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Colombia: Court Rules President Uribe Cannot Run for Third Term

It is official: Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is not allowed to run for a third term in office. The long expected decision [es] by the Colombian Constitutional Court on a law calling for referendum on Mr. Uribe's second re-election was finally announced on Friday, February 26. A month and a half before, the (non-binding) statement by the Inspector General was issued, favoring the referendum. However, in early February, the media leaked the main points of the motion issued by Magistrate Humberto Sierra Porto, in charge of the Court to examine the law, who was against the referendum and who noted serious flaws during its path in Congress (you can find more context on this on Global Voices’ January 15 post on the Inspector General's statement).

Nevertheless, in political circles it was the talk of the week: the referendum would not be held. Expectations grew as the week progressed. The political website La Silla Vacía (LSV) ‘scooped’ all media early Thursday [es], stating that on Friday the referendum would not be passed, with 7 votes against 2 (with the option of a 8 – 1, since the president of the Constitutional Court Mauricio González was still ‘undecided’). LSV claimed it had consulted five sources. (LSV covered minute by minute the Court's decision on Twitter, being eventually praised by a lot of twitterers) On Thursday night, national newscast CM& seemed to confirm [es] the scoop.

Friday was the big day, as most Colombians followed the event on radio, television, and the websites of the mainstream media. But some, despite opposing President Uribe's new re-election, were already pessimistic, such as an anonymous contributor to El Pellizco [es], who wrote:

Nada cambiará con el dictamen de la Corte. Todo seguirá igual. La cacería del gato al ratón, o de los ratones al gato, será financiada con el presupuesto nacional para la salud y la educación, y cuando haga falta más con el sudor piramidal de miles de raspachines. Las mismas cuadrillas de asesinos patrullarán por Manrique, Ciudad Bolivar o Aguablanca. Los panfletos de amenazas, o su inmediata ejecución, serán recibidos con puntualidad por sus destinatarios en las veredas más cercanas, o más lejanas, al Ubérrimo. La huida de familias destrozadas bajo la cruenta barbarie, del genio insaciable que guía nuestra historia, reposará silenciosa en los informes de Médicos sin Fronteras o HRW; también en los novelones que premian los jurados de la vieja Europa. Los gobiernos, cualquiera sea la letra del alfabeto que denomine a la ralea que ostente el poder, negará el dolor y la penuria que asfixia a la nación.

Nothing will change with the Court's decision. Everything will still be the same. The cat-mouse (or mice-cat) hunt will be funded with the national budget for health and education, and when more is needed, and with the pyramidal sweat of thousands of ‘raspachines’ [poor peasants living from growing illicit crops]. The same gangs of murderers will patrol Manrique (Medellín), Ciudad Bolívar (Bogotá), or Aguablanca (Cali). The threatening leaflets, or the immediate execution of such threats, will be received timely by their recipients in the closer or farther, little towns near el Ubérrimo (President Uribe's ranch). The escape of entire families torn under the cruel savagery, of the insatiable genius guiding our history, will silently rest in the reports by Médecins Sans Frontières or Human Rights Watch, also in the big novels which receive prizes in old Europe. Governments, no matter which letter of the alphabet naming the sort of people which holds power, will deny the pain and the poverty suffocating the nation.

Twittering the Decision:

Now, here are some of the thousands of tweets posted during Friday as Colombia was expecting the press conference about the Constitutional Court's decision:


Reeleccionistas y Antireeleccionistas están exiliando a sus opositores por igual a Venezuela en #laW. Colombianos, Unidos en la ignorancia.

Pro-re-election and anti-re-election people are exiling their opponents to Venezuela on W Radio. Colombians, United on ignorance.

Claudia Otero @ClauOtero

Le exigimos a la corte constitucional que nos d[é] el derecho de elegir si queremos o no otro mandato de Uribe. Que sea la expresion del pueblo

We demand the Constitutional Court to give us the right to choose if we want another term for Uribe or not. Let it be the expression of the people


Sea cual sea la decisión de la Corte, mañana Colombia seguirá jodido. Tal vez más, tal vez menos, pero igual jodido.

