Money, not votes, opens doors to Colombia’s Congress: Aida Avella

Posted on Mar 12 2014 - 3:33pm by Rico
Aida Avella (Photo: Flicker Agencia Prensa Rural)

Elections in Colombia are won with checkbooks, not policies, according to Aida Avella, the Patriotic Union’s  (Union Patriotica — UP) candidate for president. 

In an interview with Colombia Reports, Avella explained that last Sunday’s congressional elections, heralded as the “most secure” in Colombian history by the minister of defense, were still fraught with corruption, and a different, subtler kind of interference.

“If you have a lot of money you can enter into politics. Very few representatives get into Congress as a result of the votes,” she said.

MORE: Aida Avella: Former exile and ‘ambassador for the poor’ runs for Colombia’s presidency

In the past, elections in Colombia have been inundated with voter intimidation and coercion, fraud and vote buying. Sunday’s elections saw a dramatic reduction in reported instances of violence — as much as 90% according to the minister of the interior — but other issues, such as voter fraud and bribery, remained prevalent, and the power of wealth in the system, said Avella, was more in force than ever.

“Elections are not a celebration of democracy but rather a celebration of finance, and certain people always win because they have the financial backing to do so.”

The key issue with private funding of political figures, she explained, is that only those proven to be influential are given such money. Established candidates with stances that favor wealthy outside interests have more money to campaign with, and are able to reach a broader audience. Politics, as a result, bends to the will of money.

“This discredits democracy. It loses its legitimacy because if you need $500,000 to in order to be a senator or a representative, then the competition is no longer a discussion of ideas. It becomes a contest of wealth,” said Avella.

Smaller parties and politicians hoping to bring change to a political culture designed to benefit large financial backers, she said, have little hope of raising the funding necessary to compete in increasingly expensive races. Avella attributes the poor showing of the UP in the recent elections to a system that excludes political participation from parties such as hers, which was only recently reformed as an officially recognized party, after a targeted wave of assassinations crippled the party in the mid 1990s.

MORE: Union Patriotica (Patriotic Union)

Avella will be up against just this dynamic in her own race. President Juan Manuel Santos and his running mate, German Vargas Lleras, are the clear frontrunners heading into May’s election, and both come from wealthy families that have produced past presidents and other important societal actors.

In many cases, money places an even more direct role in deciding elections. Reports are still emerging following Sunday’s contest of large-scale vote buying schemes.

Avella encouraged citizens caught up in such rackets “to vote not because they have been paid to but because it’s good for democracy.”


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