Category Archives: Colombia

Rut Diamint and Laura Tedesco – Rethinking political leadership in Latin America

This is a guest post by Rut Diamint (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Laura Tedesco (Saint Louis University/Madrid Campus) based on their newly published book, Latin America´s Leaders, available here.

In writing Latin America´s Leaders, we had four objectives: to review the main bibliography on political leadership; to examine the domestic political conditions that impact on the emergence of different types of leaders; to offer a qualitative analysis of interviews with political leaders; and to devise a typology of democratic leaders.

Our research[i] was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders[ii]. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Is there any relationship between the features of political party systems and the leaders’ democratic quality? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate strong leaders?

We looked at Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. While all these countries suffered similar political and economic crises during the 2000s, the outcomes were different: five presidents were expelled in Argentina, three in Ecuador, one in Venezuela and none in Uruguay and Colombia. In Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the crises brought about the fragmentation or collapse of the party system and the emergence of strong leaders. Conversely, in Uruguay the 2002 crisis neither affected the political party system nor became a major systemic crisis; the traditional political parties lost the elections and the Frente Amplio won the presidency for the first time since its creation in 1971. In Colombia, political parties underwent an important transformation following the political reforms in 1991 and the 2003, and political stability with a high degree of institutionalization allowed a strong leader in the form of Álvaro Uribe to come to power – yet these features also helped to control his political ambitions.

We conducted 285 interviews with former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, MPs, mayors and party leaders. The aim of the interviews was to learn how leaders interpret democratic quality and how far they perceive themselves as the architects of democracy.

Our interviewees talked about powerful presidents who concentrate power and, in many cases, usurp power from other institutions. Many presidents in Latin America dis-empower institutions to empower themselves.

The qualitative analysis of the interviews showed two different groups: in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the analysis of Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez dominated the interviews while in Uruguay and Colombia our respondents examined political leadership together with the role of political parties, state institutions and historical processes.

One of our conclusions is that the degree of institutionalization of the political party system influences the type of leader that emerges in a given country.[iii] We developed a typology based on three elements: the political context, the ability of the leader to lead and the impact of the leader on the quality of democracy. Cutting across these elements are three dimensions of leadership: the relationship between the leader and the rule of law; the leader’s efforts to achieve consensus or in contrast to provoke polarization; and the leader’s methods to increase power. Our typology highlights leaders’ democratic quality by looking at their attitude to rules (obey, challenge or manipulate) to opposition (polarize, tolerate or build consensus) and to power (share, concentrate or usurp).

Democratic-enhancer Ambivalent Democrat Soft Power Usurper Power Usurper
Rule developer Rule-Obedient Rule-Challenger Rule-Manipulator
Bridge-Builder Receptive Soft Polarizer Polarizer
Respectul Rule-Challenger Power Builder Power Maximizer

Democratic-enhancers include leaders who push for the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions, accept the limits on power imposed by state institutions, respect and promote democratic rights and civil liberties, and leave their posts on time. This type of leader invariably belongs to a political party in which he has developed his career.

The ambivalent democrat respects people’s rights, works in a cooperative manner but seeks to accumulate personal power. Unlike the democratic-enhancer they respect but do not strengthen democratic institutions. The ambivalent democrat can actually end up weakening democracy in his bid to increase his own personal power.

The soft power usurper navigates between challenging and accepting the rule of law and state institutions. The historical context becomes crucial since it can either facilitate or block the leader´s ability to gain autonomy. In crises, this type of politician can take advantage to reduce other institutions’ maneuverability. However, at some point, a brake is applied by his party, the judicial, the legislative power or even societal pressure. The soft power usurper then retreats in the hope of more favorable conditions arising that will enable him to fit the political game to his own personal or collective aims.

Power-usurpers accumulate power by absorbing it from other state institutions, either by minimizing the role of the legislature and/or by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Power-usurpers are democratic leaders who have been elected in free elections. However, some end up manipulating constitutional or electoral instruments to increase personal power, thus worsening the quality of democracy. Power-usurpers believe that they are the only legitimate representatives of their people. Politics becomes embedded in them. They generally aspire to perpetuate themselves in power.

