It is widely conceived that Uribe has split
Colombia’s history in two. His supporters, on the one hand, mention the
weakening of the FARC, the demobilization of the right-wing
paramilitaries and the revitalized foreign investment confidence.
Uribe’s detractors, on the other hand, point out at the human rights
violations in combating the FARC, the leniency on the paramilitaries
and the failure of his trickle-down economics to benefit the poorest in
society. However, the real reason Uribe has split Colombia’s history in
two is due to the damage done to democracy that would be further
aggravated if a second re-election is successful.
Uribe accomplished the first re-election in congress thanks to a congresswoman acceptance to change her vote in return for some lucrative public office seats and a congressman who was allegedly paid off
to miss the voting. In the end the Constitutional Court ruled that one
immediate re-election would not undermine the crucial check and
balances characteristic of strong democracies.
Currently, a new re-election attempt is being
promoted through a referendum, which would circumvent the
Constitutional Court’s provision after approving the first re-election.
Once again there are various allegations of fraud in the collection of
signatures for the legislation of the referendum. First, the financing surpassed the ceiling permitted by law. Second, dirty money may have financed it. Third, there are allegations that the National Registry leaked information to the collectors of signatures. More than the popular support this new re-election attempt illustrates the powerful and shadowy economic interests at work.
Different sectors in civil society openly oppose a second re-election, including the church
– somewhat paradoxical when the church’s system is based on a similar
authoritative structure. Some congressmen are reluctant to openly
oppose the referendum due to repercussions in their constituencies.
Some others have denounced the fraud, however, their denouncements
before the Prosecutor General and the Inspector General offices may be
futile. The PG has delayed and changed the prosecutor in charge of investigating the fraud allegations and the IG has demonstrated his bias tracked record towards the government.
These new developments may not impede the approval
of a national referendum in congress. Even if congress changes the
wording so Uribe can run in 2010, instead of 2014 as the wording that
people signed stipulated, the Constitutional Court, which now has a
pro-Uribe stance after he appointed three new judges, may deem the
referendum constitutional. Nonetheless, all these allegations do have
some repercussion in the population and the seven million turn out of voters, let alone the simple majority, needed for the approval of the constitutional amendment may not be
It can be expected the president, with his well
oiled machinery, to govern around raising public support for the
referendum with populist policies such as the ‘personal dose’ criminalization. The main strategy, however, would be to intensify military operations against the FARC as has just been announced. This, after all, is the reason for his popularity. However, the FARC’s deliberate-timed calls for a humanitarian exchange, without demanding a demilitarized zone, may try to undermine public support for Uribe’s war policies. As was to be expected, Uribe rejected the offer
until the FARC cease their terrorist attacks. But even if the attacks are
stopped the government would continue hastily blaming the FARC for any
incident as the Meta water supply bombs exemplified.
If the legislation for the re-electionist
referendum is approved in congress it would signify the Constitutional
Court assumptions of one re-election not disrupting the check and
balances of Colombian democracy to have been utterly mistaken. Another
re-election would only result in a escalation on the sabotage to
democracy and probably the rule of law unless citizens understand what is at stake.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong