09 September 2010
I was recently in Colombia. I like Bogotá. It’s a big city that seems to have everything: good writers, a Botero Museum, lots of places to drink good coffee, people who actually want to help you, a mass transit system that seems to function, at least most of the time. Colombia is also the land of deserts, heaven for the sweet toothed. But apart from personal vices[i], the visit had other highlights. The country’s bicentenary was being celebrated (20th July) and the visit also coincided with the period between the recent Presidential elections and the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as the country’s new head of state (August 9th). An interesting time. Not least because of the surprisingly populous march held by the regime’s opponents the day after the official celebrations[ii], and the friction between Venezuela and Colombia resulting from still President Alvaro Uribe’s accusations that the neighbouring country was sheltering terrorists, more commonly known as the FARC.
The visit was not work related, but I did have a goal: to interview Antanas Mokus, the Green Party Candidate who lost the Presidential election, but was supported by more than a quarter of Colombian voters, i.e. those that did actually vote[iii]. Despite the loss, there was a sense at the time that something important was happening. The Mokus Green Party campaign was different, a veritable lungfull of clean air, offering hope for a country plagued by the decades of internal violence, drugs and corruption. It could make things happen.
But I was never able to find Sr. Mokus or, what seemed far more surprising, the Green Party. I looked everywhere, I tried all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses I could find, I even found a man who gave me two telephone numbers he said would help, on the condition that I didn’t mention his name. That turned out to be less of a problem than I imagined: neither of the numbers was ever answered. I once even thought I had found the party´s head office. Two people, a local vendor and a security guard assured me that it was close by, just around the corner. And I found it. They were right. It was the party headquarters, of the Polo Democrático. A friend finally suggested that his brother, who apparently lived behind Mokus’ house, was willing to go and knock on his door. But apart from the invasion of privacy issue, by then it was too late. It was time to go back to Quito. So I contented myself with the few books I had bought, and the experiences the stay had brought.
Two months later the whole episode seems more curious than anything else. The world has moved on. Santos has installed a massive majority in the Colombian Congress, appears to have reunited the Liberal Party, has been making comforting noises internationally, heads a government more technocratic than ideological, especially when compared to the previous regime, and has distanced himself from his predecessor. Santos is his own man. And Alvaro Uribe? Well, he appears to have disappeared. Off the map. Into the special house/fortress designed for him in a military sector of the city.
With time the search for Antanas Mokus and the Green Party also seems less puzzling. I’m no longer surprised that I couldn’t locate either. As I now realise, the Green Party doesn’t exist. Never did exist. It was an electoral apparatus. That is not to say that the objectives of the people that participated in, ran, and supported the Mokus- Fajardo campaign were a sham. Far from it. The movement embodied a great deal of sincerity and hope, as well as counting on heavy weight political backers such as Luis Garzón and Enrique Peñalosa, both ex mayors of Bogotá and, of course, on the vice presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo, himself a popular ex mayor of Medellin. But there was never any infrastructure. And I can’t help asking myself what would have happened if Mokus had won. Perhaps the voters asked themselves the same question.
Perhaps everything would have been taken in stride. After all neither Mokus nor Garzón is a political neophyte. Perhaps if he had won, everything would have seemed normal enough. Perhaps the worst thing, at least in institutional, party political terms, was to lose. If the head of foam that surrounded the campaign in the first round had gone flat by the second, the beer itself has now drained from the glass. The party, such as it is, appears to be in a state of paralysis. Fajardo has gone, dissociating himself from the group after complaining of being treated with a lack of seriousness. The campaign, he has said, lost momentum when he also lost it, after falling from his appropriately green bicycle and fracturing his hip. The statement has the taste of sour grapes, but it does seem evident that he and his group do not fit into whatever plans the party might have.
For the moment at least, those plans are a matter of guesswork. The papers are full reports painting Mokus as a mayoralty candidate for Bogotá in 2011, or on the other hand that, he is not a candidate, that his wife, Adriana Córdoba is a mayoralty candidate, or that she is not a candidate, that Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrático, and one of the few losers that came out smelling of roses, has been invited to join the Greens now that the floral aroma has become too rich for the other members of the Polo, or, that he has not signaled a desire to join, or that he supports the mayoralty candidature of Mokus’ wife, of course, should she actually be a candidate. In practice the only solid evidence of movement is the appointment of Garzón as Party President and spokesperson.
A lot of the sense of confusion and loss of direction could be press manipulation, not of the facts, but rather what is printed and what is not. The mainstream media in Colombia is heavily Santified and in large part falls under the influence of his family, and Juan Manuel is probably not too keen to see the Green Party and its people pick up an opposition mantle that is presently lying over a puddle in the road. It all seems such a shame, such a deception. Perhaps Mokus is right when he says that decisions must be timely but not hasty. Perhaps under Garzón the Party will be able to shake off the slightly Wizard of Ozzish image it has recently acquired. Perhaps by the time of the municipal elections in 2011 the Greens will be able to take on the role that so many hoped they would. Perhaps I won’t have to write any more articles like this. That would be nice.
A final anecdote: one that in other circumstances might be considered hilarious, but in the present situation strikes a somewhat sadder, although quite telling, note. The writer cum political analyst Daniel Samper Pizano, brother of ex President Samper and columnist for El Tiempo, tells that Antanas Mokus was to have attended a recent international meeting of Green Parties in Europe, but unpacked his bags on learning that most of them were full of environmentalists and left wingers.[iv]
[i] And without wanting to ignore in any way the very serious problems of poverty and violence the city suffers from.
[ii] Judging from the banners most of the marchers were from rural areas and while no literature or information was available about the organizers, or the demands, the mere size of the march, and its open hostility to Santos/Uribe was impressive. The march must have been at least ten thousand strong, but did not receive major coverage. El Tiempo mainly commented on accusations of damage created by the marchers, although this observer saw no violence. The march was in fact heavily patrolled by its own marshals.
[iii] The election was marked by extremely high levels abstention. In the first round only 42.9% voted, while in the second 44.41%. However, this is not a record. For example, when Ernesto Samper was elected in 1994 only 34% of the voting population found their way to the booth.