Fraud and Threats vs. Hope and Peace in Colombia’s Elections

By Gabriel Mogollón

(Gabe is a second year Environmental Engineering student, and the grandson of a refugee from the Bogotazo repression in the 1948 elections, when the popular, front-running candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated on April 9th of that year) 

Sunday, March 13th 2022 marked the beginning of the long, tumultuous process of the Colombian presidential race. Gustavo Petro, of Historic Pact; Federico Gutierrez, of Team Colombia; and Serjio Fajardo, of Hope Center are the leading candidates, with Gustavo Petro claiming the majority of popular support. Gustavo Petro was the runner up to Ivan Duque, the right wing candidate hand picked by former president Alvaro Uribe in the 2018 election riddled with substantial claims of fraud. This election was prefaced with the difficult implementation of the Peace Accords in December of 2016, meant to end a half decade long war between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that left over 200 thousand people dead. This long, bloody war was a war over the allocation of land in Colombia, which is unevenly divided between rural farmers and private entities, who controlled an extremely inequitable volume of available farmland in Colombia. The Peace Accords focused on equitable reallocation and development of land for rural farmers. The accords focused on access to water, electricity, and roads in rural parts of Colombia, as well as access to education up to High School for everyone in Colombia, especially those living in rural areas. Within the scope of relocating land for rural farmers, a crop replacement program was planned to allow farmers to cease the need to grow coca, the primary component of cocaine production, since this lucrative crop is one of the only ways for many of the farmers to earn enough money to survive. The lack of roads and rural access makes it impossible to get crops to markets.

These many promises, however, were not implemented by the Colombian government, even though the majority of the FARC followed through on their end by laying down arms in order to end the violence. Since the passage of the Peace Accords, according to Indepaz, 1327 social movement leaders and 308 demobilizaed insurgents have been murdered. This violence, a tactic commonly used by the far right to suppress populous movements attempting to move the country towards a more equitable democracy, void of multinational corporate interests, is the most overt of the far right’s tactics. In the most recent election, mass voter fraud was uncovered, with over 486 thousand votes lost, according to Historic Pact. Of the 113 thousand polling stations around the country, nearly twenty-nine thousand stations had no votes for Historic Pact, an absurd statistic for the most nationally dominant party. On top of this, it was found that twenty-three thousand stations counted votes in favor of Hope Center twice, an objectively unconstitutional occurrence. These obscene statistics are a result of deliberately incompetent voting table management, with 85% of voting tables experiencing issues with people’s abilities to vote, primarily as a result of voter registration issues, an issue allegedly known over six months before the election according to Esteban Salazar of think tank Paz y Reconciliación. In the congressional elections, candidates are supposed to receive funding to ensure an equitable campaign process, per the constitution, but many candidates on the center-left received nothing along those lines. This is  an overt example of Ivan Duque and the right’s neglect of the constitution in pursuit of maintaining political dominance.

Since the beginning of the electoral year in March, political violence has increased dramatically. Death threats, the primary form of political violence, have increased by 193% according to the Electoral Observation Mission. Acts of aggression and assassination attempts have also significantly increased, though to a lesser extent. This increase in political violence can be attributed primarily to the right-wing paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, a paramilitary group that specializes in land theft operations, directly contradicting the Peace Accords. They are concentrated in the Southwest of Colombia, an area with the largest concentrations of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino (peasant) populations, affecting these groups at the highest rates.

Paramilitary groups like Aguilas Negras have been acting in tandem with the right. While their methods of violence paired with mass voter fraud have slowed the dominance of the left, Petro and Historic Pact still managed an 18 percent margin over the nearest competitor, Federico Gutierrez. A primary reason for the left’s substantial success is Duque’s inability and disinterest in implementing the Peace Accords. With increasing violence and a struggling economy, the Colombian populace wants peace and a better life for its people. Petro’s supporters see him as a leader capable of directing the country to the peace the majority of Colombians desire as well as following through on the accords’ promise of equitable land and wealth redistribution as well as public infrastructure investment. While a loss seems extremely unlikely for Petro, the left’s inability to gain a sufficient majority to form a coalition, as a result of the massive voter fraud, appears to be the primary interest of Uribe and the right. Their strategy is that of many other extremist organizations, creating an ungovernable institution controlled by fear and uncertainty. Top election official, Alexander Vega, recently called for a controversial vote recount, an act meant to further confuse the populace, much like what was done in the United States by Donald Trump and allows the right to beget more uncertainty, gain more votes in Congress, and hinder Petro’s coalition development further. Many feared that a recount was laying the framework for a coup d’etat led by Duque, but international disdain led to the right reverting their calls for a recount.

In order to avoid fears dominating Colombia and ensure a just democracy, international election observers are essential. Rather than electronic ballots, Colombia employs the use of paper ballots, which are far more susceptible to manipulation and fraud. Polling stations depend on observers to ensure that votes are appropriately counted and not simply changed when submitted to the national registry. International observers also play a vital role of disseminating information to the global public on the absurd neglect of equitable democracy and of the Colombian constitution’s policies.