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Florida’s Midterm Election Outcomes Bring More Continuity and Less Change

3 Nov

Yes, the words  continuity and change can be considered opposites, but the Senate, Congressional, Gubernatorial, Amendment, and State Legislature electoral choices have resulted in mixed outcomes for the future of Floridians. Aside from the Tea Party Movement hype and the approval of Amendments 5 & 6, overall Florida remains a RED state.

A Tea Party-Republican Win for Senator Elect-Marco Rubio

Demographically, Cuban-Americans in South Florida continue to be a political force and their embrace of American Conservative ideology has produced a candidate that provides a little bit of diversity for a homogeneous Republican Party and even more homogenous Tea Party Movement.  Politically, Marco Rubio is a very smart and well spoken candidate, who was able to use the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, and anti-big government rhetoric to inspire the Conservative base. Rallying the base was important to increase voter turnout, in a three way race against Independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.  Charlie Crist, a former Moderate Republican, was unable to keep his early public opinion lead over Rubio. Kendric Meek’s campaign never took off because the bad economy set off an anti-Washington sentiment among voters. Moreover, without a party organization to back up Charlie Crist’s campaign, he was unable to obtain clear wins outside the urban areas of South Florida, Tampa, and Tallahassee. Although Republican Marco Rubio was able to claim an early win, his victory speech was sober, religious, and a warning to Republicans because this win was a “second chance.”  Marco Rubio is still an enigma, because in the Primary he embraced the support given by conservative  Republicans and the Tea Party movement, yet in the Midterm campaign he became a centrist, especially when he discussed the future of Social Security. Either way, Rubio’s Senate win brings the Tea Party movement’s influence into Florida and national politics, which is a change. Finally, in terms of making Senate gains, Rubio’s win did not change the balance of power in Washington, since this seat was previously held by Republican Mel Martinez.

Marco Rubio’s Winning Speech

U.S. Congressional Gains Continue Reflect Florida’s Republican Dominance

All incumbent Republicans held their seats by wide margins, which reflects how congressional districts drawn after the  2000 Census favor the Republican Party. The few Democrat incumbents in safe seats won by wide margins as well. Democrat Incumbents lost in swing, battleground districts, like District 22 in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, Districts 24 and 8 in the Orlando Area. District 22, which includes the city of Boca Raton, elected an African-American Tea Party Movement-Republican Allen West, who beat two-term Democrat Ron Klein. West’s win is no real surprise because this district had been historically Republican controlled through Clay Shaw from 1993-2007, it was drawn specifically for a Republican in 2002, but Klein rode the Democratic wave in 2006 when Democrats took over Congress. The Tea Party’s influence and its anti- big government, anti-immigrant, anti-tax rhetoric, had an impact in this swing district to mobilize the Republican base. Moreover, the money spent in West’s campaign was visible throughout District 22, where West raised $5,562,880 to Ron Klein’s $$3,317,560.

Allen West in His Words

and more….

The Competitive Gubernatorial Seat Remains in Republican Hands

Republicans have held the Gubernatorial seat since 1999 with Jeb Bush.  The surprising change this election year was the seat was a very close competitive seat! Republican Rick Scott who barely met the 7 year Florida Resident requirement, put $73 million of his own money towards his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. After bombarding the airwaves with negative ads, he beat Florida’s Attorney General, Republican Bill McCollum. Then he defeated Democrat Alex Sink by a slim margin, with less than 50% of the vote– Scott received 48.9% to Sink’s 47.6% and won by 70,000 votes. He is not a Florida native, he ran against the Republican establishment, as CEO of the largest Hospital Chain he faced Medicare Fraud charges, and his company was given a historical fine for Medicare Fraud. Given Scott’s aggressive campaigning and cloudy management record, it will be interesting to see how he will govern.

