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Colombia: President Álvaro Uribe's Bid for Third Term

Last year, most of the political activity in Colombia revolved around President Álvaro Uribe's intention to run for a third term in 2010. Even though campaigns for the May presidential election (and Congressional election in March) started a while ago, it is clear that most Colombians are waiting for Mr. Uribe to decide whether to run or not. Last week he told a local radio in Montería (the President has been giving interviews for regional radio stations outside Bogotá during the last few days) that his second reelection is up to [es] “the [Constitutional] Court, the people, and God”.

In September, the Congress passed a law [es] calling for a referendum on a constitutional reform in order to allow Mr. Uribe to run for a third term in office. In 2005, the 1991 Constitution had already been amended to allow Uribe's re-election. This law must pass through revision by the Constitutional Court. The Inspector General's Office (Procuraduría) must issue [es] a non-binding statement (concepto [es]), which nevertheless is usually taken into account by the Court's justices.

On Tuesday, January 12, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez (a staunch [es] Catholic known by his conservative positions on issues such abortion, contraception, and gay rights [es]) issued his recommendation [es], which was favourable to the referendum, an initiative led by politician Luis Guillermo Giraldo and which has been full of controversy on its funding, its mistakes of procedure during its debate at the Congress, and even blatant grammatical errors in the question asked to voters. The initiative, nevertheless, brings some concerns, since the 1991 Constitution was designed for presidential terms of 4 years and allowing a re-election may affect Colombia's internal democratic institutional structures.

Before the Inspector General's statement became public, Jaime Restrepo from the blog Atrabilioso addresses [es] an article by the newspaper El Espectador regarding “God's political power” [es], given the statements quoted above, claiming that despite being a lay state, Colombia remains a confessional nation, specially since Uribe has been in office:

Comencemos por decir que, para los cristianos, Dios no sólo tiene que ver en el proceso sino que es Su voluntad la que decidirá la suerte de la “encrucijada del alma”. Desconocer las prácticas y creencias religiosas de millones de colombianos no solo es una torpeza, sino que demuestra la intolerancia totalitaria de algunos sectores antiuribistas.

Let's start by saying that, for Christians, God not only has something to do in the process but it is His will which will decide the fate of [Uribe's] “crossroad of the soul.” Failing to recognize the religious practices and beliefs of millions of Colombians is not only clumsy, but it also shows the totalitarian bigotry of some in the anti-Uribe camp.

Restrepo also slams left-wing politicians and even members of the Catholic Church who reacted to Mr. Uribe's words on the issue. Colombia's top Cardinal, Pedro Rubiano, had already expressed [es] his support for Uribe's re-election, but in 2014.

During and after Mr, Ordóñez's long press conference [es] on Tuesday afternoon, broadcast live on the media, Colombian twitterers reacted to the explanation he made before stating that the referendum law should be declared constitutional:

@egolaxista :

Lo gracioso es que si el concepto del Proc[urador] es favorable a Uribe dirán que ese concepto es muy importante, pero [si no] dirán que no es obligato[rio]

The funny thing is that if the Inspector General's recommendation favours Uribe they'll say it's very important, but if it isn't they'll claim it's non-binding

Jorge Ruiz @chandaxi:

se ha sabido echar severo tedeum el procurador, esto vale por 7 misas

the inspector general has pronounced such a te deum, this is worth like 7 masses

@egolaxista:

O sea que LG Giraldo terminó siendo un genio, porque hizo la trampa más legal de toda la historia en Colombia.

So [Luis Guillermo] Giraldo ended up as a genius, because he did the most legal cheat in Colombian history

Richie Tamayo @melisMatik:

Gracias Gustavo Petro hijo de puta. Con el voto que te dí ayudaste a poner a ese cabrón de Procurador que nos clavó la reelección.

Thank you, you Gustavo Petro [left-wing senator and presidential candidate who supported Ordóñez's election in Congress] motherf***er. With my vote for you, you helped to elect this bastard Inspector General who nailed us with the re-election.

@pcastano :

¿A alguien le quedaban dudas sobre la gran desgracia que es el señor procurador?

Someone really still had doubts about the big disgrace the inspector general is?

Carlos Torres @carlostor :

Igual solo era un formalismo, el concepto del Opus Dei no obliga a la corte, a ella la obliga “el estado de opinión” #Uribe3

Anyway it was just a formality, the Opus Dei concept doesn't bind the Court, [this one] is binded by the “state of opinion” #Uribe3

Gabriel Amorocho @gamorocho:

[¿]Voto en blanco inexequible? Nos jodieron. Al procurador le faltó decir: “voten por Uribe”

Blank vote void? We're f**ked up. The Inspector General forgot to say: “vote Uribe”

@simonwilchesc:

[¿]Es verdad que el procurador terminó de dar su concepto y mostró esta foto? http://tinyurl.com/ylppae6

Is true that the Inspector General finished giving his concept and showed this photo? http://tinyurl.com/ylppae6

María Isabel Ángel V @MaisAngel:

Por lo menos las dictaduras militares rompieron con las instituciones de un solo golpe, no a [cuentagotas]…

At least military dictatorships broke the institutions with just one blow, not little by little…

@kamiloklauss:

La esperanza es que el referendo pasado se le hundió. #referendo #uribeIII

The hope is that his last referendum sunk #referendum #uribeIII

@egolaxista :

Yo cambiaría el Libertad y Orden, por un “Adelante Presidente” en comic sans tamaño 72. Adelante, acabe con todo.

