Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Is Mockus the best thing since sliced bread? (UPDATED)

I think not.  I have been an early supporter of Mockus in the blogosphere but, as I was afraid, the enthusiasm he has generated make the crowds forgive him too many mistakes so far.

Certainly Mockus is a natural candidate for me to support, we do have so many things in common (except that he is smarter and more successful than me but that is another story).  We are both the sons of European immigrants in a country where such people historically have had a hard time to make their mark, always looked at as foreigners no matter how much more we know about our country than the "natives" criticizing us.  We both also have a French educational background; and if Mockus is not properly a scientist he certainly is rational  in his reasoning and education (Cartesian?  Who knows....).

But there are a few things that have bothered me a lot and are forcing me to review my position.  No, I am not ready to switch to the Santos side but I am now definitely on the fence and will wait patiently for the second round vote to decide.

I am not going to discuss the silly scare in the fumble over Chavez when Mockus first admired him and then moved back to say that he respected him 'cause, you know, he got elected and stuff.  Instead I am, going to discuss what that reflects possibly about the character of Antanas Mockus.

Since Mockus cannot be ignorant of what is going on inside Venezuela, since he is a democrat, since he is creative and brilliant then there are only two possible explanations for his "faux-pas".
  • Mockus from his education has somehow internalized the theory of the good savage that European intelligentsia still carry (and too many of the US one for that matter) where they simply accept for African and Latin American leaders things that they would never accept in their own countries.  That is,  patronizing from a self-certified superior civilization.   The natives are ignorant, exploited and what not so it is OK to rough up public management for their own good. Such a mind frame is found all across the political spectrum.
  • Maybe actually Mockus does not know exactly what is going inside Venezuela.  If he knew and is as intelligent as we are told he is, then he cannot have admired Chavez, or certainly not enough to say it publicly.  Mockus cannot be ignorant of all the trouble Chavez has brought to Colombia, how many political prisoners are in Venezuelan jails today; how many people rot in jail without trials since Chavez took office; how many accusations of electoral fraud and corruption float like a permanent miasma in almost any serious article about Venezuela written today.  Or is he?  If he is that ignorant of what happens next door, then what does he know about what happens in Brazil or the US?  Can Colombia afford a president who is only interested and knowledgeable on domestic policies?
Whichever of the above explanations you chose, they are both sufficient to demand you to review the worth of Mockus as a presidential candidate.  Brains are a great thing in a president but knowledge and political flair are as essential if he wants to have a chance to make his or her brains work for the common good.

Unfortunately we have at least two other reasons to question the ability of Mockus to have a successful presidential term.  First, I am not sure he understands clearly what are the interests of the State.  True, he has said that he would continue to be harsh on the FARC and ELN.  But this is consensus in Colombia and any candidate that would deviate from that line would find the exit door early.  Stating such a promise is to be simply taken a an electoral ploy at this point, even from Santos who once elected could chose other anti FARC approaches.  But by giving the impression, briefly, that he agreed on Ecuador's case against Santos and Uribe, he has betrayed either his personal dislike of these people or his faked support for the "seguridad democratica".  It is not that the Uribe years do not need to be reviewed and that some excess must be corrected, not even Santos would disagree with that.  But Uribe and Santos acted in representation of the State and only the State can punish them, not Ecuador.  Though the said State can punish on behalf of Ecuador if Ecuador proves the crime to be an actual crime outweighing the State interests of Colombia.  So far Ecuador has only got the support of the ALBA in that matter.  Eight years have passed since Uribe first election and the country is not the same; thus it requires a renewal in its approach to finish off the FARC threat.  Where is the real Mockus position here?

Finally there is a very simple material point that makes a Mockus victory a worrying prospect: people seem to have happily forgotten that a few weeks ago Colombia elected a new congress and that the Uribe parties won  a majority.  Even if Mockus were to gather all the anti Uribe parties (and I doubt that the Polo or the Liberales would follow him happily anywhere) it would be at best a very unstable, a one vote like majority.

Are people expecting Mockus to dissolve the parliament when he reaches office?  Is it legal for someone who claims to act according the the law?  Who is he going to rule with?  Does he has a secret agenda, constitutional assembly like, under his sleeve?

I think that it is quite possible, e.g., that Mockus could construct a provisional grand coalition centered around the Conservative Party of Colombia, the Liberales and the Polo leaving outside the Uribismo per se, at least until some form of mid term electoral contest where he could start building his own green party.  After all that is more or less what Uribe did, starting as a dissident of the Liberal party.   But without a clear message (Uribe was as clear as it got!) I do not see how Mockus can translate any electoral victory he gets next June.

