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The 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, Which Will Prevail? Clientelism or New Media?

24 May

Over two months ago, at the start of the Colombian presidential elections, the race was an easy straight line win, but  it became a statistical rollercoaster. Presently the race has only gotten more exciting because the situation is less predictable—statistics show that the two favorite contenders Antanas Mockus, for the Green Party (34%), and Juan Manuel Santos, for the Partido de La U and President Alvaro Uribe’s former Minister of Defense (35%), are at statistical tie in public opinion polls (Datexco May 21, 2010). In close elections voter turnout is the most important factor in determining who wins. The political party capable of mobilizing most of its electoral base to the polls will win the election. The question for Colombians now is, not who will win, but which electoral strategy will win? Will it be “New Media” or Clientelism?  For the legitimacy of Colombia’s democracy let’s hope “New Media” wins.

In Latin American countries, the practice of clientelism or the use of political machineries is a prevalent electoral strategy for getting voters to the polls. In Colombia a “patron,” “cacique,” or “party chief,” operates mainly in rural areas, which account for 25% of Colombia’s population. He/she is in charge of getting voters to the polls by giving out favors such as: driving voters to the polls, handing out government jobs, buying votes through lunches, groceries, or by guaranteeing that a government subsidy will be efficiently given out to the voter (Familias en Acción). All of these favors are given, if the voter chooses the “patron’s” candidate.  This practice is routinely done to reduce the uncertainty of electoral outcomes.  Just on March 14th, 2010 during the Colombian congressional elections, MOE and other IGOs and NGOs registered an uptick in the amount of electoral irregularities in rural areas of western and northern Colombia. Irregularities included vote buying and altering electoral results at local voting registries. It is very possible that this type of behavior will occur on May 30th, 2010 at the first round of the presidential elections.

By German Silva

“New media” has been reported to increase voter turnout especially among the youth vote. New Media is mainly the use of the Internet to get a candidate’s message across.  This involves the creation of a webpage that allow candidates to show their platform, but the webpage also allows supporters to contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This medium is interactive. Donations can be made not only through economic means, but also by allowing people to volunteer, donate art, music, or by allowing people to upload pictures or video of rallies organized in favor of the candidate. Also, new media includes membership in social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, or Twitter, where people can get updates from a candidate or a political party.  Although it is hard to directly correlate the impact of a social networking site on voter turnout (because a voter may be influenced by many other factors to go out and vote) it is possible that just having a reminder to go out and vote, may increase the chances that people will vote in an election. According to Randi Zuckerberg, the marketing director for Facebook, during the Iowa caucus it is likely that Facebook impacted the turnout rate among voters in the age group 17-24, because they simply reminded this age group to go and vote at the Iowa caucus. According to Zuckerberg, the voter turnout was increased by 2,500-3,000%, which meant that tens of thousands of people turned out to vote.

If it is true that Facebook was an influence on this demographic, then it is quite possible that this result can be replicated. This is an interesting find, because usually the age group 17-24 does not have a high turn out rate. Which means that social networking sites could potentially have an influence on people that are usually disengaged from politics. Zuckerberg believes that simply reminding people to go out and vote, (like reminding someone of a person’s birthday), gets people thinking about going out to vote on that day. Moreover, she said that Facebook makes voting less a private event, and more a social event that is shared mainly among friends.

Why is New Media important for Colombian electoral politics?

New Media is significant because this medium is used by 22% of Colombians and this medium has been used before to mobilize people for a cause. According to Facebook country statistics, Colombia has 10 million plus users in Facebook, which means that about 22% of the population uses this social network. This penetration produced political mobilization–on January 2008 a group of students created a Facebook page to protest the use of kidnapping by armed groups like the Fuerzas Armandas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). This page coupled with the word of mouth brought millions of Colombians together on February 4th to protest kidnapping. Given these statistics and the ease of mobilization of Colombians, new media is a tool that can have an impact in increasing voter turnout.

