Colombia and the rest of Latin America are experiencing their longest periods of democracy but still suffer “extreme inequalities,” the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Organization of American states (OAS) has reported.
Among the major concerns for Colombian democracy published in the report “Our Democracy in Latin America,” were armed illegal groups influencing political processes, representational inequalities among women, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, corruption and the freedom of the press.
Colombia’s illegal armed groups “continue to hamper” the electoral process by threatening violence against voters if they don’t vote for a candidate that serves their interests. Public officials are also not immune to intimidation if their policies don’t reflect the rebels’ agendas.
According to an ex-foreign minister in Colombia, “Freedom of the press has progressively been taken over by extremely powerful economic groups voraciously invading realms that were exclusively for democratic decision-making.” The ex-minister also added that freedom of the press is the “main dike” in holding back corruption.
Women are still significantly under-represented politically in Latin America, according to a representative from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNIFEM).
In 2009, Colombian women held 8% of the lower chamber of Congress and 11% of the upper, while the country with the highest number of women holding those positions in Latin America was Argentina with 38% and 35% in the respective chambers.
“I don’t work for women but for democracy: I am sure that women’s low participation and representation are a deficit of democracy,” proclaimed another UNIFEM representative.
With regards to indigenous representation in Colombian democracy, a native organization leader was paraphrased in the report as saying, “The idea persists that indigenous people are a hindrance to development and a problem for democracy. Democracy must be taken to a different setting and culture from that for which it was originally conceived. We don’t want the indigenous people to continue as the local color of democracy, but as stakeholders.”
On the issue of furthering racial equality, an Afro-Colombian leader stated, “We cannot build a democracy with the political players we have now… When the United States wanted to reduce the impact of racism and discrimination, the first thing they did was construct universities where Afro-descendants could learn and think about the kind of society they wanted.” The Afro-Colombian leader implied that Colombia could use the U.S. as an example for overcoming intolerance.
Democratization in Colombia and Latin America “must focus on its constituency: the women and men who face uncertainty and fear everyday, particularly those who suffer poverty and marginalization in profoundly unequal, violent societies,” according to the report.