Colombians need to start discussing these issues and before the second round ballot.

At any rate, the Santos camp has been very nice, politically speaking, to Mockus so far, being content to let himself step over as many feet as possible.  The second round is another matter.  As any smart candidate in a two round voting system, Santos knows that right now the goal is to get to the second round and then deploy the heavy weaponry.  Mockus might ride high today but he needs to keep up for almost two moths still.....


Update:  As a sign that Mockus is learning his lessons fast we get today a promise that the chavista revolution will not come to Colombia.  Again, as this post point is, I do not doubt of the sincerity of Mockus and of his anti chavismo.  What is in doubt here is his ability to stop chavista interference in Colombia.  And he better prepare himself to prove it as Santos made a major shake up in his campaign team and  it seems that the days of Mr. Nice Guys are over in for this campaign.   To prepare his defense Mockus also insisted that many of the Uribe policies will be maintained under his administration.  Maybe a sing that he knows he will need to look for a parliament majority with the unavoidable uribismo dominant in Congress?

This is turning out to be a hack of an election.  Second only to what will happen tomorrow in the UK?


  1. Anonymous10:28 PM

    finally someone makes some sense out of this. you just resumed my fears of mockus, i like the guy, but i fear him as president.

    thnaks for the post, you just reminded me why ive been following this blog for so long.

  2. That stupid hippie beard, coupled with his background as an academic, were all it took to set off my alarm bells. My instincts are being proved correct little by little.

  3. Good post. You're a very good political analyst.

    To me Mockus although fascinating as president is an enigma. His achievments as Major were more on the image side than on actual execution. Mostly he continued what Peñaloza built. If he does the same with Uribe's work that would be good, but is he capable of that? What kind of people is he going to surround himself with?

  4. Kolya1:52 AM

    Like many I'm sympathetic and intrigued by Mockus and I dislike Santos. Mockus's comment on Chavez (including his follow up on it) gave me great pause, though. Who would be a better president for Colombia? My heart says Mockus but, despite my distaste for him, my head says Santos.

    One more thing: I'm positively impressed by the Colombians that so far Mockus has been relatively immune from poisonous attacks that concentrate on him being both an academic and an intellectual. I expect, though, that such attacks will become more common.

  5. I was surprised about Mockus's comments on Chavez, but I still think he would know how to keep the right distance. Let's see further what he says in the following days.
    Now I see the Colombian conservatives are airing this add about Mockus's atheism. What a bunch of Torquemadas!

    As for this:
    "We are both the sons of European immigrants in a country where such people historically have had a hard time to make their mark, always looked at as foreigners no matter how much more we know about our country than the "natives" criticizing us. "
    Please! Surely you must have received some insults and stupid remarks. I am sure those remarks and treatment you had have been a tiny tiny fraction of what our black or very Indian looking compatriots get to hear time after time.

  6. Daniel,

    Of the 2 options you offer as an explanation for Mockus's attitude towards Chavez.." good savage" or ignorance I definitely opt for the first one.

    A moderately well informed person would know the basic facts about what's happening in their neighboring country and I am sure that a politician like Mockus would not be THAT ignorant.

    Once you accept the good savage theory of one who has come to redeem the backward masses in the third world, these inconvenient facts are just minor blemishes .

    In some ways Mockus reminds me a bit of someone like Henry Falcon who although being a good manager and politician has basic left wing ideas.

    Then we have the example of the Spanish socialists who although being more moderate in their internal politics, will tenderly embrace Chavez .I don't think Mockus will lag behind in this regard.Just look at the fact that he sided with Alba member Ecuador against the representatives of his own country.

    Although Chavez acts like a fascist he has his communist ideology to back him up as someone who is concerned about the greater good of the masses.This wins him the support of left wing sympathizers everywhere.

    Ignorance excuses an educated man way too much.It's not so much that the information is not available it is that these people do NOT want to hear it.

    Strong belief in ideology trumps correct information every time.

  7. Agree with Paul. He's got the looks,totally, he's quacked the quacks enough times for anyone to hear. And there's no doubt whatsoever that Chavez would prefer him there to Santos. That's quite enough for me. Go Santos!