Whatever the Court's decision is, tomorrow Colombia will continue to be messed up. Maybe more, maybe less, but messed up the same.

José Luis Serrano @joseluisserrano

Los integrantes de la Corte son los maestros del misterio. Hitchcock, palidece en su presencia.

The members of the Court are the masters of mystery. Hitchcock pales in comparison with their presence

Jorge Ruiz @chandaxi

Ponencia negativa, votación negativa, el referendo pasa… eso es lo que no han podido entender

Negative motion, negative vote, the referendum passes… that's what they aren't able to understand


Si pasa el referendo lo que pase en Colombia será culpa de la[s] Far[c], Si no pasa el referendo lo que pase en Colombia ser[á] culpa de la corte.

If the referendum passes, whatever happens in Colombia will be FARC's fault, if the referendum doesn't pass, whatever happens in Colombia will be the Court's fault

Lina Artunduaga @LinaArtunduaga

[¡]La emoción por transmisiones como la del fallo del #referendo es para que los más jovenes sepan lo que era ir al mundial!

The emotion for broadcasts such as the #referendum decision is intended for the young people to know how it felt when Colombia went on the World Cup!


Yo entiendo a Uribe. Cuando uno ve a Pastrana, a Samper y a Gaviria no le dan ganas de ser ex[ ]presidente.

I understand Uribe. When you see [Andrés] Pastrana, [Ernesto] Samper, and [César] Gaviria, you don't feel like being an ex-president.

Andrea Lozada @la_osada

Al menos a este país ya no lo une sólo el fútbol.

At least this country is united not only by football anymore

Around 17:00, several media outlets (starting with W Radio) confirmed the news: the law on a referendum seeking President Uribe's second re-election would be declared unconstitutional by 7 votes against 2.

El Chiflamicas @elchiflamicas

Uribe no puede presentarse de nuevo y ya siento nostalgia por su mandato. Ahhh, qué días aquellos.

Uribe can't run again and I already feel nostalgic for his administration. Ohhh, those were the days…


¿Si Uribe es tan malo cual es el miedo a que la gente elija si se queda o se va?

If Uribe is that bad what is the fear of people chosing if he should stay or if he should go?

Gabriel Muelle @gabrielmuelle

Ya, listo, se hundió el #referendo, respiren tranquilos. Ahora miren a su alrededor: TODO SIGUE IGUAL.

Okay, the #referendum sank, breathe easily. Now look around you: EVERYTHING'S THE SAME

Jose Gregorio @JoseGregorio

¿Donde están los jetones que decían que esto era una dictadura?

Where are the big mouths who said that this was a dictatorship?

The press conference with Magistrate Mauricio González (who before being elected for the Court in 2007 was President Uribe's legal secretary [es]) started at 18:19. Fifteen minutes later, he officially declared Law 1354/2009 [es] as unconstitutional [es], on the grounds of that it contained several flaws during its process before and during its path on Congress. He stated, “It is not, therefore, mere formal irregularities but substantial violations to the democratic principle, one of whose essential components is respect of the ways intended for the majorities to express themselves.” At 19:15, President Uribe, who was participating on a council in Barranquilla, accepted the Court's decision [es].

Claudia Otero @ClauOtero

Quiero llorar! Pork le dieron la espalda al pueblo.

I wanna cry! Because they turned their backs on the people

Juan Pablo Tovar @JuanPTovar

Quien dijo q la era Uribe termino? Arranco en el 2002 y seguira por muchos años mas

Who said the Uribe era is over? It started in 2002 and will go on for many years

Alfredo Ramos Maya @alfredoramosm

La Corte Constitucional se cree superior al Pueblo. A tumbar estos asesinos de la democracia participativa

The Constitutional Court thinks it's superior to the People. Let's oust those murderers of participatory democracy

Juan Raul Escobar @rauldc

[¿]Quien quiere apostar que Uribito y Santos se sacaran los ojos en vez de ir juntos?

