Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos is reportedly considering declaring a national emergency to prevent Congress from sinking an ongoing peace process.
A state of emergency would give the president the necessary powers to ratify the transitional justice system and a political reform that has been stuck in Congress.
Several debates have already been suspended after more than half of the country’s senators simply failed to appear at work.
Media call it blackmail
According to newspaper El Espectador, many of the absent lawmakers are blackmailing the government, demanding investment in their districts in exchange for their support for the peace process.
This legislative “blackmail” has been a common occurrence ahead of elections in the past. Never before, however, did it go as far as threatening to sink a peace process.
What Colombia’s mainstream media say
They have resorted to de facto blackmail to get positions and investments for “politics” in the regions.
Each congressman has a salary of 29,814,275 pesos ($9,800), enough for him to go to work at least twice a week to debate and — if he does not agree — vote negatively on the projects that are debated in both Senate and House, but not to use his absence to threaten another branch of public power that, in theory, is independent.
Congress playing with fire
The consequences of Congress’ failures to attend sessions are potentially catastrophic and could reignite the country’s 53-year-old armed conflict.
Tens of thousands of farmers and indigenous Colombians have already taken to the street to demand the state comply with the peace deal made with FARC guerrillas a year ago.
Many hundreds of former FARC combatants have already left reintegration camps where in some cases food has run out. Hundreds of former FARC guerrillas have reportedly rearmed as they lost confidence in the process.
The ongoing crisis in Bogota may be particularly embarrassing because of the international attention, but it is nothing new.
Particularly ahead of elections, using congressional votes as leverage to blackmail the government has become custom; lawmakers have used this method to inflate their political power for decades.
Congress’ dysfunctionality has become a greater threat to the peace process than legitimate opposition from the country’s hard right.
The two parties, however, do not have enough seats to block the bills.
The lawmakers of these parties are allegedly prioritizing their portion of the “marmalade” over the legislative agenda without being driven by ideological motives.