Sunday, October 30, 2011

Election Day

Soldiers on patrol in Bogota.
Every day, when I walk down to catch the bus to school, I pass Museo Militar de Colombia, the country’s main military museum. Soldiers with automatic rifles stand guard at either end of the street leading up the museum to protect against those who might attack it. Colombia is, after all, still in the middle of a decades-long civil war and any military installation—even a museum—is a potential target.

Today, when I walked down to the tienda to buy some groceries, I encountered twice as many military guards and several police units on patrol. The increased security came as no surprise because today was Election Day in Colombia for local and regional offices.

It has been a rough couple of months for Colombian democracy—according to Colombia Reports, 41 political candidates were assassinated this year and many feared more attacks would occur today. To discourage alcohol-related violence, the government enacted ley seca (dry law), prohibiting the sale of alcohol Saturday evening through Monday. If nobody knew before that there were elections going on this weekend, they certainly found out when they learned they were unable to buy alcohol to celebrate Halloween last night.

Luckily, today’s elections came and went without any major attacks save for an attempted assassination in the Arauca department in northeast Colombia. This morning, the convoy of Representative Albeiro Vanegas Osorio, vice president of Colombia’s House of Representatives, came under attack by gunmen. Although Representative Osorio survived the attack, his driver was killed. Despite this and a few other acts of violence, the Colombian government said that there was an 86% drop in attacks compared to the last local elections in 2007.

Besides direct violence, corruption is probably the biggest threat to Colombian democracy; however, the Colombian government took steps to curb it. The government canceled 4 million identity cards (nearly 10% of eligible voters) suspected of being involved in electoral fraud. Even so, in at least one town in northern Colombia, there were more registered voters than actual residents.

Although Colombia is technically one of Latin America’s most long-lasting and stable democracies, the complicated nature of Colombian politics is enough to make even a Political Science major’s head spin. Regardless, Colombian democracy will live to fight another day and that’s more than many countries in this region can say.  

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