Clara Lopez, the presidential candidate for Colombia’s main leftist party, the Polo Democratico, is hopeful that her prominent role in the race for the 2014 presidency can result in a historic electoral victory against the right.
“This is the first time that there is a chance, an opening, a possibility of reaching the presidency,” Lopez told Colombia reports referring to the Polo Democratico (PDA) party’s likelihood of winning the presidential elections in 2014.
“We have an uphill race…[but] we are convinced that there is an opening for us.”
Lopez, the political powerhouse from Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, demonstrated confidence, poise, and warmth throughout an interview with Colombia Reports, and spoke pointedly and passionately of her policies and agendas for the Casa de Nariño, Colombia’s presidential palace.
PROFILE: Clara Lopez
Lopez discussed her priorities for the presidency including improving government credibility, eradicating poverty, and ensuring equal representation for all Colombians. She also addressed challenges that face her campaign, and how she intends to overcome them.
At the start, Mrs. Lopez was eager to get the opportunity to speak to Colombia Reports saying that she wanted to ensure that the international community realizes that she nor her party represents radical leftist ideals.
Rather the two stand together for “an alternative building of a democratic society,” in which the government does not “have a monopoly on public discourse” as Lopez described the current status quo.
Priorities for Office
So how does the career politician and academic intend to build this alternative society? Lopez outlined three primary points.
“Colombia is experiencing a profound change in public opinion [right now],” she began, “The public’s view on the government’s credibility is changing.”
Lopez asserted that this is the perfect time for her party to “carry out a new form of government that promotes economic growth and social inclusion by focusing on three large issues,” the first of which being, economic growth.
Lopez stated emphatically that, if elected, she will revise clauses within current Free Trade Agreements and scrutinize new agreements in order to “recover Colombian sovereignty” in pursuit of economic growth. Sovereignty from Free Trade Agreements between countries such as the United States and Colombia have been hot topic issues, and many Colombians grow skeptical of how beneficial such agreements are to the country’s economy.
Eradicating poverty and viewing access to social security as a right, will be her second main priority in office.
“The eradication of poverty needs to be perceived as a right [in this country],” Lopez asserted. “I also have a plan for pension reform. It will be a pillar system, though not based on the United States’ system.” Pillar systems of pension reform were outlined in 1998 by the World Bank, and this system is currently popular amongst many European countries. The US has a version of a pillar system currently.
Reorganizing the composition of government in order to create a more inclusive governing body will be Lopez’ third priority in office.
“I will work to make Colombia’s government an inclusive government–not in the sense of having a token woman, or a token ethnic minority–but a truly pluralistic and representative government.”
“I will ensure the participation of all sectors involved in government, from businessmen and trade leaders to social organizations and ethnic groups,” she claimed without missing a beat.
Lopez asserted that this is one of the most lacking parts of the government currently, and one of the most important to be rectified.
“I want [all] to have representation, and to have a voice.”
“An Uphill Race” Ahead
“This is an unequal competition.”
When asked about the challenges that face the PDA’s campaign this year, Mrs. Lopez jumped on it immediately.
“The government is pervasive in this country, and the mass media caters to the government,” which Lopez asserts will be a huge challenge in this race.
“This business backed government holds great sway over mass media…and there is no way to have equal time and equal opportunity to offer alternatives to the president’s views,” she told Colombia Reports.
“Colombia has a democracy, but it is a very formal democracy with very little public discourse,” and Lopez sees this as a threat to getting the word out regarding what her party stands for.
Furthermore, she reintroduced the idea of credibility, and recognized that most government officials are looked upon with skepticism and distrust.
“We are at a crossroads, where credibility has eroded and WE want to rebuild credibility in government and in political discourse to build an alternative [style of] government,” she stated confidently.
Overcoming Challenges of ‘Mass Media’ and ‘Credibility’
Clara Lopez is not one to back down from a fight however , as she was a huge combatant and critic of Parapolitics, the practice of politicians conspiring with illegal armed paramilitary groups, in the early 2000’s while she was the Auditor General of Colombia.
“Right now we are carrying out legal procedures to gain access to the mass media,” and Lopez is also working on Colombia’s National Electoral Council as well, who “pays lip service” to other parties, but really only responds to the presidency. The National Electoral Council is in charge of organizing elections on the whole, which includes managing the finances and regulations of all political parties.
However, Lopez is not waiting for any court’s decision to start her campaign. The lifetime politician has been using social media, alternative media, and–what she says is the best way to really get the message across–word of mouth.
“There’s unequal access to the internet in many places [in Colombia] so word of mouth is one of the best things we can do right now.”
In terms of credibility, Lopez sees this as the perfect time to strike and gain power with the Colombian people.
“This time, the credibility crisis [in Colombia’s government] has opened the eyes of many different parts of society,” and Lopez intends to capitalize on that.
Looking Forward and Creating a New Majority
Make no mistake though–Clara Lopez is no stranger to the campaign trail. In 2010, Lopez was the vice presidential running mate for PDA’s Gustavo Petro‘s failed attempt at the presidency in 2010. Together they achieved over 1,300,000 votes making up just under 10% of the votes and coming in fourth place.
However for a party that was formed in 2005, this was a large victory in the eyes of many PDA members. It was a “symbolic” victory said Lopez. She asserted that in fact, “the majority of campaigns for this party have been symbolic in nature” because the challenges are so large and the race is that unfair.
This time is different.
“This is the first time that there is a chance, an opening, a possibility of reaching the presidency,” she stated very clearly and deliberately.
“We want to create a new majority,” and with that, “there is the possibility that we can win.”
Lopez concluded that “Our party is a collection of different movements and expressions united around a program that [fundamentally] represents the constitution, but takes theory into practice.”
“And we are convinced that there is an opening for us.”
In 2011, Lopez became the first woman in Colombia’s history to lead a political party, and in late 2012 accepted the nomination to be PDA’s candidate for 2014 race.
Lopez has served as the Secretary of the Government of Bogota, and the Mayor of Colombia’s capital.
- Interview with Clara Lopez (Colombia Reports)