In Uruguay most leaders are democratic enhancers. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was a mix of ambivalent democrat and soft power usurper, while Juan Manuel Santos is a democracy-enhancer. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were soft power usurpers. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa combines elements of a power usurper with a soft power usurper. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was the archetype of a power usurper: he challenged the rules, polarized society and maximized his power.

This typology distinguishes four ideal types that measure leaders’ degree of democraticness. It offers a framework for how leaders´ political influence and democratic quality can be studied in other parts of the world. And it can serve as an instrument to promote democratic-enhancers and avoid the rise of power usurpers.

Notes

[i] The research was done between 2009 and 2012 and was financed by Foundation Open Society Institute, Washington DC.

[ii] The quality of democracy has been debated in Guillermo O´Donnell, Jorge Vargas Cullell and Osvaldo Iazzetta (2004) The quality of democracy. Theory and applications (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) and Pippa Norris (2011) Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revisited (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

[iii] The degree of institutionalization of political parties has been analyzed by Manuel Alcántara (2004) ¿Instituciones o máquinas ideológicas? Origen, programa y organización de los partidos latinoamericanos (Barcelona: Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona); María Matilde Ollier María Matilde (2008) “La institucionalización democrática en el callejón: la inestabilidad presidencial argentina (1999-2003)”, América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103 and Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully (eds.) (1995) Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press).


Rut Diamint is professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Universidad Torcuato di Tella, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Club de Madrid and the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. She has been visiting professor at Columbia University, and has received scholarships from Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the PIF programme of the Canadian government, the Tinker Foundation, the UN Commission for Peace Studies and the US Studies Center for US–Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.

Laura Tedesco is associate professor of political science at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, and at Instituto de Empresa, Madrid. She has received scholarships from the British Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and CONICET (Argentina) and grants from the British Academy and the Open Society Institute. She has taught at Universidad de Buenos Aires, FLACSO, the University of Warwick and the University of East Anglia. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and worked as an analyst for FRIDE, Spain.

Colombia – Presidential election to be decided in second-round on June 15th

Only last week, I discussed the rather dramatic events surrounding the presidential election campaign in Colombia. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of former president Álvaro Uribe’s new Centro Democrático party, was implicated in a scandal, which saw one of his advisors, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, arrested on a charge of intercepting the emails of President Juan Manual Santos. Santos was Zuluaga’s main competitor in this election, and was in the midst of conducting peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, talks that Uribe and Zualaga vehemently opposes. The scandal saw the resignation of Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos and last Sunday, despite Zuluaga’s protestations that he was unaware of Sepulveda’s activity, news magazine Semana published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing the illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

However, the scandal did not unduly damage Zuluaga’s frontrunner status. Zuluaga finished first with 29.3 per cent of the vote, while Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional finished second with 25.7 per cent. Martha Lucía Ramírez, the candidate of the traditional Partido Conservador Colombiano, and Uribe’s former defense minister, finished third with 15.5 per cent, while Clara López, of the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo, came fourth with 15.2 per cent. Enrique Peñalosa, the candidate of Colombia’s green party, the Partido Verde Colombiano, finished last with 8.3 per cent of the vote. This means that the outcome will be decided in a second round run-off on June 15th.

This run-off will largely act as a plebiscite on the peace talks Santos is conducting with the FARC. In fact, the policies of Zuluaga and Santos differ little except for their stance on this peace process. Zuluaga and Uribe have been intensely critical of Santos’ initiative, and have accused the president of treason. The peace talks have been reasonably successful and agreement has been reached on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking, with only victim reparations and transitional justice to be agreed upon.

However, the legitimacy of this election has been somewhat undermined by a very low turnout. The abstention rate in Sunday’s election was 59.93 per cent, garnering sharp criticism from the Organization of American States (OAS), which suggested that the poor turnout was partly driven by the aggressively negative nature of the campaign. To put this into perspective, only 40 per cent of Colombia’s 33 registered voters took part in this election, meaning only 11.4 per cent of all voters actually supported Zuluaga.