The “social” or “peer pressure” aspect of networking sites like Facebook, may offset clientelistic practices that are part of Election Day politics in Colombia. Many users check Facebook regularly, which is a beneficial feature for a political campaign.  A political campaign using Facebook is able to captivate people’s attention at least until Election Day by keeping them engaged in a cause they like, by sending daily updates. This interactive communication tool along with the power of peer pressure to “get out the vote” is a reason why Facebook is a powerful ally for political campaigns on Election Day. During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections people took cell phone pictures of the ballot as they voted, they also pressed a button on their Facebook page to show friends that they voted. People also used their status to get their friends to vote. All of these actions make voting a social event that makes people want to be a part of.  In Colombia it is possible that these results may be replicated, because of the way membership in Facebook pages has catapulted particularly in the case of Antanas Mockus’s page and the Green Party’s page.

The Facebook statistics are impressive. Just three months ago Antanas Mockus had less than 100,000 fans. Today (Monday May 24, 2010) Antanas Mockus is in first place with 698,694 fans, which makes him the most popular aspiring politician on Facebook. His fans have increased by 50% in the month of May. His fan numbers surpass those of his rival, Juan Manuel Santos, who has 186,864 fans. To be fair, it is possible that Mockus’s “fan” number may be inflated because sympathizers of other parties are joining his (and the green party) fan page, to make comments against his campaign (La Silla Vacia Article 1 and Article 2). Either way, Mockus surpasses other international politicians such as 2008 U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee, Senator John McCain, who has 565,587 fans. According to the Colombian Green Party website, and to Facebakers, a website that provides the latest statistics on Facebook, Antanas Mockus’s Page ranks number 7 in the top ten of political pages on Facebook. According to Facebakers’s statistics, the politician page ranking is spearheaded by U.S. President Barack Obama and his 8 million plus fans and counting. Sarah Palin is in second place with 1.5 million followers. John McCain is in 9th place, and finally the Colombian Green Party has 487,844 fans, placing it in 10th place.

The increase in the use of social networking sites (SNS) in the Internet is valuable for developing democracies such as Colombia’s where clientelism is and has been rampant. Joining SNS is a healthy phenomenon for democracies as it leads voters to join a political cause, because they believe in their preferred candidate’s or party’s capacity to govern. This is very different from when a voter votes for a candidate or party, because they receive instant gratification from voting, such as a lunch, a subsidy, or a job. Voting unconditionally increases the legitimacy of the democratic regime. A winner in a clientelistic regime wins because he or she has more resources at his/her disposal to handout. Whereas, a winner in an election who convinced voters that he/she is able to govern, wins through arguments, not bribes. The candidate wins because most voters were convinced with the his/her arguement, and losers have to accept that the winner’s argument won the election.

Ilustradores con Mockus featurured in El Tiempo

Given that Antanas Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos are statistically tied, could the tie be broken at the voting booth?

In other words, given the speedy rise in the polls and the virtual popularity of Antanas Mockus, can this success translate into actual votes on the May 30th and the June 30th election days? It is quite possible. In close elections voter turnout is the most important ally a politician can have, and voter turnout is driven by voter enthusiasm. Voter enthusiasm is definitely on Mockus’ side. Mockus’s mantras “Life is Sacred” and “Public Funds are Sacred” inspired people to create art and sing. Artists and singers created illustrations and songs for the campaign. Singers of a variety of musical genres such as hip-hop, champeta, reggaeton, folkloric sounds, tropipop, and alternative rock have shown support by creating songs and ringtones. YouTube videos sent to the campaign from major world cities such as Brisbane, London, Paris, Montreal, Miami, Madrid, New York, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, to name a few, are recorded by common people showing support.  “Green marches,” “Green bike rides,” “Green ‘ring around the rosies’,” and  “Green Flash mobs,” became a normal weekend activity in cities all over Colombia throughout the month of April and May. Flash mobs were staged in malls, parks, and plazas throughout Colombia. Again staged not by leaders of the Green party, but by everyday people who brought their “Green” t-shirts and printed out campaign posters from the campaign’s website. (If the election was determined by the size of the t-shirt market, then the Antanas Mockus campaign would be the winner, because his campaign has created an informal market for t-shirts, which are advertised through Facebook.)

Finally, supporter enthusiasm was shown as Mockus went on the campaign trail. Green party videos show hundreds if not thousands of people at his rallies, in areas of Colombia where many thought that an independent politician from Bogotá would have a small reception. His closing rally at Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar was filled with thousands of people who stood in the rain to show support chanting “mas agua, mas verde,” (“more water, more green”).