Who wants to bet that Uribito [Andrés Felipe Árias, precandidate for the Conservative Party] and [Juan Manuel] Santos [former Defense Minister and leader of the ruling Party of the U] will take each other's eyes out instead of running together?


Quiero ver las escenas del presidente leyendo My Pet Goat al recibir la noticia de la inexequibilidad.

I wanna see the scenes of the president reading My Pet Goat when he received the news of the unconstitutionality.

Adam Isacson @adam_cip

Congratulations to Colombia. A healthy democracy doesn't change its constitution to benefit one person, no matter how popular.

Ana Amaya Villarreal @AMAV

qué puto discurso tan bueno y elocuente se está mandando Uribe. Y eso lo hace aún peor: vendiéndose como un demócrata sincero.

what a f—–, good, and eloquent speech made by Uribe. And that makes it worse: selling himself as an honest democrat.

Mónica Echeverría @monicaeche

La Corte fall[ó] y en su fallo no nos falló

The Court decided and its statement didn't let us down

Jorge Ruiz @chandaxi

Pronostico 8 años de mamertos llamando ‘títere de uribe’ al nuevo presidente de Colombia

I foresee 8 years of ‘commies’ calling the new president of Colombia ‘Uribe's puppet’

Daniel Arango @stultaviro

Finalmente, triste que a Uribe tuvieran que tumbarlo las leyes y no los votos. No tengo duda de que habría vuelto a ganar.

Finally, it's sad that Uribe had to be ousted by laws and not by votes. I have no doubt he would have won again.

Daniel Quiroga @SirDerigo

[¿]como pueden celebrar que no ha[y]a reeleccion? es una catastrofeeee

How can you celebrate there's no re-election? It's a catastrophe.

Pablo Vera @pdvera

ahora yo me pregunto, si veo tanta gente contenta porque se cayó el referendo…quien carajo voto por Uribe dos veces???

now I wonder, if I see so many people happy because the referendum was turned down… who the hell voted twice for Uribe???

Blog Reactions

Now, some opinions posted in Colombian blogs on the Court's decision:

Jaime Restrepo on the blog Atrabilioso [es]:

La decisión de la Corte Constitucional debe ser acatada sin ambages por los sectores reeleccionistas, pues la propuesta representaba un cúmulo de errores graves que dieron como resultado la frustración de la iniciativa: la falla impresentable de la pregunta equivocada, por ejemplo, hizo prosperar la estrategia de la oposición de ganar tiempo para dejar sin posibilidades el referendo. En el solo cambio de la pregunta se demoraron prácticamente un año, y fue el resultado de ese error, el cambio de la pregunta, uno de los factores decisivos para convertir en inviable la consulta ciudadana. Los firmantes también deben admitir que no leyeron lo que firmaron, o que si lo hicieron, no entendieron los alcances de aquello que estaban rubricando.

The Constitutional Court's decision should be bluntly observed by the re-election camp, because the proposal represented a pile of serious mistakes which resulted in the frustration of the initiative: the outrageous error made with a wrong question, for example, made the opposition's strategy to buy time in order to leave the referendum without any chance. Only changing the question would take practically one year, and it was the result of that mistake, the change of the question, one of the decisive factors to make the citizen initiative void. The signees also must admit that they did not read what they signed, or that if they did, they did not understand the implications of what they were signing.

AngelitaPerversita [es]:

Es tal el poder ejercido por el actual gobierno sobre la simpatía de los colombianos que gran parte de los mismo[s] se sienten perdido y aterrorizados ante la perspectiva de que ya no Uribe, sino un émulo de Uribe, se quede con el triunfo en la contienda presidencial. Hemos decaído a tal punto, que la alternativa de los colombianos no es votar a favor de las ideas de cualquiera de los candidatos, sino votar en contra de Juan Manuel Santos y Andrés Felipe Arias. Éste parece estar del todo perdido, pero aquel es la incomoda posibilidad que emergió ante nuestro rostro en el momento en el que la Corte Constitucional anunció el fallo el pasado viernes en horas de la tarde. Lo más preocupante del asunto es que las posibilidades de gobierno hayan sido o[b]nubiladas por la casi seguridad de que el presidente permanecería en el poder. Nos cansamos de pensar, porque ya todo nos estaba dado. Colombia no es pasión, es resignación, es indiferencia, es dejarse llevar por las ideas, las trampas, los vicios de los mismos, siempre con las mismas.

