#Clara López

More women in Colombian politics, please


Women make up only 25% of the candidates in this year`s elections.  Sadly, most stand little chance of being elected, and are way down on the ballot paper.

The law says 30% of senate and congress hopefuls must be women, but many complain this is largely irrelevant if these candidates are mere also-rans.

The news is not all doom and gloom, however. Former President Alvaro Uribe`s right-wing Centro Democratico party, has women in 4 of its top 5 senate spots, while the Conservatives have Marta Lucia Ramirez and Polo Democrats Clara Lopez, as their presidential candidates.

Equally, there are high profile candidates in the Alianza Verde like Claudia Lopez (senate), and Angelica Lozano and Angela Robledo (house of representatives).

Despite this, Colombia`s politics remain a largely male preserve.

Now don`t get me wrong, I`m no politically correct ideologue, nor do I subscribe to the “if only women ruled the world…” club. There`s nothing intrinsically better about women rather than men in power.

However, I do think that balance in politics is healthy. Just as there is a problem that Colombia`s political class is overwhelmingly Bogotano and overwhelmingly white and rich, there is also a problem that it is distinctly machista.

Democracy is dependent on pluralism of ideas and ideologies. If it is to be truly representative, democracy must also have space for different genders, different classes, and different races.

What can be done?

Under-representation is an historic problem for Colombianas. Colombia was one of the last countries in the Americas to give women the vote (1957 the first time they could go to the polls), and although for example the law now establishes a quota for ministerial positions, the rate of progress is slow. Just 16 of the 102 senators and 22 of the 166 house representatives are women; 3 governors and just 10% of mayors are female.

Yet although Colombia is often called a machista society, Colombian women are strong – frankly they are often the ones who “wear the trousers”. Make no mistake, this is no Taleban nation; Colombia rightly celebrates womanhood.

It`s not a case then of radically changing society. Yes, attitudes in some are outdated and discriminatory, but the country as a whole is more modern in this respect than it is given credit for.

Perhaps instead of revolutionary change, we`re talking about subtle but real action. The steps to the top are there, we just need to ease the way for women to climb them.

For starters, how about the next president establishes a powerful Minister for Women, a cabinet position with real power? This need not be a quota, but something and someone of substance. Yes there is a position already in place loosely to promote equality, but let`s beef this up, focus it and put a high profile, hard hitter in the role.

How about we also hold the next president to account over the number of women he has in his cabinet. Santos has struggled to fill these positions. If he wins next time, he must do better.

The political parties themselves must take action too. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) almost half of the parties have no women on the board, and none have quotas for internal elections. A quarter also fail to have an “office” for women`s issues, and a third have no working plan to promote engagement with women.

51% of Colombians are women, but just 12% of the nation`s political posts are filled by women. They are a majority but without political representation.

This must change.

Photo, El Colombiano

Colombian left; human rights hypocrites?


Many on Colombia`s left have made their name defending human rights.

So why is it that some of these very same politicians cannot bring themselves to stand up for the human rights of Venezuelans?

Why is it that they either remain silent, or worse still take the side of the government that oppresses and crushes dissent?

Why is it that not only in Colombia but across Latin America there are politicians unwilling to fight for human rights when “their side” is in power?

Are human rights not human rights if protesters are rebelling against left wing governments?

Imagine this.

A left wing politician is taken prisoner by a far right government.  His crime? To organize a march in protest at the government`s hardline policies.

The government`s secret service and hit squads fire live bullets into the crowds who`ve come out to support their leader. Reports say protestors were raped by the butt of a gun, beaten and tortured. The prisons minister tweets that her opponents are “shit scared” of her armed mobs. And the media reporting on this are threaten, harassed or taken off air.

So what happens next?

Neighbouring countries pressure for the prisoner`s release. Diplomatic ties are cut off with the right wing government. Across the continent they condemn the action and label the government a fascist dictatorship. And human rights NGOs campaign day and night for the release of the prisoner.

Change the left wing prisoner for right winger Leopoldo Lopez and the right wing government for Maduro`s administration.

Do you hear the condemnation from Presidents Correa, Kirchner or Morales? Have the Colombian human rights activists in the Polo Democratic party stood up to Maduro or campaigned for the release of Lopez?

No. Absolutely not.

Instead, look at this from Clara Lopez, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrats.


“Polo rejects the attempted coup in Venezuela”.

Now I like Clara, she ordinarily strikes me as a democrat. Check out her twitter background, it`s a photo of students marching. She believes in direct action, and protest. Clara, do you support only those who march against governments you disagree with?

And this from former Liberal Party Senator and now Marcha Patriotica Leader, Piedad Cordoba a “defender of human rights” according to her profile.


“President Maduro we support you with all our love and friendship. Onwards!!”

Hang on Piedad. Your political movement is called “March” you organize protests across Colombia and yet you support a leader whose troops fire live bullets into student protestors?

