allied to the multinational corporate “investment community” are trying to contain the rise of popular social movements seeking a more equitable division of land and resources.
Washington’s strategy for a region with the most inequitable income disparities in the world is containment of democratic socialist movements today, with the aim of rolling them back tomorrow.