Updated 1 year, 8 months ago

Politics in Colombia

The Post´s argument is that the transition from traditional to broker styles of clientelism in Colombia has weakened the capacity of Colombian political elites to deal with increasingly serious problems of social conflict and political violence. Current broker clientele networks in Colombia has led to the erosion of traditional sources of authority and legitimacy and their replacement by a  clientelism based on personal influence leading to political immobilism and placed severe constraints on the actions of potential reformers and institution builders.

A current example, the three outstanding candidates for Mayor of Bogotá in the coming October election, Rafael Pardo, Enrique Peñalosa and Clara López who are tied in the polls,  while portraying  themselves as against  "broker style clientelism" they pragmatically need it as an  electoral tool to win.  Facing a well established set up headed  by Gustavo Petro the current leftist mayor who hopes to springboard his campaign to become the country´s next president.

In Bogotá quality of life is miserable joblessness, public services are erratic and flooding is frequent; ambulances and the police take hours to arrive. The candidates have not given up. But traditional campaigning will not suffice in the city’s poorer sectors, which collectively house most of the people, about a third of the population. To win votes in such service-starved neighbourhoods the current candidates will have to quietly rely on local power brokers.

Community leaders, hired by the current administration are well-known figures who act as problem-solvers, and occasionally as saviours, for the locals. They run football teams, clinics and soup kitchens. Some fill bags with biscuits for women to take to their imprisoned husbands. Such good deeds are part of a lucrative triangular trade. They deliver the votes of grateful citizens to politicians, who in turn find ways to pay them off. The more votes mobilised the higher the salary.

Such “clientelism” is not unique to Bogotá (it is more entrenched in the provincial states and small towns) or to Colombia. Argentina has done less to fight it than other Latam countries. The governments of Mexico and Brazil, for example, do a better job of distributing benefits and services as a matter of course rather than in exchange for political support, says Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, a scholar at Brown University in the United States. “Argentina has been a relative laggard in that respect,” she says.

The current office-seekers in Colombia portray themselves as crusaders against clientelism. But since the majority of the slum-dwellers complain that the programmes merely brought eye-catching projects like football pitches and public squares, while leaving untouched such ills as movility, poor drainage, impassable roads and violence. So "communty leaders" are in no danger of losing their clientry for the time being.