Alongside this there are people like Ivan Cepeda who has carved himself a career as a “defender of human rights” as he boasts on his twitter account.  Standing up for those oppressed or threatened by overbearing governments or by hit squads is what he does 24 hours a day. So any tweet from him on the political prisoner or on the reports of torture in Venezuela? You guessed it, diddly squat. I guess he wants the Polo press release about the “attempted coup” to express his view.

I`m sure some of you are saying, well, maybe they don`t want to get involved in the business of a foreign country.  Fine but Cordoba and Lopez are actively supporting Maduro – they are already involved.

And I`m sure you`re asking why I`m picking on what the left are or are not saying. Look, I`m not suggesting it`s everyone on the left – far from it. There are sensible moderate left wingers, of course.

What I find hypocritical is that the left are supposed to be champions of human rights and can be great campaigners for those who have their rights ignored or violated. That is what they do, what they fight on in Colombia day and night.

So not to join forces with those protesting against an authoritarian government is not only hypocritical, but seems to me is also a fundamental betrayal of left wing values.

If you`re a left winger how can you support a government that oppresses its people?

State violence is state violence. Oppression is oppression. Censorship is censorship. Torture is torture.

Human rights are universal.

President Santos to win 2014 election

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will be re-elected in 2014 according to nationwide poll released tomorrow.

Despite an approval rate as low as 29 per cent, Santos` candidature appears unstoppable as Colombians show even less faith in his likely opponents, right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and leftie Clara Lopez. Read more…

Santos and the re-election no one wants


Colombia`s Presidential election race is wide open say nationwide polls.

President Santos`chances of holding on to power next May appear to be dwindling as confidence in his administration falls to a record low and fewer than 1 in 5 Colombians promise to vote for his re-election. Read more…

Colombia needs its Alvaro Uribes


This article was written for Colombia Reports.

Colombia’s ex-president Alvaro Uribe just days ago brought together a group of his top supporters and political leaders to plan his assault on the ballot box in 2014.

Uribe has a fiercely loyal political base and he hopes to return to the Capitolio heading up a list of senators which will challenge the power of — the most likely re-elected — President Santos.

Estimates range from between 12 to 30 the number of possible senators that Uribe could win next year; however you look at it, a substantial and healthy opposition to the governing coalition.

Since Santos came to power in 2010 he has enjoyed a congress almost unanimously in his favor. His national unity grouping faces virtually zero opposition and scrutiny save from the left-wingers of the Polo Democratic Alternative.

So even if you don´t share Uribe´s politics is difficult to argue that his presence in the senate is anything other than good news for democracy. Laws would have the potential to be opposed where currently they´re not always even read, while debates would be likely to be heard, replacing today´s dull chorus of consent.

It is, frankly a source of some considerable relief that the 2014-2018 parliament will look and feel different to the hugely unpopular current crop.

There is another reason why Uribe´s return should be welcomed. Uribismo is a force that has significant popular support but that is largely unrepresented in government.

I have reported before on the betrayal the Uribistas feel at the hands of Juan Manuel Santos, the ex-president´s anointed successor who, once elected, once he had benefited from Uribe´s votes, decided to change tack and ditch many of his former boss´ policies.

As a result of Santos´ volte face, Uribismo finds itself with no voice except in the lonely opposition of the media – in fact many of its loyal columnists have too been shunted out of the major publications. In short, Uribismo has millions of votes but almost no elected representatives. Even the party that bears the ex-president’s name – the U Party – has deserted him to run to the side of Santos.

This is not a recipe for a healthy political system. Lest we forget that Colombia´s left-wing guerrillas often cite the barriers to representation as the reason for their decision to take up arms against the state.

Pluralism in politics is good, unanimity tyrannous.

This is the first time Colombia faces the prospect of a fiercely contested presidential re-election campaign – Uribe´s 2006 battle hardly counts. And the democratic immaturity shows.

The media talk of the polarization of the country (on account of the differences in views expressed by Santos and Uribe) as though politics would be much better is everyone got on and thought the same. What rot! If politics is not about the battle for ideas then it not politics.

The politicians themselves appear like headless chickens, unable to decide whether to stick with their current boss or to join forces with their old political master.

All the while the public are left bemused by a collection of elected functionaries that have yet to present a political platform, or any policies for consideration beyond being either a “Santista” a “Uribista”, or none of the above.

Part of the problem for Santos is the fact he has never had to win an election before – 2010 was his first campaign and he won that on the back of Uribe´s votes.

There is a palpable sense from certain members of the Santos camp that all opposition must be shut down, that it poses an inherent threat to the cozy order to which they´ve become accustomed. For those who have followed Colombian politics closely for years it strikes us as odd that Uribe is now unquestionable a political underdog.

For this author Santos has been a decent president, but perhaps real opposition will force him to be an even better one in his second mandate. Politicians nearly always perform better when scrutiny is greater.

Uribe remains a controversial figure – there are those that love him and those that cannot abide the sight of him. It´s an undeniable truth, however, that he is Colombia´s most important politician out of a job.