Statistically, Who Are Mockus’s Voters?

Statistically speaking, the type of voter attracted to Mockus, is more likely to “get out and vote.” In Antanas Mockus’s case the Datexco survey data reveals that his supporters are young, between the ages of 18-45. This is the age group that also happens to be daily users of Facebook.

Mockus is also popular among the middle to high socio-economic groups—stratas 3-6. In Colombia socio-economic status is measured by how much property taxes a person pays. This tax is a combination of property and public utility taxes an individual pays, and the tax amount determines a whole neighborhood’s status and person’s economic strata. Levels 1-2 is low strata, Level 3 is the middle strata, and Level 4-6 is the high strata. The higher strata (levels 4-6), the higher the taxes paid. Mockus is popular precisely among levels 3-6. This is an interesting fact, because he has said that he would tax them more if he becomes president (Gran Debate Presidencial). This is an important aspect of Mockus’s style of governance because when he was Mayor of Bogotá in his first term, he was able to convince 65,000 of the wealthiest citizens to pay and extra 10% in taxes to improve the cities infrastructure and he was able to do this because of his uncorrupt image and good management. As he said in a televised debate, “I will be tough, but seductive with the rich… you have to say ‘sirs: Guatemala raises 12% of their GDP through taxes, Colombia 18%, Brazil 32%, USA 35%, France 44% and Northern Europe 50+ let’s choose at what rate we want to advance?’”

In terms of education, Mockus is also popular among those in the electorate with a college education, who is 18.2% of the population surveyed in the Datexco poll versus, those with a basic education, who are about 81.8% of those polled. He is also popular among those who are students and those who are actively employed, versus those in the electorate who are not in the workforce, be they housewives, retired, or unemployed.

In contrast, Juan Manuel Santos for the Partido de La U has garnered political support from older Colombians ranging in ages, 46 and above. Santos is also more popular among those in the low socio-economic strata, and among those with basic levels of education, who are unemployed. Santos is split with Mockus with those who are employed.

Antanas Mockus’s Statistical and Logistical Obstacles

Mockus’s electorate is richer and more educated, but demographically speaking they are a minority within the Colombian electorate, which poses a numbers problem on election day. In contrast, Santos’s electorate is poorer and less educated, but this population is a majority of Colombia’s population. If democratic theory is correct, education and income is a determinant of voter turnout. The more educated and the richer, the more likely a person is to vote. This would benefit Mockus. However, usually older voters are more disciplined than younger voters, and this would benefit Santos. Moreover, practice of clientelism benefits poor and less educated voters, who sell their vote for a lunch, groceries, or a government subsidy. Clientelism requires extensive political party machinery, which the newly created Green Party does not have (and does not wish to have), but which is likely to favor a traditional candidate like Santos and his party La U.  As mentioned earlier well-organized political machineries will pick up voters and take them to voting booths, thereby lessening the transactions costs of voting for rural voters. Transaction costs, which ease the costs of voting, but lead to electoral corruption.

Will the Youth Vote Come Out To Vote for Mockus’s Eccentricities?

In this election, what will be interesting to see is whether the youth vote will be a determinant of who will win the presidential election. Given the clientelistic obstacles found within Colombian political system, Mockus’s campaign has two qualities in his favor for mobilizing voters: successful experience and awkward charisma.

Antanas Mockus’s Proven Success

First, Mockus is an independent candidate that has shown politicians and citizens in Colombia that it is possible to be an honest politician and still be efficient. His first government in Bogotá created a surplus—something nobody thought could happen in a city buried deep in corruption. His past successes challenge mainstream politicians, and because of this, he is able to raise the standard of the political debate. For example, during the six televised presidential debates, the issue of increased security became such point of consensus among all candidates, that the debates became more focused on other socio-economic issues such as: education, the economy, corruption, and the status of forced displacement victims. Social issues have been a weakness of the current government headed by President Alvaro Uribe, and so they were issues where Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe’s fomer Defense Minister, has had to be on the defensive.  The debates, which focused more on social issues allowed Mockus and others to present new ideas and criticisms.