The Republican Cannibalism between Repubicans Rick Scott’s and  Bill McCollum


and Local News Analysis of Rick Scott’s Past With Medicare Fraud via a McCullom Attack Ad


Florida Republican Party Ad Against Alex Sink


Sink Campaign Attack on Rick Scott for Medicare Fraud

The Approval of Amendments 5 and 6 May Bring Representational Change to Florida

Currently there are no guidelines for drawing U.S. Congressional or Florida House districts. So Florida politicians can draw representational districts so that they favor one party over another by looking at U.S. census and voter demographic data. This practice of drawing biased districts is called gerrymandering. Florida Voters approved Amendements 5 and 6, with 62% of the vote, to set guidelines for U.S. Congressional redistricting. Amendments 5 & 6 could influence serveral issues: how the districts are drawn, the political party make up of the districts, and the competitive nature of the districts. Florida politicians may have to work harder to obtain votes, instead of drawing biased districts, securing “safe seats,” and lumping minorities into Majority-minority districts.

Voter Turnout in Florida Was Not a Significant Change Compared to 2006’s Midterm Election

Voter turnout was about 48%, which is a moderate to low voter turnout during a midterm election. It is just a percentage point higher, than the 47% voter turnout of the 2006 midterm wave election, which gave Democrats control of the Senate and Congress. However if you look at turnout rates of other years, the turnout during a Midterm election has not been in the 40 percentage points since 1998, which was 49% during Bill Clinton’s successful Presidency. So although elections in Florida have become more competitive and contentious, Florida voter turnout is moderate to low. The highest voter turnout during a midterm election was 66% recorded in 1994 when Republicans took over Congress with the famous “Contract with America,” and the lowest turnout was 37% in 1958. The highest recorded voter turnout in Florida was 83% in 1992 for the Presidential election of Bill Clinton.

The State Legislature Remains in Republican Hands

It is no surprise that Republicans retain control of the Florida Legislature because they have designed the representational districts to create safe political seats. So, Florida remains a very RED state.

Make Florida Politicians SWEAT IT!! Vote YES on Constitutional Amendments 5 and 6

18 Oct

Ever feel like there is no competition in local electoral politics? That every time you vote is useless, because the incumbent legislator has already won without any significant challenge? Do you live in a district in which the incumbent has always had it easy for 15-plus years??

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Kendrick Meek, Mario Diaz-Balart. Miami Herald Photograph

Have you ever wondered… Why Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wins every time in a district that covers two counties and includes the cities of Miami Beach and Key West, which are demographically diverse and vote for Democrats in local elections? Or why the Republican Diaz-Balart brothers never seem to lose an election, and Mario Diaz-Balart easily moves from one district to another with ease? Or why Democrat Kendrick Meek, running for U.S. Senate, represented the same District 17 as his mother? Why the current forerunner in Districts 17 and 21, Frederica Wilson and Mario Diaz-Balart, have no competition? Or why, aside from the few Minority-majority districts in Florida cities, the rest of the political map in Florida is RED favoring mostly Republicans?

You are not wondering alone…

Lack of competition in Florida politics is not a figment of your imagination. Florida politicians have drawn political districts to their liking, thus creating politically biased electoral maps. Biased redistricting (the practice of drawing biased political maps a.k.a gerrymandering) lumps Hispanics and African-Americans into majority ethnic districts, and also favors one political party over another, thus reducing the number of moderate candidates and voters.

Biased redistricting reduces political competition

Politicians intentionally bias redistricting (every 10 years with census demographic changes), to REDUCE POLITICAL COMPETITION, and to obtain easy electoral wins for Republican or Democrat incumbents for an extended period of time, i.e. 20+ years. Gerrymandering is not unique to Florida, and happens in all other 49 states as well. Whereas redistricting favors Republicans in Florida, in the North East redistricting favors Democrats. Biased redistricting is the most un-democratic and un-competitive aspect of the American democratic system.

Biased redistricting increases POLITICAL POLARIZATION

Gerrymandering reduces competition and increases POLITICAL POLARIZATION, because moderates (candidates and voters) are muted from the electoral process—resulting in the election of very conservative candidates or very liberal candidates who represent their biased districts in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures. Polarization is the reason why politicians bicker along party-lines, and do not find common ground for solving critical problems.

Voting YES on Florida Constitutional Amendments 5 and 6 is a start to greater political competition and less gridlock….

Florida Constitutional Amendments 5 and 6 ask voters to prevent party biases, while at the same time, respecting the right of ethnic and language minorities to participate in the political process. These amendments set standards for U.S. Congress and Florida House districts that could increase political competition and accountability.

