This morning I awoke at 6am to the sound of car horns and loudspeakers blasting kitchy campaign jingles. As I peered outside, I saw a convoy of cars with Conservative Party regalia (of course they’re first ones up on a Saturday) touting the merits of their candidates for congressional elections in March. I’ve had at three more convoys drive by my apartment and I shall be expecting one more to round out the list of Colombia’s five major political parties. I’m beginning to develop a migraine as its been like this all day: shouting, car horns and blaring music nonstop. The scene couldn’t have been any different yesterday when the Colombian Supreme Court decided that current president Alvaro Uribe could not stand for a 3rd term.
The whole city was in slow motion on Friday, with most Paisas glued to their radios listening to commentary of what could be the most important decision for the future of Colombia. Passing through downtown, I saw a large group of anti-Uribe protestors next to a group of pro-Uribistas, both ready to take to the streets, save for the heavy police deployment keeping them apart. Despite the level of anxiety that hung in the air prior to the ruling, there were no major disturbances afterwards. They closed most of the main streets in Medellín after the ruling and for the first time, I saw army patrols walking through the neighborhood to keep any potential troublemakers off the streets. In the downtown bars, the scene varied from table to table: some elated Paisas pouring shots and celebrating Uribe’s departure, others somberly downing bottles of aguardiente and worrying about the future of their country.
Every Colombian will acknowledge the success Uribe has achieved in his security policy which has made the country safer than it has ever been since the Marxist insurgencies. However, when it comes to social and economic development, his merits become a little more jaded. Most people I’ve talked from more well-to-do economic backgrounds were Uribe supporters and consequently, disappointed that he can’t run again. Their fear is that a president that doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to the FARC and Hugo Chavez will allow the country to revert to a less secure place than before Uribe was elected. However, the alleged corruption and human rights violations that occurred during his 2nd term have caused many who support his security policy to jump ship. Those from less wealthy backgrounds that I’ve talked to have been Uribe’s harshest critics, namely for his (mis)handling of social programs, as well as inability to adequately address the issue of displaced coca farmers who have remained jobless since their relocation.
The interesting thing about the supreme court ruling is that today, both congressional and presidential election campaigns have “officially” started. I was told that even the Colombian Stock Market was literally at a standstill Friday, as traders anxiously awaited the ruling. Many political campaigns were holding back on spending until after the ruling, even many for next month’s congressional elections which will serve as a barometer for the presidential election in May. In any case, campaign chaos has finally arrived and the fact that the campaign periods are so short will definitely provide for some tasty commentary. More to come.