Bogota Change a 4th Documentary by Cities on Speed on Successful Cities Around the World.

A “Kick-Ass” Politician?

Antanas Mockus’s second quality for attracting voters is his awkward style of charisma more similar to the movie “Kick-Ass.” In “Kick-Ass” the teenage superhero grabs people’s attention by wearing a spandex suit and helping a kid who is getting beat-up, but the hero never stops being a “geek.”  Mockus is an awkward hero. During his first Mayoral term, he dressed up as “Super Citizen” a lanky hero that picks up garbage and follows street signs. His charisma is definitely not in the style of the “strong caudillo,” the “charming” Bill Clinton, or the “cool” Barack Obama, but his “geeky” style makes it easy for people to follow him because he never carries an air of superiority, self-righteousness, or perfection. His most famous political moment is when as National University president; he mooned an unruly crowd of students to quiet them down. However, his other less well known moment, but the action that got him his first job as Mayor of Bogotá, was when he got into a fist fight again, with members of an unruly crowd of students, after one of the students threw animal excrements on him an the rest of the candidates while they were exposing their ideas on the future of Bogotá. It is contradictory that as president of The National University it was students who challenged him, and today it is students that follow him. His ambition to champion honesty and respect, in a system where violence and corruption override the rights of the powerless, attract people towards him, especially now that Alvaro Uribe’s administration is mired in corruption scandals.

The Determinants: New Media and Youth

Whatever the tied statistics say, the fact is that Antanas Mockus’s unorthodox political methods have engaged a great part of the electorate in just three months of campaigning. Now it will be interesting to observe what the exact impact of New Media and the youth vote will be on election day, May 30th 2010.


Teresa Margolles, Drug Related Violence in Mexico, and Art Basel 2008

20 Dec

teresa-margolles-8The work of Teresa Margolles called “21 – Rendición de Cuentas” or (21- Score-Settling Incidents), was presented by the Madrid based Salvador Diaz Gallery. Her work is dear to me because my research is also on the effects of the illicit drug business. Teresa Margolles is from Sinaloa, Mexico a northwestern state of that country, where currently the murder rate per day sometimes can be as high as about one person per hour. These murders are the product of drug related violence due to quarrels between state officials and drug trafficking organizations or among drug dealers. The confrontations can be triggered by disagreements on territory, drug routes, business disputes, women, and etc. Margolles’s work focuses on the killings done to settle disputes.

Her work was showcased in Basel’s Art Positions section on the beach. Upon entering the container exhibiting her work, you saw several glass jewelry displays. When you took a closer look at the encased jewelry, in the back panel of each glass display, you saw a description not of the piece of jewelry, but of a crime report describing how a violent act was perpetrated to settle a score between drug dealers. The description was un-emotional and detailed as to the number individuals involved, weapons used, and time and date of the event. The gold jewelry was of similar design, it was all done by Teresa Margolles, and was meant to be as ostentatious as the pieces generally worn by drug dealers. The jewelry’s centerpiece appears to be a semi-precious stone, but instead it is broken glass derived from cars at crime scenes investigating a score-settling incident.  The pieces of shattered glass are collected by the artist directly at crime scenes or the pieces are given to her by the police (sometimes the glass was extracted from a corpse).

The art collection is meant to be macabre because violence is macabre, and it shows the ultimate consequences of greed and power. Margolles turns greed and power on their head, by creating jewelry that shows narcos, how their lifestyle kills them. In an interview Margolles explains, “I wanted to take the value away from these jewels and replace it with their score-settling incidents, so that they can see their deaths” (EFE TV). This is a moralistic piece, no question. But the question is: who will buy this art? This is a similar question, which I had with last year’s pieces by Clinton Fein on the Abu Ghraib Prison Tortures. This is art that delves into deep social issues, but which is marketed in galleries and which ultimately becomes a status symbol of wealth and power, the same wealth and power that is being critiqued by the artists.