Opposition to Amendments 5 and 6 by Minority Politicians is Unfounded

Minority leaders, whether Hispanic or African American, like Mario Diaz-Balart argue that this amendment reduces minority representation in politics. This is a misleading argument because if districts were drawn fairly, candidates (regardless of race) would have to cater to the needs of Hispanic and African-American communities. Instead, voters get little to no choice and districts favor one party over another, as it currently occurs in District 17.

Make politicians SWEAT IT!

Do not let politicians choose the voters, so they can secure easy political wins on Election Day.

Vote YES on Amendments 5 and 6

See the Demographics for Florida Districts below. Ros-Lehtinen’s district 18, Diaz-Balart 21, and Kendric Meek’s former district 17.

District Demographics for Ros Lehetinen’s District 18

Race and ethnicity District U.S.
White 27.7% 65.9%
Black 5.1% 12.1%
Hispanic 64.8% 15.1%
Asian 1.3% 4.3%
Native American 0.1% 0.7%

Source: New York Times 2010 Elections

District Demographics for Mario Diaz-Balart’s District 21

Race and ethnicity District U.S.
White 16.0% 65.9%
Black 7.4% 12.1%
Hispanic 73.5% 15.1%
Asian 2.2% 4.3%
Native American 0.1% 0.7%

Source: New York Times 2010 Elections

District Demographics for Kendrick Meek and now Frederica Wilson’s District 17

Source: New York Times 2010 Elections

Race and ethnicity District U.S.
White 15.6% 65.9%
Black 55.8% 12.1%
Hispanic 25.1% 15.1%
Asian 1.9% 4.3%
Native American 0.2% 0.7%

The Surprise That Shouldn’t Have Been A Surprise: The Electoral Rise of Juan Manuel Santos

3 Jun

by Hayward Charly In La Silla Vacia/ http://haywardcharly.blogspot.com

The first round Colombian Presidential elections turned out NOT to be heated elections. In fact, voter turnout, new media, and the youth ceased to be significant determining factors in predicting electoral results. Why? Because the first round election was NOT at a statistical tie. Most pollsters knew Juan Manuel Santos (Partido the La U) was ahead, but could not publish results. What Happened? Why wasn’t the election close in the end? And what about the “Green Wave” and the impact of Facebook and new media on elections?

A Statistical Debacle? Or The Statistical Tie That Wasn’t?

The correct answer is the statistical tie that wasn’t. On May 21, 2010 three major polls (Datexco, Invamer/Gallup, Consejo Nacional Electoral) published results showing both candidates at a statistical tie—Juan Manuel Santos (for the Partido the La U), with the support of 35% of those polled, and Antanas Mockus (for the Green Party) with 34% (Datexco). During the last week of the elections, Colombian law prohibits the publishing of poll results, so that polls do not influence electoral outcomes. However ridiculous that law (La Ley de Garantias) may seem to most statistics freaks, the law is the law, so the general public did not know candidate standings before voting.

When the actual voting results were reported on Sunday evening, Juan Manuel Santos, President Alvaro Uribe’s former Defense Minister, won the first round of elections with 46% of the vote and runner up Antanas Mockus obtained 21% of the vote. This result was a surprise to most, because every one expected a close electoral race. According to Jorge Londoño from Invamer/Gallup, his company conducted a private survey during the last week of the elections, and the poll showed that Antanas Mockus’s support had slipped by 15 points.  If Gallup’s results are true, then Sunday’s surprise wasn’t a surprise, because the poll results could have explained Santos’s relative rise and Mockus’s electoral fall this past Sunday.

Invamer/Gallup’s results could have also explained German Vargas Lleras’s success at the voting booth. German Vargas Lleras was the candidate for the Causa Radical party. On May 21, 2010 most polls placed him in 5th place with 3% of support, behind Gustavo Petro (Polo Democratico Alternativo) and Noemi Sanin (Partido Conservador). On Sunday’s election he received 10% of the vote, placing him in 3rd place.  Vargas Lleras participated in two debates done within the last week of the elections, and his successful performance most likely increased public support relative to other candidates.