  8. I would posit a third possibility beyond "the good savage" or ignorance. Too many people on the left are simply willing to make excuses for leftist authoritarians. Many of the left quick to overlook Castro's actions when they would condemn them if they were taken by someone like Pinochet. I fear Mockus may suffer from the same predilection. The comment about sending Uribe and Santos to Ecuador also implied naivety, a minimum. International standards are fine as long as all (or most countries) abide by them. The authoritarian leftists think such standards should only apply to their enemies, not themselves. Thus, Uribe should be held to account for violating the sovereignty of another nation, but whenever Chavez does it (by aiding the FARC), he is exempt from such laws because he is "aiding the people." If Mockus is willing to send Santos to face justice in Colombia, he should be demanding Chavez be sent to Colombia for the same reason. If elected, he very well could end up being Chavez's patsy in Colombia.

  9. 1979 Boat People7:51 PM

    Suspicious Memory Card Flaw in the Smartmatic vote counting machine

    Philippine election counting machines work on second mock polls


    After all these years, Smartmatic still has this Memory Card Flaw problem???.

  10. Boat People,

    As we often say: it is not a bug, it is a feature.

  11. 1979 Boat People6:36 AM


    Yes, it sure sounds like a feature.

  12. And given how they only had to replace the card to fix things, it's clearly an OPTIONAL feature. Ojo.

  13. Kolya3:52 PM

    A bit late for this thread, but a couple of thoughts. I may be wrong, but somehow I think that a person whose parents were immigrants from Lithuania would be largely immune from the "good savage" myth. This particularly applies if Mockus's parents arrived to Colombia after, say, 1939. I'm generalizing, but as a result of Nazism and Communism, Eastern Europeans are less prone to the "good savage" myth, which in post-WWII Europe was more of an indulgence of (some) members of the Western European and US intelligentsia.

    Kepler, I don't know how it was in Colombia, but as far as Venezuela is concerned I can tell you that immigrants (and their children) from central and eastern Europe, despite prospering, had a harder time in becoming accepted as true citizens than in countries such as Argentina, Chile, US and Canada. That's why, when compared to those other countries, a significant number of such "new Venezuelans" ended up leaving even before Chavez.

  14. I was intimately connected with the Lithuanian community in Venezuela.Most of them adored Venezuela.Many were called back to restore Lithuania from the Soviet 'destruction' of their country and most did not go back.

    However the Lithuanians had the same problem that many foreign people had in Venezuela, including US citizens :the problem was relatively mild but in a general sense, we were never considered real Venezuelans by some despite naturalization.

    On the other hand I found that in my case I was so criollo in some ways( my speech,playing the cuatro and generally fitting in well with the popular classes).. I was more integrated than the average foreigner.I think in Venezuela it is like everywhere.The more one accepts and is similar to the common people, the more they accept you, even if your color and looks are different.On the contrary I think many people liked me more because I was from the US but took on Venezuelan customs and ways of being.It was a compliment to them.

  15. Kolya9:42 PM

    My point about Venezuela and European immigrants is that despite material success those immigrants, when compared to countries such as Argentina and the US, had a harder time feeling that they actually belong to their new country. Of course, there are always exceptions, but for some reason it was easier for, say, Estonian or Serb immigrants to feel true citizens of Argentina or the US than for them to feel true citizens of Venezuela. (Perhaps that's because Argentina and the US have a longer history of accepting waves of immigrants.)

    My guess is that Colombia is closer to the Venezuelan case than to Argentina, but that's only a guess--I don't know Colombia.

  16. Boat People, you don't believe me? :-) Beauty and features are in the eye of the beholder.
    A memory leak, for instance, could look like a very nasty, scandalous bug for most people...but for some hackers it could become a wonderful way to manipulate the data they want. If the hacker is actually part of the institution willing to buy the software and if the institution supports what the hacker wants to do, the bug becomes a feature: revolutionary vote optimizer v 1.10

  17. I agree and also think that Colombia must be more like Venezuela in entertaining a certain distance towards immigrants.

    However in the end my philosophy is that we must adapt to the country we immigrate to.That is the way I saw it.I never tried to impose or teach US customs to people.I learned new customs and joined Venezuelan life from the grass roots point.To me this was deeply fascinating and satisfying.I learned so many wonderful things that gave me an edge ( in terms of integration) that many other foreigners did not have.

    I loved the Lithuanian community too and I very much became a part of it, however I must admit that most folks from Lithuania, even after having lived in Venezuela from a tender young age, still only served their Lithuanian fish on Xmas eve instead of the traditional Hallacas.

    They were a VERY traditional and insular community.I could never imagine any of them adapting profoundly to Venezuelan ways, and of course this produced a shared internal separation.

    I guess it goes both ways though.One part of the puzzle fits with the other.


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