An interesting detail about the exhibit was people’s reaction to the jewelry, which admittedly touches an emotional chord for me. At the exhibit, most people did not speak Spanish, and the descriptions of the drug related assassinations behind the jewelry were in Spanish. People just saw the gold pieces. However, if casual observers did make a point of reading the English description of Margolles’s exhibit on the back wall of the container, they would later find out that the pieces were made out of gold and glass by a local jewelry-maker for narcos, and that the glass was collected from crime scenes. In other words, the description was very ambiguous. If you have no idea of where Sinaloa is, what the murder rate is, and that there is a “Drug War” taking place in Sinaloa, then the exhibit has no significance for you.  Many people will have no clue that a drug prohibition on illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin has people in developing states killing each other in their quest to make a living out of an artificially high priced commodity. In fact, when I was at the exhibit a lady asked “Sinaloa, that’s in Mexico, right?” This is sad a state of affairs, but frankly why should she know or care? She has a life of her own to take care of, and she like many others in industrialized states probably think that this is a normal state of affairs in countries south of the border– Sinaloa, Mexico can easily be replaced with Medellin, Colombia, right? Below you will see more of Margolles’ work, but you will also be able to connect the drug violence with her art, because I placed several violent score-settling incidents that took place in Sinaloa at the same time that Art Basel 2008 was taking place.


Video of Teresa Margolles’ interview on “21”

Video of Margolles’ Exhibit at Art Basel 2008

Random Youtube Videos of December 2008 Score Settling Incidents in Sinaloa, Mexico while Art Basel was taking place.

My Barbarian Experience at Art Basel’s 2008 Positions

20 Dec


img_mybarbarian_07My Barbarian is a theater/performance art troupe form Los Angeles. These performers were located in one of the containers within Basel’s Art Positions on the beach and were brought by Steve Turner Contemporary. For me, their performance was a mix between a rock opera (a la Jesus Christ Superstar) and the chorus from ancient Greek Tragedy (a la Oedipus Rex). The piece was part of My Barbarian’s Hystera-Theater and it is based on a feminist interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of “The Cave” by Luce Igaray, where the cave is perceived as a womb. Having said that, the opening of the container was covered with wine red cloth that you (the observer) had to go through, to enter the container, thus entering the womb. Once inside “the womb” a video was projected at the end of the container. The performers—who wore red-wine robes and masks—sat, reclined, or laid-down on the floor on red pillows, while they chanted “You were born poor and poor you will die” and played instruments that went along with the Hystera-Theater video.

My Barbarian’s L.A. performance of “You Were Born Poor and Poor You Will Die”

My Barbarians were absolutely refreshing, because they are taking on that ancient Greek Tragedy feel and make it powerful, especially when they add dark rock guitar rifts. The song they chanted was awesome especially, given the current economic climate coupled with the irony that many of the people walking through the art containers were wealthy art collectors. I also thought they were truly dedicated— I saw them on Sunday afternoon, considering they had been performing in a container since Wednesday evening, they were doing great—especially when the temperature in those containers can reach above 80F, and maybe crowds of four or five at a time would walk in to see them perform. The basic gut reaction that I got from their performance was that it was liberating. Their masks, the costumes, the chants, the music, the film, and the real time interaction with the audience, explored all senses and was intense.

Pictures of My Barbarian’s Miami Art Basel Performance by Liz Poin



Tim Tate’s Timeless Video Reliquaries @ Miami’s Art Basel 2008

20 Dec

Shown by the Maurine Littleton Gallery at the Bridge Art Fair, Tim Tate‘s timeless glass sculptures are romantic, beautiful, and sometimes controversial. He founded the Washington Glass School in D.C. and his work has evolved from strictly glass sculptures to becoming self-contained video installation pieces– an incorporation of sculpture, glass blowing, and videos shown through mini-video hd-screens.  I loved these pieces because the emotion captured in each of these reliquaries. Tate captures video of ephemeral moments or objects in life and makes them timeless by expressing a feeling about them. My favorites were “Dreams of Flying,” “Washed Out”– a virtual carnival of the Montgomery County Fair, “My love life thus far.”  

All of the videos portray things or events dear to people, but which are temporary– very much like life itself. Although Tate makes these moments timeless by freezing them in his sculptures, he is confronted by the temporary nature of our lives more so than most people, because he was diagnosed HIV positive in the 1980s. Tate is able to turn a terrible diagnosis into beauty by allowing us to enjoy his sculptures.

