The first round of the Colombian presidential election is very near, and the green wave of Antanas Mockus has taken the country by surprise. Mr. Mockus’ surge in the opinion polls, from 3% in February to 38% in late April, was in nobody’s calculations. My column of March 29, when I wrote that “Juan Manuel Santos seems poised to become Colombia’s next president” is now as dated as those hideous LCD watch/calculators of the 80s.
Even I have been seduced by the green wave. It is everywhere. All my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter seem to be part of it. All of a sudden, Mr. Mockus has become this man who will fix Colombia’s broken politics, who will end corruption, who will bring a “culture of legality” (as he likes to say) to a nation where crime and murder are the daily bread of the masses. I can’t help thinking that with his shaman-like sunflower necklace Mr. Mockus looks like a messenger of peace who has come to heal a wounded nation.
“Yes!” I thought to myself “Maybe voting for Mr. Mockus is the right thing to do”. After all, the man is very likeable, and most people remember him as a good mayor of Bogota. Also, his days of eccentricity, when he mooned students and threw glasses of water on fellow politicians, are long gone. Perhaps what the country needs is a political outsider, someone who is not embroiled in the old way of politics, who is not part of the good ol’ boys club. In addition Mr. Mockus’ mantra that “life is sacred”, repeated by his thousands of followers, has fallen upon Colombians as an epiphany. In a nation where too many people die senselessly every year, where murders and massacres have been so common that they do not make it to the headlines anymore, Mr. Mockus’ mantra is the equivalent of a painful wake-up call. For one moment, I believed that Antanas Mockus should become Colombia’s next president. For one second, I realized that his message of legality and decency was what the country needed to finally exit decades of poverty and bloodshed. For one moment, I embraced the green wave and became part of it.
Just for one moment. Before all that green frenzy was able to take full possession of my being, the public policy student in me fought back. What are Mr. Mockus’ campaign proposals? Does he have a plan for when he is in government? Is there any substance behind his rhetoric of “democratic legality” and “social transformation”? I went to his campaign website, and clicked on the “Government Proposal” tab, thinking I would surely find Mr. Mockus’ messianic plan there. I was wrong. I found nothing but empty words, catchy slogans, good intentions, and vague phrases. “We look for a society based on trust among people and in government institutions, on equality, equity, and the full exercise of rights” is a prime example. Another perfect one is: “To incorporate in [our] culture the enjoyment of a job well done and of productivity”. One of my personal favorites reads: “To promote the construction and the fulfillment of agreements about the main regional and national problems”
Of course that we are all for equality and trust! I also love it when I am productive and I do a good job. Needless to say, I would like all national and regional problems to be solved through agreement. But those are not campaign proposals! Those are not a list of public policies that a Mockus administration would implement! Apparently, the green wave was nothing but a sea of void campaign promises and mission statements worthy of a beauty pageant. I was disappointed.
Given that the campaign website had nothing close to a government plan, I went on Facebook and Twitter to address the Mockus supporters. Perhaps they knew what their candidate was proposing. I was wrong again. None of my Twitter followers was able to outline three concrete proposals by Mr. Mockus. I even published on my Facebook profile that I would give US$100 to anyone who could find five such proposals online. I did not lose my money, but I managed to upset a good friend of mine as well as my brother-in-law, two ardent Mockus believers.
The days went by and I just kept thinking that it was unbelievable that no one had noticed Mr. Mockus’ lack of substance. His website was there for all to see, but nobody seemed to be paying attention. And then, finally, La Silla Vacía published an article on the issue. The article compared Mr. Mockus’ anemic proposals with Germán Vargas Lleras’ 21 documents on different subjects (the economy, housing, poverty alleviation, sports, etc.), Gustavo Petro’s 30-page long government plan, and Juan Manuel Santos’ 109 “initiatives” for his presidency. Mr. Mockus’ campaign staff said that they were preparing a document with some concrete proposals, drafted by a number of experts.
Last Friday, the document was finally uploaded to the campaign website. It is 28 pages long, and it is divided in fifteen different sections that deal with a wide variety of topics (the environment, rural development, international relations, etc). Although it definitely has somewhat more concrete campaign proposals than before, the document is still full of worthless verbosity and vagueness. Two examples are “[w]e will defend the separation of powers” and “[w]e will develop programs to formalize the right to own land.” Any idea of how much these programs will cost? Is there even an outline of how those programs are supposed to work? I was surprised to find no information about that in the document. When I worked for the Vargas Lleras campaign we not only estimated the full cost of the proposals we drafted, but we also specified the source of those funds (new taxes, oil royalties, diminished spending in other areas). I am sure that if I were to present Mr. Mockus’ document in one of my public policy classes at Princeton, it wouldn’t get a grade higher than a C.
All this makes me very uneasy. The man who could conceivably become president in August has no real plan for his government. Is he going to improvise once he is in power? Mr. Mockus is a smart man. For the sake of Colombia, I hope he puts all his intelligence to work and drafts a much better document –because this one does not do.