The power exerted by the current administration over the sympathies of Colombians is so big that a large part of them feel lost and terrified with the perspective that not Uribe, but an Uribe's emulator, wins the presidential election. We've fallen so low that the alternative for Colombians is not voting in favour of the ideas of any of the candidates, but voting against Juan Manuel Santos and Andrés Felipe Arias. The latter seems to be completely lost, but the former is the awkward possibility emerging right in front of our faces at the moment the Constitutional Court announced last Friday evening its decision. What brings more concern is that the possibilities that the government have been dazzled by the quasi-sureness that the president would remain in power. We got tired of thinking, because everything was already given to us. Colombia is not passion, it is resignation, indifference, and the allowance to be influenced by the ideas, the cheats, the flaws of the same people, always with the same stuff.

Noel Carrascal [es]:

El fallo de la Corte constitucional muestra una vez más las grandes fallas de la justicia [c]olombiana. Se tumbo el deseo del pueblo con argumentos jurídicos pobres y no con ponencias convincentes. De cualquier forma la democracia estaba en riesgo. Permitirle a Uribe otro mandato era tan riesgoso para la democracia como truncar ese deseo de las mayorías, o constituyente primario, abruptamente.

The Constitutional Court's decision shows again the big failures of the Colombian justice. The wish of the people was knocked down with poor legal arguments and not with convincing motions. Anyway, the democracy was at risk. Allowing Uribe another term was as risky for democracy as cutting short that wish of the majorities, or primary constituent.

Godopunk [es]:

Claro, ahora los opositores de Uribe cantan victoria, eso están que arman fiesta y es tanto el triunfalismo que ya creen que Fajardo o incluso Petro tienen la presidencia ganada. Aunque esa posibilidad es temible, y algunos uribistas parecen darles la razón al afirmar de forma alarmista que ya el país va a quedar en manos de las malas presidencias del pasado, o incluso de los elementos más nefastos de nuestra sociedad. Calmados todos, que el hecho de que Uribe deje la presidencia el 7 de agosto del presente año no es el fin de nuestro país, y mucho menos la tiene ganada la oposición; uno de los aspectos que hacen fuerte a Álvaro Uribe Vélez es la influencia tan tremenda que tiene sobre la política colombiana, ni que decir en la sociedad colombiana, sólo hay que ver como muchos se pelean el papel del ungido por el presidente, y por lo menos alguno de ellos es alguien capaz y no un mero figurín, de seguro los votantes son los suficientemente inteligentes para darse cuenta de ello, y si no es así ¿De quién es la culpa? ¿De los políticos? No lo creo.

Of course, now Uribe's opponents are singing about their victory and throwing parties and the triumphalism is so big that they already believe [former Mayor of Medellín Sergio] Fajardo or even [left-wing candidate and former guerrilla Gustavo] Petro have the presidency already won. Though that possibility is fearful, and some Uribistas seem to admit they're right by claiming in an alarmist way that our country will remain in hands of the bad administrations of the past, or even in the hands of the most harmful elements of our society. Calm down, everyone, the fact that Uribe leaves his office on August 7th this year is not the end of our country, and the opposition has not won anything; one of the aspects which make Álvaro Uribe Vélez strong is his tremendous influence on Colombian politics, let alone Colombian society. One must see how many will fight for the role of the one anointed by the president, and at least one of them is someone capable and not a mere figure; surely voters are intelligent enough to realize that, and if it isn't so, whose fault is it? The politicians'? I don't think so.