Here is video on Tim Tate’s work by Todd Wiggins


“Dreams of Flying” a little girl prances around endlessly.


In “Washed Out” Tate shows video of a county fair and people yelling as they enjoy a roller coaster ride. 


“My Love Life Thus Far,” shows a building being imploded and rebuild over and over, which I think is great because it is a hopeful of love even after heart-brake. 


In “Call to Redemption” Tate make us look at ourselves.


… And More Video of Tate’s work

Red Truck Gallery Representing Fine American Art @ Art Basel Miami 2008

20 Dec

The Red Truck Gallery from New Orleans showcased at the Bridge Art Fair located at the Catalina Hotel on Collins and 16th. As always the Catalina Hotel is a great venue because it is intimate, and as you walk from room to room, you are actually walking from gallery to gallery. The Red Truck Gallery stuck out as one of the best because of its color, music, and of course because of its art. As I walked in and saw the artwork, three people who were chatting casually greeted me, while they shot what sounded like a toy gun, drank beer, and listened to the blues. So right away, you were transported from the hotel/gallery world to “their world.” Most of the pieces had interesting wooden frames and bright warm colors. Although I thought I understood exactly what I was looking at, it wasn’t until one of the gallery guys mentioned that some of the pieces were quilts. This totally took me by surprise, since most of the pieces were encased in glass, and at first glance the artwork was ambiguous—they looked like comical paintings or prints. Once he said, “I just wanted to let you know what you were looking at…” I was hit by the intricacy of the pieces. According to the rep some of the works are a collaborative effort between quilters and painters. My favorite three pieces were: 1. “Awkard Social Encounters” by Chris Roberts-Antieau, which is hilarious (the improper back rubbing make me think of Pres. George W. Bush rubbing German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel’s back), 2. “Luchadores” by Bryan Cunningham, and 3.“Choctau” by Frank Relle.

“Awkard Social Encounters” by Chris Roberts-Antieau



Inappropriate Back-Rubbing a la Bush-Merkel



“Luchadores” by Bryan Cunningham



“Choctau” by Frank Relle – New Orleans Nightscapes this one is taken after Hurricane Katrina


In Fashion Photo- A New Addition to Miami Art Basel’s 2008 Events

20 Dec

In Fashion Photo was very popular this year as it was the first annual exhibition—the first ever of its kind—and because it opened with a Naomi Campbell Retrospective, it had a fashionable opening with celebs, VIPs and of course wannabes.  It was located under an overpass in a parking lot turned art exhibit so the venue was really cool. The photography was excellent, as it was to be expected since it showcased world-class fashion photographers such as: Michael Dweck and Alix Malka. 

Some of Dweck’s sensual underwater pictures @ In Fashion Photo 2008







Alix Malka’s work at In Fashion Photo 2008



O.H.W.O.W on the fringes of Miami’s Art Basel 2008

20 Dec

The O.H.W.O.W. art space, directed by Aaron Bondaroff and Al Moran, was an interesting venue. It was a pretty large space with three main exhibition areas and a club. They brought a variety of projects such as the Deitch Projects among many others. This event gathered the work of thirty artists in a gallery/warehouse west of the Wynwood District. In the warehouse part of the space, graffiti decorated the walls were a DJ started the night with Miami style bass.

pfahler_work_6Two notable pieces in this art space were the pieces by Ara Peterson and Kembra Pfahler. O.H.W.O.W. not only brought art, but music as they started of the week with DJ JD Samson from Le Tigre and A.R.E. Weapons. On Dec. 4th The Gossip’s Beth Ditto and guitarist Mick Jagged hosted a Karaoke event with guests. Outside an ice cream truck handed out ice cream, and free Camparis and Grolsch’s were served to the people that slowly trickled in from other events.

In all reality, The Gossip’s Beth Ditto commanding soulful voice should have kicked off Art Basel on the beach, and Yelle would have been a more suitable performance for this artsy industrial space. But it seems to me that O.H.W.O.W organizers are in tune with the ongoing rise of Miami’s art scene, and they are investing in quality music and art.

Video of Beth Ditto at a UK Awards Ceremony dueting with Jarvis Cocker