Colombia heads to the polls today to reject the far-right politics of Iván Duque and Álvaro Uribe and assert that the average Colombian is much more progressive than the traditional politicians who represent them.
by Luciana Cadahia / Tamara Ospina Posse
Part 2 - The Fog of War
Colombian and international media have played a leading role in portraying the Colombian people as politically conservative. That was the message delivered by news agencies when, in 2016, the peace accord between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government was shockingly voted down in a nationwide plebiscite. The subsequent victory of the pro-Uribe candidate Iván Duque Márquez in the 2018 presidential election was seen as confirmation of the narrative that Colombians tend to vote conservative.
That media account obscured several key facts. Then president Juan Manuel Santos disdained the average Colombian, and his government made little effort to explain to them what was at stake with the plebiscite, written in such a baroque style that many “no” voters later realized they had intended to choose “yes.” Uribe’s allies were also out in force, convincing people that peace was actually a vote to condone left-wing political violence and that former guerrilla fighters were being given preferential treatment.
The subsequent 2018 election bears many resemblances with the current contest. In both, the entire Colombian economic and political establishment banded together to demonize the progressive candidacies of Gustavo Petro and his then running mate, Ángela María Robledo (highlighting the guerrilla past of Petro, for example), while simultaneously downplaying obvious links between candidate Iván Duque and uribismo — by then widely recognized for its association with organized crime.
Even the more moderate political sectors in Colombia were complicit in perpetuating the false idea that Duque was his own candidate — that is, not controlled by Uribe — and that he was a defender of the peace accords. The rapid escalation of paramilitary violence under his four-year term has proven how tragically wrong they were.
Worse still, as soon as it became clear that Duque’s administration would be a mere continuation of Uribe-style far-right politics, the political center washed its hands of any responsibility. The extreme poverty, forced displacement and dispossession of peasants and indigenous people, and soaring rates of violence against social movements and the Left were, it would seem, the fault of brutish, uneducated Colombian voters.