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News > Latin America

Colombia's Legislative Elections and Anti-Communism Analyzed

  • Pesidential candidate Ivan Duque and former President Alvaro Uribe at their campaign's closing ceremony ahead of the legislative elections.

    Pesidential candidate Ivan Duque and former President Alvaro Uribe at their campaign's closing ceremony ahead of the legislative elections. | Photo: EFE

Published 8 March 2018

The composition of the next Congress after the March 11 elections will define Colombia's near future and that of its peace process.

Colombia is holding legislative elections March 11, when citizens will choose 102 senators and 166 representatives, and the right-wing political establishment is poised to take over Congress.


Poll Shows Plenty Distrust in Colombian Politics

Usually, common issues such as education, health, job opportunities and infrastructure are what people take into account when voting, but in Colombia public opinion focuses on two main issues: the peace process and anti-communism, reflected in the 'spectre of Castrochavismo.'

Peace Process

The peace agreement between the government and rebel insurgent group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been at the center of public debate since the 2016 plebiscite. Most of the urban population voted against the peace process, while rural people – those most affected by the armed struggle – supported it.

Now the legislative elections are putting the process at stake: a pro-Uribe majority Congress could backtrack on some of the peace agreements, including clauses that guarantee land restitution to those displaced by violence.

Former President Alravo Uribe's administration was characterized by a confrontational policy regarding the armed struggle, blatantly opposing any peace initiative and aggraviating violence, which directly affected thousands. Uribe's administration was responsible for the 2008 bombing of a FARC campsite in Ecuador, killing 22 rebels and triggering a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Uribe's influence in the political sphere still resonantes among the population and he has been able to dictate public discussion. 

One voter, mother and gender-issues student Angelica, told teleSUR: "The Colombian population is very polarized. There's a lot of people that criticize Uribe and his people, but the other half loves him even though he's being investigated for his links with paramilitary, corruption, massacres, drug trafficking, among other things."

The Democratic Center party, founded by Uribe and poised to become the biggest in Congress, doesn't totally oppose the peace process, but its leaders have said they're against a full amnesty on the former rebels or even allowing them to run for public office.

A Ghost Haunting Colombia

The right-wing political establishment, better portrayed by former President Alvaro Uribe and his supporters, has intensified a campaign discrediting left-wing and progressive movements by associating them with socialist governments such as Cuba and Venezuela, and coining the term 'Castrochavista' in reference to Fidel and Raul Castro, and Hugo Chavez.

"'Castrochavismo' is a new ghost, just like Islamic fundamentalism," said voter Felipe, a young lawyer from Bogota, "but living here one realizes that a lot of people actually believe in that; at the same time, some people in the left don't understand there's a real crisis in Venezuela."

Gustavo Petro and the Decent List coalition have been the most affected by the discrediting campaign, now commonly referred to in the media and by the public as 'Castrochavistas.'

"There is a lot of paranoia around a widespread idea that if Petro wins, there will be expropriation of land, but that's false," said Angelica. "However, if the Uribe supporters win, expropriation will actually happen the way they like it: with paramilitary and massacres."

Paramilitary violence represents one of the biggest security problems in Colombia. Since the peace agreements were signed and the FARC gave up its arms and military positions in rural and remote areas, more than 250 social leaders have been murdered while paramilitary groups and illegal loggers have taken over swathes of land and filled the resulting power vacuum.

The campaign is based more on emotional divides rather than facts, leading public opinion into an accusations debate.

Petro has already distanced himself from Cuban and Venezuelan politics, at the same time he respected their sovereignty. But the campaign has proved effective, and the most recent poll by Cifras & Conceptos predicts Petro's Decent List will win four seats or fewer.

How will Sunday's outcome affect the May 2018 presidential elections?

The composition of the bicameral Congress will set the background for the next government, which will be defined during the May 27 presidential elections.

The most recent polls predict a tie between right-wing Ivan Duque and center-left Gustavo Petro.

The Democratic Center movement, Uribe's political party, is currently leading the legislative polls, followed by the Conservative Party and the Radical Change: all Uribe-supporters. The only anti-establishment party that supported the peace process and has possibilities in the legislative elections is the Liberal Party.

A pro-Uribe majority Congress would definitely help Ivan Duque, Uribe's candidate, which would in turn give the Democratic Center party great control over Colombian politics.

On the other hand, the government could paralyze if Petro wins – as happened when he became mayor of Bogota.

"Petro doesn't have a real political platform, but he fills up public squares because people are dissapointed in traditional political parties," says Felipe. "Uribe's administration left a mark on a lot of people and has its followers. Colombia is a right-wing country and that helps understand a lot of things."

The legislative polls predict a pro-Uribe Congress and Uribe himself will probably be elected as a senator. Both Petro and Duque have great possibilities of becoming the next president of Colombia, which could lead to two very different outcomes, but polls often prove wrong.

"The biggest lesson was the peace plebiscite," says Felipe. "I thought that everyone was going to vote in favor of it and see: they voted against. Anything can happen in the elections."

The Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons (FARC) has pulled out of the presidential race, but it's still taking part in the legislative elections and will have at least five seats in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate, as agreed in the peace accords.

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