Colombia is the country with the longest armed conflict in the world. For years attempts at peace negotiations have failed, until now. President Juan Manuel Santos claims the current process in Havana will bring a peace deal within the year: observers agree that the prospects are more promising than ever. How did this happen?
Four years ago Juan Manuel Santos was the tame right hand of hardliner president Alvaro Uribe, who had battled the guerrillas heavily, but at the cost of a surge in human rights abuses, massacres, corruption, illegal wiretapping and other scandals; much of which has been connected directly with the presidential palace. Uribe sought another term, and to change the constitution to allow him a third run. This failed, and Santos became his preferred candidate. He won an election which many observers claim was riddled with fraud, buying of votes, lies and mischief.
How, then, has Colombia changed?
We often think of change as something sudden. Revolutions in the Middle East, and now Ukraine, confirm this picture. Yet, these revolutions are often coupled with extremism and increased violence.
|Author Andreas M. Dalsgaard is crowd-funding DEMOCRAZY, a film about Mockus’ 2010 rise to fame in Colombia and his effects on politics.|
And yet despite Colombia’s history and the tendencies of revolutions generally, theirs has been a peaceful transition. To understand Colombia’s change, one has to understand a non-violent political movement, which began in 1991; this was the year the constitution was rewritten, allowing for new players to enter local politics.
Soon after, an eccentric philosopher by the name of Antanas Mockus was elected Mayor of Bogota. He had become famous when he pulled down his trousers and mooned an audience of students at the national university. This became a national scandal, and the notoriety he gained made him a symbol of anti-establishment, and propelled him onto a political career.
During Mockus tenure as mayor, crime dropped 70%. This was done through a general application of pedagogy on the citizens: From public campaigns that sought to change citizens culture, such as exchanging the police with mimes, to teaching criminals about empathy and how to make ‘non-violent’ crimes. A culture prone to violence and corruption was to be replaced with a culture respectful of the law and with citizen responsibilities. Mockus’ methods became so popular, that he invented a voluntary tax. ”If you trust the city administration, I offer you to pay 10% extra”, he said. More than 50,000 citizens did.
Mockus’ entrance into politics inspired others to do the same. City upon city elected mayors who were independent of the traditional political system. They transformed cities like Bogota and Medellin into role models for change in developing countries worldwide.
Dominating the election race
In 2009 Uribe tried to change the constitution to get re-elected. The independent politicians, led by Antanas Mockus, challenged this attempt. In a broadly televised event outside the Congress, they demonstrated, claiming Colombian democracy would suffer deeply. Uribe’s attempt was blocked by the court, which led the independents to establish the national movement Partido Verde with Mockus as their leader.
He challenged Santos in the 2010 elections, and created a wave of hope among Colombians. In a few months he surged in the polls, leading with more than 50% one month before election. This was the Colombian revolution: The Green Wave, as Colombians call it.
The wave was shamefully squashed, both by lies and illegal means. Staying truthful to his political philosophy, Antanas decided not to object; he didn’t shout like opposition candidates in other countries have done; he didn’t call his people into the streets. Despite the blatant malpractice, he contended; ”I decide to trust in our state and institutions.” And the anger and energy of the Green Wave imploded.
What happened in 2010 was unique; the effects are seen today. Rather than a legal stalemate, with courts deciding the election result, and people taking to the streets, Juan Manuel Santos has been allowed to gain the middle ground. he has embraced the desires the Green Wave represented. A rejection of violence and corruption. Today, more than 80% of Colombians support the peace process, with hardliner Alvaro Uribe fighting it like a lone wolf. The public support comes through the incremental change in the last two decades, fueled by Mockus’ pedagogical methodology to create a non-violent culture. Today the machinery is still in power, but realizing the public support lies where peace is, it has largely embraced Antanas Mockus’ vision.