Colombian President Alvaro Uribe reiterated at the beginning of the year that his second re-election and third term will ”depend on the Constitutional Court, the people and God our Lord.” As if there was any doubt, this statement was the clearest indication yet that he is seeking a third term in office. As the situation now stands, it seems that only God’s decision is left to decipher.
Uribe’s sentence is worth analyzing in light of the latest developments pertaining to the re-election referendum. Last week, two of the three elements regulating Uribe’s chances of presiding over Colombia’s top job have shown signs of “Uribe fatigue.”
As the president stated, the first hurdle that needs to be overcome is the Constitutional Court’s decision on the legality of the law calling a referendum to allow a “minute” change to the constitution, whereby the sitting president can be re-elected for a third consecutive time.
The court has already received legal advice from the Inspector General (IG) Alejandro Ordoñez. His opinion, as expected from a political and religious ally of the government, is that the law is valid. In many regards the opinion is deplorable, due to the evidence given to support it. For instance, the IG does not believe that violating the financial caps established by law on the collection of signatures is a serious illegality that would render the whole exercise unconstitutional. Such is his machiavellian philosophy that the IG would no doubt be pleased by narco-traffickers sponsoring a referendum if it called for a total ban on abortions.
The court, however, seems to have dismissed the IG’s opinion. One week ago, the news website lasillavacia.com (the Colombian Huffington Post) revealed in a scoop that the magistrate, Humberto Sierra Porto, appointed to examine the legality of the law and thus direct the court’s deliberation, argued that the law was unconstitutional. His arguments are based mainly on procedural issues rather than the content of the law. The most important argument is the illegal funding of the collection of signatures for a petition to change the constitution. The total funding was six times over the legal limit, some individual contributions were 30 times over the allowed cap and 60% of contributors had contracts with the government.
In the remote case that this first hurdle is successfully overcome there is a second, the people’s support, which appears to be leaving the band-wagon of the re-election. If the referendum law is deemed constitutional, it will only pass if more than 7,470,000 people (25% of registered voters) turn up, and the majority vote in favor. Most political analysts believe that as a result of the president’s popular support, which stands at 66% according to a November poll, this should not present a problem. Last week, however, one poll revealed that for the first time only 47% of citizens would vote a potential referendum, although the majority would support it. Considering that turnout for referendums is even lower than the turnout for presidential elections, which stands at 50.2% (average last three elections), and not all the interviewees are registered voters, this 47% may be an overestimation.
Moreover, the result of this and similar polls may demonstrate that Colombians have started and will continue to realize they are worshipping a false idol. Uribe’s Messianic image among Colombians appears to have been affected by a series of scandals: extrajudicial killings, DAS illegal wiretapping, and Agro Ingreso Seguro, among others. But perhaps the most important blow to his image may be the dramatic rise in urban violence, and to a lesser extent the 12.3% unemployment level, which is the highest in Latin America. The former raises serious questions about the effectiveness of his most important security policy “Democratic Security” and the latter about his economic policies based on “Investor Confidence.” Moreover, the latest Human Rights Watch report on neo-paramilitary groups questions the effectiveness of the paramilitary peace process. Furthermore, the polls were conducted before the government announced the improvised and contentious reforms of Colombia’s health system.
Despite this gloomy panorama Uribe’s third crucial element, God, may deepen his addiction to power. Since God is an unknown variable (to the least deluded) it might be suggested that it can stand for anything. The power holders are ready to manipulate the masses with any dubious tactic in the name of God to ensure that Uribe (or one of his subalterns) is crowned a third time. Their readiness to commit illegalities is only matched by their desire to remain in power.
As Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, stated: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”