In the same way that Colombia needs its Gustavo Petros, its Clara Lopez and Jorge Enrique Robledos, it also needs its Alvaro Uribes.

Petro showing “mental confusion”: Polo Democrats´ Suarez


A key member the Polo Democratic Alternative Party (PDA) moved to further distance the party from Bogota’s controversial mayor Gustavo Petro and his administration on Sunday in an interview with El Espectador.

Aurelio Suarez, a former Bogotá mayoral candidate for the party who stood against Petro in 2011, said a prominent reason for the setbacks the Petro administration has suffered in its first year in office are due to the “mental confusion” of the mayor. He claimed that Petro “doesn’t know what he wants and what he can do in the existing institutional framework to advance programmes”.

Suarez emphasised that the Petro administration had an “incredible capacity to do unreasonable things” and that fundamental elements of the administration “cannot be categorised as of the left”. He cited the administration’s support for public-private partnerships as evidence of this, as well as criticising the introduction of a number of new taxes in the city since Petro came to power in 2011.

Suarez’s comments reveal a fear of the PDA that as a party of the Left they risk being associated with the incompetence and controversy that surrounds the Petro regime. Indeed, they point to a broader problem that the Left faces in Colombia in that parties pitching for a more moderate position are often associated in with the array of extreme elements that exist in the country. Petro himself used to belong to the PDA but left under a cloud when the party decided – in certain measure – to stick by the then disgraced Bogotá mayor, Samuel Moreno. Petro has since set up his own party, the Progressives, but as Suarez admitted in the interview, sections of the society still link Petro back to the PDA.

The PDA face a fight for survival at the congressional elections next year. Although their senate list leader is the popular Jorge Enrique Robledo, there is a real possibility that the party will not reach the appropriate percentage of the national vote to secure seats in the parliament. Clara López, recently confirmed as the party´s presidential candidate in 2014, has a job to do to position the PDA in a packed field, and to present a reasonable and voting winning face of the left. Any association with the hugely unpopular Petro must be avoided at all costs.

With old friends like these….

Colombia opposition party choose presidential candidate to fight Santos

López, the best choice? Photo, Nuevo Siglo

Colombian opposition party Polo Democratic Alternative (PDA) will this weekend choose its candidate to fight the 2014 presidential elections against an almost certain to run for re-election President Juan Manuel Santos.

The PDA´s national congress, the third of its kind, begins tomorrow and under discussion is not only party policy, but also who will lead the group into the forthcoming elections. Two big names are expected to go forward as possible candidates, Jorge Enrique Robledo, and Clara López.

Robledo has the star appeal; his polemic and permanent campaigning style make him a hero for many on the left. Colombia Politics profiled this senator last month and has long tipped him has a potential presidential candidate.

In 2010, Robledo became the second most voted for senator, behind the U Party´s Juan Lozano. He is one of the most visible senators and has been a fierce critic of the neo-liberalism of the Uribe and Santos regimes. In a poll of influential thought leaders released today, Robledo was labelled the best performing senator.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Robledo is the undisputed opposition heavy weight in Congress. His campaigns have been as diverse as they have been full-bloodedly fought. Last year he became the darling of the student movement, attacking the Santos administration´s education reform bill (which was eventually ditched because of the level and organization of opposition). This year he has taken on the implementation of the land restitution law, stood as the loudest voice against the free trade agreement with the USA, and has lampooning the government´s tax reform legislation currently before lawmakers.

Clara López is less polemic and less obviously a campaigning figure. The current director of the PDA party, López won credit for her work as the caretaker Mayor of Bogotá last year. López stepped in following the deposition of Samuel Moreno (who faced corruption charges) and was widely recognized as a successful administrator, in stark contrast to current Mayor and former Polo presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro.

This website has previously argued that Clara López represents the PDA´s best electoral hope.  For us, López´s measured style and her greater appeal to those closer to the political centre, means she has a higher chance of gathering in votes from a wider cross-section of society. It is difficult to see how Robledo would appeal (electorally speaking) to anyone other than a committed socialist. Fine if the PDA are content to languish in the polls.

López is without doubt a left-winger, but she scares away fewer voters than does Robledo. Colombia is not a left-wing country, but some 30% of the electorate is said to be prepared to vote for a candidate of this colour. Were López able to present a more centrist platform then this figure could well move north.

The problem for the Colombian left is that it has become fractured and disparate. Petro´s Progressives party and Piedad Córdoba´s far left Marcha Patriotica movement could well split the vote, leaving the PDA with precious little representation in Congress. It has even been predicted that unless the PDA run a successful election campaign they could struggle to return any politicians to the Capitolio in 2014.

The Santos administration controls over 90% of Colombia´s Congress leaving the PDA as the only real and organized opposition to the government. A PDA presence in Congress is important for the health of the nation´s democracy.

Despite disastrous regional elections last year, and a series of high-profile departures and splits since the last congressional elections in 2010, the PDA, with the right candidate will try to position itself as only viable alternative to the centre centre-right politics of the status quo.

Will the PDA choose wisely?