Ricardo Galán, former press secretary of President Uribe, at Libreta de apuntes [es]:

Los colombianos le acabamos de mostrar al mundo, a través del Presidente Alvaro Uribe y la Corte Constitucional que el Estado de Opinión, bien entendido y utilizado, es una herramienta poderosa para que el pueblo se comunique con sus gobernantes y con sus instituciones. Que la opinión de las mayorías es importante, pero y sobre todo, que por encima de las mayorías, el poder y la fuerza están la Constitución, la Ley y la Democracia. Lo que acaba de pasar en Colombia le envía al mundo un mensaje claro. Este es un país serio. Respetuoso de la Constitución y de la Ley en donde el Estado de Opinión está más vigente que nunca para beneficio y orgullo de todos los ciudadanos.

We Colombians have just showed the world, through the President Álvaro Uribe and the Constitutional Court, that the State of Opinion, correctly understood and used, is a powerful tool for the people to communicate with their rulers and their institutions. That the opinion of the majorities is important, but and above all, that over the majorities, the power and the strength, are the Constitution, the Law, and the Democracy. What has just happened in Colombia sends a clear message to the world. This is a serious country. A country respectful of the Constitution and the Law, where the State of Opinion is more in force than ever for the benefit and the pride of all the citizens.

Carlos Correa Cano [es]:

Y es que si alguien ganó en todo esto no fue la oposición, ni mucho menos la guerrilla como le escuché a algún uribista adolorido gritar. Ganó la institucionalidad del país. Nuestra vapuleada Constitución. Ganamos respeto internacional, dimos el ejemplo de que aquí ningún mandatario, por popular que sea, puede manosear la Constitución como le viene en gracia. Ganaron los elementos de participación ciudadana como el referendo, al dejar claro que su uso se debe hacer bajo condiciones éticas, respetuosas y trasparentes.

If someone won with all this, it was not the opposition, and even less the guerrilla as I heard some painful Uribista yell. The institutionality of our country won. Our beaten Constitution. We earned international respect, we set the example that here no president, no matter how popular he or she is, can mess around with the Constitution as they wish. The instruments of citizen participation —such as the referendum— won, by clarifying that they should be employed under ethical, respectful, and transparent conditions.

Adam Isacson from Plan Colombia and Beyond:

This is a very good step for Colombia. Its institutions, especially the balance between democratic powers, showed real strength today. Mature and stable democracies do not change their constitutions to benefit one individual, no matter how popular. Colombia is to be congratulated.

The court’s decision is also good news for the Obama administration, which certainly had no desire to work with an “ally” governed by a third-term president who proved unable to leave power voluntarily.

As the press secretary of the Colombian president states [es] that more than 10,000 messages supporting the President had arrived by Saturday morning, it can be said that finally the race for the presidential elections in Colombia has fully started. In the ruling coalition Juan Manuel Santos, leader of the Party of the U, and Andrés Felipe Árias, one of the precandidates of the Conservative Party, are seeking for Mr Uribe's approval to pick up his legacy and become his successor. But Árias should beat another four candidates (Noemí Sanín, Marta Lucía Ramírez, Álvaro Leyva Durán, and José Galat) at the internal election of his party. Meanwhile, Germán Vargas Lleras (Radical Change), Rafael Pardo (Liberal Party), Gustavo Petro (Alternative Democratic Pole), Sergio Fajardo (Compromiso Ciudadano), and minor candidates Róbinson Alexánder Devia (La Voz de la Consciencia), Jairo Enrique Calderón (Apertura Liberal DMG), and Jaime Araújo Rentería (Alianza Social Afrocolombiana) are already campaigning, and the Green Party will choose its candidate from Luis Eduardo Garzón, Antanas Mockus, and Enrique Peñalosa (all of them former Mayors of Bogotá). On March 14, the parliamentary elections will be held (along with the Andean Parliament and the internal elections of the Conservative and Green Parties), where the Uribista camp wants to keep their majority in Congress. But without Mr. Uribe running, the race to the Casa de Nariño becomes a little bit more “interesting.”

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