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Colombian Presidential Election: One vote, one shout for peace, social and racial justice

By Kelis Moreno*

*Kelis Zulay Moreno is a Human Rights Specialist. LL.M. in International and Comparative Law and Critical Race Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (USA).

I. Introduction

On June 19 of this year, Colombia held a second round of elections to select the new leaders of the republic. As a result, Gustavo Petro Urrego was chosen as president and Francia Márquez as vice-president. In accordance with the proposals of this winning formula, it can be deduced that the country relied on the left-wing party, named "Historic Pact", as a response to the level of inequality and insecurity, prioritizing a political project based on the fulfillment of the Peace Agreement, with a social and racial justice approach. In this sense, as the distress of the Colombian population demanded social changes in the country, the election results can be linked with these concurrent circumstances, as will be highlighted below.

II. Implementing the Peace Agreement

First, it is relevant to recall that, on 24 November 2016, the Government of Colombia signed the Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace (the Peace Agreement) with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), after 50 years of armed conflict. However, after 5 years, the Report of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia reveals that, since the signing of the Peace Agreement, the murder of 315 ex-combatants, 89 attempted murders and 27 disappearances have been verified. Likewise, the Mission reported that, between 28 December 2021, to 25 March 2022, 43 human rights defenders and social leaders were assassinated; received information on 25 massacres; 13,821 people were forcibly displaced between January 1 and 15 March 2022, and 48,331 people were confined. This scenario has generated a high level of distrust in the institutional framework among reincorporated persons and citizens in general, given the growing wave of violence.

III. Social Justice Issues

Second, the United Nations has insisted that "ending poverty is essential to guarantee social justice”. For this reason, the situation of vulnerability faced by the Colombian population is of concern. Indeed, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) reported that in 2020, poverty in Colombia reached 42.5% of the population, corresponding to 21 million people, that is, 3.5 million more than in 2019. In addition, DANE reported that, in 2021, multidimensional poverty in the country was 16.0%. When reporting on the panorama of poverty at the rural level, UNDP found that "of 90.9% of the population of rural areas of Colombia, in the year 2020, 42.9% was poor and 48% found in a vulnerable condition; while of the 67.7% of the population in the cities, 42.4% are poor and 25.3% vulnerable.”

The situation of poverty, social inequality, and insecurity, topped by tax reform, was the reason for a National Strike in favor of social justice between April and June 2021. However, the government's response was criticized when multiple cases of police violence against young protesters became known. The Non-governmental Organization, Temblores NGO, reported that there were 5048 cases of police violence, 47 homicides and 105 cases of eye injuries during this period of social mobilization. In this way, the electoral period was forged as an opportunity to achieve change for youth who demand social equality and police reform to prevent impunity and promote respect for the right to peaceful assembly by police officers.

IV. Seeking Racial Justice

Third, various recommendations and standards have already been issued regarding racial discrimination to combat it, highlighting the importance of political representation. Thus, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in its Report on the Situation of Afro-descendants in the Americas, established that "the underrepresentation and low participation of the Afro-descendant population in the political sphere demonstrate additional impediments to accessing political power structures and thus actively participating in the design of public policies aimed at improving their situation of structural discrimination.”(here)

At this point, it should be noted that the Afro-descendant population in Colombia is distributed mainly in Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Bolívar, Antioquia and Cauca (here). There are 2,982,224 people identified as Afro-descendants, according to the 2018 census, carried out by DANE; however, the result has been criticized since there was a reduction of 30.8%, with respect to the 2005 census, where 4,311,757 people were registered. The foregoing has been denounced by different social organizations at the national level and before the IACHR because, even when it is assumed that there is underreporting due to a statistical error, the National Government uses these results for the elaboration of public policies (here). In relation to the conditions of the ethnic population, UNDP established that 60% of Afro-Colombians live in poverty and 24.1% in extreme poverty in its 2011 report. In turn, it has been determined that the black and indigenous populations are in unequal conditions with respect to health and other socioeconomic conditions, as a manifestation of structural racism (here).

Here, the recent election of Francia Márquez as vice-president becomes relevant in the midst of the despair, anguish, fear and hunger of this community: An Afro-descendant woman from the Pacific Coast, who has been a recognized activist for the territorial and environmental rights of the Black Communities. Constantly, she referred to the problem of racial injustice and the situation of people of African descent in the country and, indeed, she was a victim of racism and racial discrimination herself, on different occasions, during the electoral period (here). In this regard, her designation is crucial to fight for racial justice and equality in Colombia, highlighting that the State should protect those who speak out against racism, recalling the legitimacy of the work, as has been recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

V. Conclusion

In this national context and given the proposals and ideologies of the elected candidates, election day generated great controversy and motivation among citizens. Each vote turned into a call for peace, and social and racial justice, to which we aim in the coming years, to achieve a minimum level of welfare. The electoral result undoubtedly shows an invitation to work to overcome poverty and insecurity rates and, in addition, the importance of listening to minorities and guaranteeing political and social inclusion. Citizens consider that this is an opportunity to advance in unity around the fulfillment of the purposes of the Social State and the Rule of Law.

Finally, Colombians widely celebrated the results of the election day. Hopeful energy was awakened even in the farthest corners of the country, as the efforts of the rural sector to participate and promote voting achieved the lowest abstention rate in the last 20 years (here). The departments located in the Pacific region, with unsatisfied basic needs and where the population is mainly Afro Colombian, supported those elected with large majorities, as follows: Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Valle del Cauca, with 79.02%, 81.94%, 80.91% and 63.85% of the votes, respectively, which forces the new leaders to address the economic, social and security problems of the area (here).

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