Today, I am veering off topic to write about politics in my home country of Colombia. Today, is the presidential run-off between incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos and hopeful candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
It is a very tight race, exacerbated by the reprehensible media coverage of the candidates and the positions they represent. Every major Colombian news outlet blatantly supported President Santos since the elections began, and with increasing force when his campaign faltered as it became clear that he would not count with a decisive win.
How Elections are Won
It is easy to see why El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-read newspaper, serves Santos. Its majority owner and one of Colombia’s wealthiest men, Luis Carlos Sarmiento, is after the adjudication of massive infrastructure projects that the country desperately needs and that the Santos administration is late to deliver.
It is less clear why the much-respected news magazine Semana would put its reputation at stake. A cousin to President Santos does act as Director, but one would hope this is simply an unrelated fact.
El Espectador, the nation’s second newspaper, gave the candidates somewhat more equal air time and deserves recognition for that.
Serious media outlets have a duty to inform opinion and to express it. News informs opinion; editorials express it. Trouble arises when news headlines and content begin to express an opinion. This is when newspapers lose credibility, relevance, purpose.
Such is the case of Fox News; no one watches it to form an opinion. It is watched by those who wish their views mirrored back to them and by others who want a laugh.
The Economist usually takes an open stance a week or so before a presidential election. Prior to that they present the candidates, their positions and the country’s current state with accuracy. And, when they finally pick sides, they say why.
Last week, the British weekly threw its support to President Santos, citing the importance of giving him more time to close peace negotiations currently under way with Colombia’s FARC rebels. If the negotiations are successful, they would put an end to 50-year’s of guerrilla warfare. Of course, this sounds great. The problem is that this peace is a symbolic peace. And, Colombia does not have the luxury of staking an election on symbolic peace.
It is unlikely that the FARC leaders negotiating the deal with Santos’ government in Havana still control the 8,000 or so members of the guerrilla group. Originally a Communist movement, the FARC devolved into a profitable, ruffian ring dedicated to drug-trafficking and extortion.
Some would lay down arms in the event an agreement is reached. But a large part would simply continue their daily routines, without the banner of Communist justice.
For me, the problem is that Santos has proved inept at dealing with violent crime. Sure he will take a pretty picture with the FARCs head men, but I have serious doubts he will effectively control the headless monster that will remain.
Uncontrolled violent crime is not peace.
Peace on Paper
Colombian media also claim that they support peace, and so Santos. A respectable stance if left to the editorials and columnist sections. But, they molded everyday headlines to support their position. One day giving scant airtime to reports that the FARC killed a police captain. Another day headlining the President’s agenda. Yet another day editing videos of opponent Zuluaga to fit their views.
A debate in which Santos fared poorly, organized by El Tiempo, could not be seen on the newspaper’s website. An interested reader could only find the raw, unedited footage on youtube.
Yesterday, I spoke to an individual personally vested in the President’s win who could not believe the Santos campaign was doing so poorly considering he has the entire governmental apparatus in his pocket and the nation’s media up his sleeve.
Voters are not as clueless as they seem. Ineptitude pays a price at the ballot box. One can only hope that today’s results will be a faithful reflection of what the Colombian people want, nothing more and nothing less.