If abstention proves to be an issue for the run-off in June, this could deprive the eventual victor of a democratic mandate. In the meantime, it makes it even more difficult to identify the potential winner of this race.

Colombia – The Politics of Peace Talks and Presidential Elections

On May 25th, Colombia will go to the polls to elect a new president. The race is primarily between two candidates: Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, and the candidate of the right-leaning Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga. The latest polls suggest that there is very little between both candidates.

However, this election is a somewhat complicated affair, and provides a good insight into Colombia’s insider-outsider political system. The current incumbent, Santos, was formerly defense minister during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. Uribe, the former two-term president who left the traditional Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security, became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate this March. Uribe, a consummate insider, has risen to the highest political offices in Colombia by cleverly portraying himself as a political outsider, who rails against corrupt and inefficient political elites.

Centro Democrático was only established in January 2013 to compete in the legislative elections this March and its platform, “no to impunity”, was largely centered on opposition to peace talks Juan Manuel Santos is conducting with the FARC in Havana. In fact, Uribe and Santos have had a rather acrimonious public falling-out. The candidate of Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was formerly Minister for Public Credit during the Uribe presidency, and a former cabinet colleague of the current incumbent, Santos. With me so far?

Well, it gets more complicated. The backdrop to this election campaign is the peace talks Santos’ government has been conducting with the FARC and on Friday, it was announced that negotiators have now reached agreement with the guerillas on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking. Only victim reparations and transitional justice remain to be agreed upon.

Zuluaga, who has vowed to suspend the peace process, which he and Uribe believe represents national treason, has gradually managed to pip Santos in the polls. However, the presidential campaign has taken a rather dramatic twist. Earlier this month, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, an adviser to Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was arrested and accused of intercepting the emails of President Santos and Luciano Marin, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the peace talks. Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, also quit after broadcaster, RCN, claimed they had been offered confidential information about the peace talks. Zuluaga has always vehemently denied any knowledge of Sepulveda’s activity. But today howver, news magazine Semana, has published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

With just a week to go until voters go to the polls, this throws everything up in the air. What effect, if any, this will have on Colombia’s somewhat incestuous political system remains to be seen. Regardless, remember to check back here next week for the election results.

Colombia – Legislative Elections a Slight Setback for Santos

This is a big year for Colombian politics. On Sunday, voters went to the polls to elect a new Congress and in May, they will return to the polls to elect a new president. Sunday’s election was widely viewed as a referendum on the popularity of President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group currently under way in Havana, and as a barometer of Santos’ popularity prior to this year’s presidential elections.

Although Santos’ legislative position was weakened slightly, his governing coalition still managed to retain a majority in both houses, and his Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (Partido de la U) still retains the largest share of Senate seats (21of 102) and the second largest share of seats in the lower house (37 of 166). The new Colombian lower and upper houses now look like this:

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Of particular interest in this election was the return of Álvaro Uribe, the former two-term president who left the Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security. Uribe, running under the slogan “no to impunity” became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate. Throughout the election Uribe accused Santos, his former defense minister, of treason, by providing the FARC with a political stage at the peace talks in Havana. Centro Democrático, the new party established by Uribe for the elections, only managed to win 12 of 166 seats in the lower house, but won 19 of the 102 seats in the upper house, the place where congressional power in Colombia traditionally lies.

Uribe is likely to prove a thorn in the side of Santos. Congress will be essential in the process of drafting legislation for any peace deal that emerges from the talks in Havana, and while 68 per cent of Colombians agree with the peace talks, 78 per cent disapprove of former FARC members entering politics without some form of penal sanction. As the Economist notes, Uribe and the Centro Democrático will “stoke this sentiment” thereby reducing the space available for Santos to reach a deal with the FARC.

Nonetheless, Juan Manuel Santos still remains the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election. His only real challenger appears to be Óscar Iván Zuluaga of Uribe’s Centro Democrático party. Check this space in May.