Sunday, May 28, 2006

Random thoughts on Colombia

The news tonight is the Uribe reelection in Colombia, by more than what the best polls were giving him (1). At 6:33 PM, Caracas time, El Universal was publishing 96% of voting centers accounted for with a 62% for Uribe. when I checked the Colombian electoral office at 8:30 PM it was reporting 99% of voting centers reporting. Uribe was now leading with 62.23% (7.3 million votes), and Gaviria a distant, but satisfying second with 22.03%. The Liberal party, the Colombian center left, former office holder under Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Samper was a dismal 11.82%. Abstention was about 55%. Note: Colombia allows "white vote" (sort of none of the above) and this one adds up to 1.95%.

The Venezuelan CNE is really, really a dismal failure

The very first thing worthy to comment from an observer placed in Venezuela is that the Colombian elections were manual, run without a hitch, polling stations closed on time, and within a couple of hours there were more than 90% of the manual votes counted, opposition candidates were conceding, the country was in order. Yes, that is right, no automated voting, no Smartmatic machines, the elector MUST get a pen an paper and cross his choice and goes to a ballot to drop it. And as far as I can tell no obnoxious Jorge Rodriguez, real witness everywhere, a campaign run where the advantage of the incumbent in office was not an issue the way it is in Venezuela (that is, the controls voted to tame the incumbency advantage did seem to have worked out). Not to mention of course that Colombia run the election under a civil war still running in some areas.

Meanwhile in Venezuela we are still waiting for the exact final result of the December election, we do have an abstention of at least 75% and growing and a general mistrust in the electoral system, even from some chavista sectors discretely murmuring in the dark.

I hope that the Venezuelan opposition candidate will wake up tomorrow and point out the incongruence between the electoral systems of Colombia and Chile with manual and uncontested voting and the Venezuelan automatic and now despised vote. (2)

The meaning of the Uribe reelection

In 2002 Uribe was elected on the first round with 53.05% and 5.8 million votes. His success is outstanding by any measure.

Yes, there are problems with Uribe. He is an authoritarian all right and has little to envy Chavez on that respect. He did manage to effect a constitutional change to get at least one reelection. But there is no sense of Colombia democracy being jeopardized more by Uribe than by the FARC whose actions are the ones that eventually allowed Uribe to reach office in 2002.

If Uribe is an authoritarian at least he gets results. The economy has been growing steadily under his rule. The trade earnings against Venezuela have been booming in spite of the Venezuelan difficult situation. Colombia even felt strong enough to sign a FTA with the Untied States which is now certain to be ratified by in Colombia (and we hope in the US Senate). Colombia sails forward to the world markets, taking the route of Chile and not the one of Venezuela.

The country in general has been more pacific as people have found again the way of week end tourism. Even in Venezuela we can find more and more tourism packages to Colombia sold as people are losing their fear of Colombia. Still, this lull does not hide the fact that the guerilla is far form over (abetted by the Venezuelan negligence, at the very least and more than likely possible direct support). But we can guess that 4 more years of at least 5% GDP annual growth (WITHOUT oil) should dent more the FARC strength than additional military operations.

Thus it is not hard to understand that in spite of an universally predicted victory and a dull campaign Uribe did manage to increase his vote and percentage. Uribe carried with more than 62% the main departments of Bogota, Antioquia (his home state), Cundinamarca (Bogota surroundings, with 70.85%!). He carried industrial Valle (60%) and most of the coffee districts (Caldas, Quindio...). Gaviria did manage 33% or more only in Atlantico (the Caribbean), Putumayo in the South and managed to carry some smaller departments such as Nariño (next to Putumayo) and the Goajira. But the important border province with Venezuela of Norte de Santander (Cucuta) goes 67% to Uribe, as do the minor ones of Arauca (66%), Vichada (65.7%) and Guiania (54%). The Bolivarian revolution is not spreading across the borders except for the cheap gasoline smuggled on bikes...

The new left opposition of Gaviria can be happy to reach a record number with 22%. But in spite of Chavez, Uribe strong arms tactics, a new sense of purpose, I do not think it makes it still a serious option for 2010. Its growth came at the expense of the Liberal party, the Colombian equivalent of AD (I remember as a kid when Lopez Michelsen won the election that Venezuelan papers titled “In Colombia the Adecos won). It seems that the Liberal party of Colombia has fallen due to the same reasons that AD fell: lack of ideas, lack of new leaders, complacency with the past. The Gaviria coalition will have as a first task to make sure the Liberals do not revive.

The meaning of Uribe reelection for Venezuela

In Venezuela 81 thousand Colombians were allowed to vote. With 99.5% of Venezuelan centers reporting, 79.04% had given their vote to Uribe. Needless to say that Colombians in Venezuela know better and want to keep Uribe in Nariño House to counter the mad man of Miraflores. Gaviria, which I am sure got all sorts of underhand help in Venezuela did get only 16.47%. Colombians in Bolivia voted 85.27% for Uribe, in Ecuador 81.75%, in United States 90.26%, in Spain 77.77% but in Cuba 42 votes for only 35.90%, probably the embassy personnel, the rest being some political refugees from the drug wars that voted 55.56% for Gaviria. Overall overseas Uribe gets a smashing 81.2%.

But besides this anecdotic aspect, the reelection of Uribe is bad news for Chavez. Now Colombia will sail ahead. The Peso is already a much better currency than the Bolivar. Colombia trades much more than Venezuela. If Uribe manages in the next two years to make some deal with the FARC (a real possibility considering that the Colombian people have said a clear and loud NO to the FARC by voting massively for the anti FARC guy).

But Uribe will be an even thornier problem. His pariah status in many well thinking European circles will diminish. A reasonably clean reelection and clear economic success will tame European business seekers just as the US business settled in Venezuela emigrated to Colombia long ago (from Schering Plough to Avon cosmetics!) preferring serve Venezuela from Colombia than Colombia from Venezuela. It is likely that Uribe will have now more time to build a Latin America leadership, something which he could not even think off until today. And this just as Chavez leadership is meeting its first stumbles. Peru next week might see the victory of Garcia by perhaps a 20% lead. Chavez has promised today again to sever relations with Peru if Garcia wins. Guess who will have close relations with Lima? Blocked between Uribe and Garcia it is possible that Ecuador might resist a chavista influence. Brazil is upset, Uruguay visiting the Empire, and Mexico might remain with the PAN as Obrador alleged links to Chavez have taken a toll, in spite of continuous denials.

Thus in 2007 if Chavez is reelected we are more likely to see an Uribe less accommodating to Chavez. Oh, sure, he will never be militant against Chavez (3); you cannot do that when you share a common border. But now, with a clear mandate and a congress majority Uribe will not put up with Chavez bad behavior if this one turns unwisely against Colombia, something that Uribe could not afford to do in his first term.

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1) I refuse to discuss the disgraceful show and travesty of Chavez in Bolivia. I am embarrassed by it.

2) Even the web page of the Colombian registry works better than the CNE one. The regional elections of 2004 had no result posted until sometime next morning, and then the page was excruciatingly slow and I had to wait until the afternoon until I could get a peek at some results. Tonight you can get any result from Colombia, at least at the departamental level. What is amazing is that the overseas vote is already in detail in the site whereas in Venezuela the overseas vote for the Recall Election of 2004 appeared weeks later!!!!

Truly, the way the CNE manages itself when we compare it to how other countries function in that respect (Bolivia was much faster than the CNE!) can only lead the observer to a CNE manipulating, stalling or much, much worse... After waht I saw from Colombia today, the CNE HAS NO EXCUSE.

3) But he could against Bolivia or Castro!

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