Over the past ten days, strolling along 7th street, a large, noisy and polluted avenue crossing Bogota from south to north, I was amazed to see the windows of apartments overspread with signboards of Antanas Mockus, the presidential candidate of the Green Party. It's the Colombian version of the Obama syndrome.
I am passionate about politics and become quite restless, and thus I resolved to take advantage of a blog's capacity to break down barriers. I decided to fast forward, to a day after the elections, that is, May 31st, and to explain why Antanas Mockus became the president of Colombia on the first round, defeating Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate of the oligarchy, who thought the presidency was his, even before starting campaigning.
These are the five reasons Mockus won the presidency.
1. Postmoderm vs. Traditional. Juan Manuel Santos emphasized security and the threat represented by Chavez. He tried to sound like Uribe, a president Colombians worshiped for his achievements in security. But Colombians were ready to move on. They did not care only about security, but also about human development, education, racial and sexual rights, environment, etc. Colombian sociologist Eduardo Pizzarro, in a recent column, underlined how post-materialist values have being gaining political priority, especially among the youth. Mockus and his vice president Sergio Fajardo were able to interpret a wider range of values Colombians care about today. Santos was more of the same, while Mockus embodied the novelty.
2. New vs. Old. Juan Manuel Santos tried desperately to portrait himself as a reincarnation of president Alvaro Uribe. Before starting the campaign he even said he would run only once Uribe gave him the green light. That was not very smart. Voters don't like a clone. Besides, Santos forgot that Uribe became president because of mass enthusiasm and of a large social movement outside the traditional political parties of Colombia. For Colombians, Uribe was not the expression of the elite but an alternative to politics as usual. Santos, a member of one of the most traditional oligarchic families of Bogota, represented the return to old politics. And the more Santos underscored how deep the roots of his experience in politics and in administration run, the more he reminded voters that he was an oldie. Mockus, instead, embodied the new, and was somehow perceived as the anti-establishment candidate. In this sense, Mockus represented the continuation of Uribe. Santos is involution, while Mockus is evolution.
3. Decency vs. Dirty. Why do you like Mockus? I asked several friends from all walks of life. "He calls out the best that is harbored in us," was the common answer. Voters just fell in love with this original former president of the Nacional University and twice mayor of Bogota. They fell in love not so much with his beard, but rather with his transparency, his simplicity, his honesty. They thought there was no better government program in Colombia then declaring war to endemic corruption and promoting a culture of legality. The buzz about Santos, instead, is that he believes ends, like winning the presidency, justify any means. I was struck to see how much resentment and aversion Santos was able to generate among different people. When Santos hired a Venezuelan publicist, known for being an expert in waging dirty campaigns and spreading false rumors against political opponents, the voters had enough, and deepened their support for Mockus. Voters had grown tired of the scandals and the corruption increasingly surrounding the Uribe administration of which Santos was a defense minister; the illegal interception and activities of the president's secret service agency, the DAS; the extra-judicial killings of more then one thousand innocent young men by the military; the linkages between corrupt politicians and the paramilitary; and the corruption that brought to the first reelection of President Uribe. Mockus embodied decency, while Santos....
4. Unity vs. Polarization. For eight years Uribe applied a rhetoric of enmity, radicalizing the hate of Colombians against the insurgency, and ultimately against everyone opposing his government. Uribe shaped a reality in black and white using a discourse of us against them. No surprise he felt greatly in tune with president Bush. The two indeed went along very well. The cloak of negativity this strategy produced, eventually tired people. Mockus' proposal was the exact opposite. He proposed a politics of togetherness, and called Colombians not to division but to unity. Santos represented polarization, while Mockus unity.
5. Participation vs. Machinery. Three weeks before the elections, Santos admitted that he underestimated the power of the Internet. Santos was confident that the traditional political machinery was going to deliver him the presidency. Mockus promoted a campaign of a different kind, one that empowered all citizens, especially young people, and stimulated their creativity and motivation. Individuals became formidable multipliers of Mocku's message. The campaign turned in a green wave that became bigger and stronger by the day, finally sweeping away Santos' aspirations. Most importantly, the wave cleared the field for an innovative and unique political experiment in Colombia. And God only knows how this country, embedded in decades of social, political and armed conflict, needs to try something new to get rid of old patterns of violence and corruption. Also in the campaign's strategy, Santos represented more of the same, and Santos the novelty - the deepening of democratic participation.
There is no guarantee of success with Mockus. No assured changed. The work ahead is titanic. But he represents a great and excellent opportunity. For now he achieved something already extraordinary in itself: to be elected by a totally free vote; free from drug lords, guerrillas, and traditional powerful machinery's influence. This in it self is a revolution. The biggest, not announced and non-violent revolution in Colombia.
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