I'd change Liberty and Order [Colombia's motto]
for “Go Ahead President” [Uribe's campaign slogan in 2006] in comic sans 72 points. Go ahead, destroy everything

María Isabel Ángel V @MaisAngel:

Antes tenía unas ganas locas de largarme de este país, ahora no me las voy a aguantar

Before, I had really felt like getting the hell out of this country, now I'll hardly hold it

Jorge Ruiz @chandaxi:

Parece que los mamertos ya se resignaron, o ya me bloquearon todos… bien

It seems that commies have already resigned themselves, or all them blocked me… good

Julián Mil Batallas @ruizjulian:

Ya perdí la fé en la democracia y en el país #fail

I already lost my faith on democracy and this country #fail

Paula Vejarano @Asmodeo_ :

Declaro publicamente mi más profundo desprecio al Procurador de este país

I publicly declare my deepest scorn for the Inspector General of this country

Andrés Osorio @anfoc:

A mi el Procurador me recuerda al Reverendo Alegría, es sólo un charlatán, un personaje insignificante al que no se le debería poner cuidado

The Inspector General reminds me of Reverend Lovejoy, he's just a boaster, an insignificant character which shouldn't be receiving our attention

Even Fidel Cano Correa, publisher of the newspaper El Espectador, joined the controversy:

¿Y si tituláramos mañana la nota del concepto del Procurador sobre el referendo: “las irregularidades son constitucionales”?

And if tomorrow our headline to the story on the Inspector General's concept on referendum was “irregularities are constitutional”?

(The newspaper's headline actually was ‘Mistakes [of procedure] do not stop referendum’)

On Realidades Colombianas, a final note on a post [es] by Valentina Díaz deals with Mr Ordóñez's statement:

Por ser un incondicional del presidente, sus políticas y como forma de agradecimiento por haberlo postulado para el cargo, fue positivo. Sus justificaciones no fueron muy claras. El funcionario trató de enredar cuando explicaba el por qué en la televisión y llegó a sostener que las irregularidades en el tramite no son malas si se trata de favorecer al presidente. Este concepto no es obligatorio para la Corte Constitucional y lo puede aceptar o hacer a un lado, tirarlo a la bolsa de la basura.

Since [Inspector General Ordóñez] is unconditional to the President [and] his policies, and as a token of gratitude for being nominated for his post, [the concept] was positive. His justifications were not quite clear. The official tried to complicate things when he was explaining why on television and he even argued that irregularities during its [legislative] procedure aren't bad when it comes to favour the President. This concept is non-biding for the Constitutional Court and it can accept it or put it aside, throwing it to a garbage bag.

Conservative Godopunk writes [es]:

Con respecto a todo este lío constitucional e institucional, a mí me parece que todo esto es un tiro que se les salió por la culata a los ex guerrilleros del M-19, los progres, y demás zurdos que participaron en la Asamblea Constituyente de 1991, dónde éstos eran mayoría. Si bien el Artículo 197 dice claramente que una persona puede ser presidente una sola vez y durante cuatro años (además de señalar otras excepciones), dentro de la constitución también se contemplan los mecanismos de iniciativa popular, tales como el referendo, en los cuales el pueblo soberano puede pronunciarse sobre los temas de interés nacional, e incluso cambiar normas constitucionales. Probablemente lo que esperaban era que una vez lograran instaurar su grandioso proyecto socioeconómico al mejor estilo cubano, en el cual “todos somos felices”, el referendo estuviese ahí para prolongarlo indefinidamente(algo que si pasó en el vecino país, miren ustedes). Pero no fue así, de hecho lo que eventualmente se hizo popular entre la amplia mayoría de colombianos fueron políticas totalmente contrarias, o por lo menos el interés por hacer desaparecer a las guerrillas a toda costa, y obviamente ha habido gente astuta que ha sabido aprovechar dichos recursos constitucionales.

Regarding all this constitutional and institutional mess, I think all this backfired on former M-19 guerrillas, ‘progressive’ and other lefties who participated on the 1991 Constituent Assembly, where they were majority. Though [1991 Constitution's] Article 197 clearly states that a person can be President only once and during four years (and giving another exceptions), the Constitution also considers the popular initiative mechanisms, such as referendum, where the sovereign people can declare itself on subjects of national interest, and even change constitutional norms. Probably they hoped that once they had established their great Cuban-style socioeconomical project, where “we all are happy,” the referendum was there in order to extend it indefinitely (something which indeed happened in [Venezuela, our] neighbouring country, you can see). But it wasn't so, actually completely opposite policies became popular among most Colombians, or at least the interest of making guerrillas disappear no matter how, and obviously there have been shrewd people able to take advantage of such constitutional resources.

The second re-election referendum still has a long way to go [es]: the Constitutional Court must issue a ruling on its constitutionality by mid-February (it could do it as early as late January), then it must be organized by the National Registry (Registraduría), despite its lack of resources and time; presidential candidates should sign up by mid-March. Despite some talk on the media earlier this week [es], the 2010 election calendar will not be modified [es], so the May 30 presidential election cannot be postponed. Mr. Ordóñez also asked [es] President Uribe to comply the ‘Electoral Guarantees Law’ (Ley de garantías), despite this norm, enacted in the wake of the 2005 constitutional amendment, states that the President-candidate must announce his intention to run six months before the election (it is not clear yet if a new law must be enacted in order to regulate Mr Uribe's aspirations or if he must obey the 2005 law). It seems the second re-election referendum is running out of time. If the Constitutional Court rules favourably and the referendum is held, Mr. Uribe's second re-election will be allowed if it wins a simple majority (50% plus one vote) of votes and if a turnout of more than 25% of the citizens registered in the electoral census (7,470,537 out of 29,882,147 [es]) is achieved.

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