Colombiaâ€™s surging â€˜Green Waveâ€™
Colombiaâ€™s surging â€˜Green Waveâ€™
If your source of news is limited to the Canadian press, you probably havenâ€™t heard the Colombian Green Party has surged from the margins to take the lead in Colombiaâ€™s upcoming Presidential elections. The implications are large. If Green candidate Antanas Mockus maintains his lead, he would become the first Green Party head of government ever.
Since the beginning of the campaign in March, Mockus has rocketed from 9 percent to 39 percent. He currently leads Juan Manuel Santos by 12 percentage points going into the first ballot.
Santos of the ruling â€œUâ€ party was expected to cruise through to victory on the back of current President Ãlvaro Uribe. But critics claim that despite Uribeâ€™s popularity, the past eight years of â€˜â€™Uribismoâ€™â€™ has been dominated by heavy-handed tactics that have divided and polarized a restless populace.
The phenomenon of Mockus' ascent and the surging Green party is giving rise to a hopeful new politics the country has never seen before. Many are comparing it to Obamaâ€™s successful Presidential campaign in 2008 with its message of hope and reliance on grassroots and social networking strategies.
Similar to Obamaâ€™s campaign (but much unlike Green party campaigns elsewhere), el Partido Verde is seen more as a general political movement than a party representing a specific ideological (or ecological) program. It has come to represent a mysterious, yet attractive third-way in Colombian politics led by a man who continues to mystify and intrigue his audience with colourful antics and an eccentric sense of humour.
The Colombian media is full of faded photographs of the former mayor posing in a skin-tight â€˜â€™Super Citizenâ€™â€™ jumpsuit, demonstrating how to save water in the shower, and wading in a public fountain begging forgiveness for having left his job as Mayor to run for President in 1997. Mockus served as mayor of BogotÃ¡ from 1995 to1997 and was re-elected again from 2001 to 2003.
Mockus is widely credited with pioneering the BogotÃ¡ Miracle along with two of his political rivals: Enrique PeÃ±alosa and Luis Eduardo GarzÃ³n who also served as BogotÃ¡ Mayors from 1998-2001 and 2004-2007 respectively. PeÃ±alosa and GarzÃ³n have since joined forces with Mockus under the Green Party banner. In a bid to woo Colombiaâ€™s second city, Mockus recruited the popular former Mayor of MedellÃn Sergio Fajardo to run with him for Vice-President.
Similar to the Obama campaign, Mockus is spreading a message of hope through both conventional and new media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and mobile devices. The result has been an outpouring of support across Colombia.
El Partido Verdeâ€™s Facebook page is particularly innovative, walking the visitor through a concise slideshow introducing Colombians to a party that did not even exist six months ago. The page attracts 10,000 new fans everyday. For his part, Mockus ranks among the 12 most popular politicians on Facebook with more fans than Nelson Mandela.
But with only 27 percent of Colombians connected to the Internet, reaching older generations and citizens outside major cities will be a challenge. Mockus has said he is confident his team of young volunteers will spread the message through Colombiaâ€™s strongest institution â€“ the family.
Mockus has all but won the middle class vote in Colombiaâ€™s largest cities with his eccentric personality and stellar double performance as Mayor of BogotÃ¡. But in order to win the Presidency, he must connect with regional and more conservative elements of Colombian society that has formed the basis of political power since Independence.
Mockusâ€™ closest rival â€“ former Minister of National Defence Juan Manuel Santos â€“ comes from one of the most powerful families in Colombia. Santosâ€™ grandfatherâ€™s brother was President from 1938-1942 and his father has been Director of the countryâ€™s most read newspaper for fifty years. Santosâ€™ cousin is Vice-President in the current Uribe administration.
There is an undeniable political genius at work in the man behind el Partido Verde. Mockus has already set about the necessary metamorphosis from â€œbohemianâ€ to â€œstatesmanâ€ with soft-spoken messages of hope and compassion. He earned respect and admiration from the Colombian press and his political rivals when he revealed two weeks into the campaign he had been diagnosed with the first stages of Parkinsonâ€™s disease.
It is still too early to predict an outcome. But it is without a doubt, one of the most exciting political developments in Green Party history. It is also an unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide of violence that has marred Colombia for decades and chart a new progressive course in Latin American politics.
On May 20 â€“ just ten days before the election â€“ Mockus and Brazilian Green Party leader Marina Silva plan to meet in BogotÃ¡ to discuss a strategic alliance. According to the Brazilian Green Party, the goal is to create a progressive counter-weight to the current bloc of â€œauthoritarian, populist and anachronisticâ€ regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
In a few short weeks we will learn whether Mockus is able hold onto his lead and form the next government in Colombia. There remain formidable obstacles in his path â€“ including a strong political machine that will not easily let go of power. Irrespective of the final result, political observers around the world are paying close attention to the emerging Green wave as it sweeps Latin America.
Van Ferrier is a communications consultant based in Montreal and former Policy Development Coordinator for the Green Party of Canada. He is currently in Colombia.