Many in the media, and politicians like Juan Manuel Santos, German Vargas Lleras, and Gustavo Petro have publicly said, that the pollsters were the big losers for publishing misleading results. German Vargas Lleras has publicly said that pollsters should be regulated, because their observations were at a loss.  However, the statistics did not fail; they simply were not published.

By Arantiz Published in Semana

If anything the government’s law forbidding publishing poll results should be repealed. The government’s ban, on publishing survey data on the last week of an election, leads people to create and believe in conspiracy theories. These theories try to explain electoral outcomes that do not match polling results.  Although corruption exists in Colombia, conspiracy theories lead people to think that a country’s institutions are more corrupt than they actually are. One such conspiracy theory going around is called “Operation Titanium 4,” in which a hacker is blamed for implanting a virus within the government’s National Registry. According to the story the virus created a vote for Santos every time Mockus registered a vote. This is how this story explains that Santos doubled Mockus’s Sunday results. Conspiracy theories coupled with, the real reports of electoral irregularities found in previous elections, create a public feeling of paranoia and distrust in democratic institutions. These type of theories are currently rampant on the Internet.

Why Didn’t Voter Turnout Matter?

Voter turnout did not matter because it was not a close election. In a close election voter turnout matters because every vote counts. The winner is determined by whoever has the most votes, and winners in close elections win by a small margin. In recent Colombian events, the close race for the Conservative Party presidential nomination, between Noemi Sanin (1,118,090 votes) and Felipe Arias (1,080,313), required the National Registry to do a recount and determine a winner.  Sanin won only by about 37,000 votes.

Like mentioned in a previous blog post, in close races a party’s enthusiasm is a determinant in getting out the vote (by creating and repeating messages that inspire and help get people to the voting booths). Political parties can communicate with voters through all types of media to “get-out-the-vote.” A party’s organization is also key in doing this, because it logistically prepares its voters to get to the voting booth. Electoral strategies like the practice of clientelism, were a patron gathers his followers and offers them immediate material benefits (such as jobs, money, a lunch, groceries, or a subsidy guarantee) in exchange for a vote, can make it easier to get people to the voting booth, but lead to corruption.

Usually voter turnout in close elections is high. However, Sunday’s election revealed that the turnout rate was low, and 51% of registered voters did not vote. This absentee rate is not any different from other recent presidential election years.

On 1998 the last time Colombia had a run-off election, the absentee rate was about 50% for the first round. Then the rate lowered for the run-off election to around 43% of the vote, precisely because the race was a close race. Andres Pastrana (Great Alliance for Change) obtained 34.37% in the first round and 50.34% in the second round.  Horacio Serpa (Liberal Party) obtained 34.78% in the first round and 46.58% in the second round.  In this case Andres Pastrana won the run-off election by only three percentage points.

On 2002 the absentee rate was 54%, and on 2006 55% of registered Colombians abstained from voting during a presidential race.  In both of these presidential races Alvaro Uribe Velez (Partido Conservador/Colombia First) won by wide margins in the first round of elections. In 2002 he obtained 5.8 million votes and 53% of the vote, and in 2006 Uribe obtained 7.4 million votes and 62% of the vote.

Given that the absentee rate during presidential election in Colombia is in the 50% rate; this past election was a normal election.

What about New Media, The Incredible Facebook “Fan” Base for Antanas Mockus, and The Youth Vote?

The last post on this blog asked a question about the 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, “Which will prevail? New Media or Clientelism?” It discussed how voter turnout and the youth vote could be a tiebreaker, if an electoral race is close.

It is difficult to know just how many Facebook “fans” became voters. These results are still inconclusive, because Facebook has not published any results on the amount of people that said they voted at the presidential elections in Colombia, through their network. Also, the Colombian government’s election website at the Registraduria Nacional does not break down the votes according to age. This lack of information makes it hard to know how many people ages 18-25 voted for Antanas Mockus. It is also difficult to correlate whether Facebook as a medium had an effect particularly on the youth vote in these elections.  Although Randi Zuckerberg, Marketing Director of Facebook, said that Facebook was instrumental in getting out the vote at the Iowa Caucus in 2008, it is hard to know whether these results were replicated in Colombia. The youth vote is generally apathetic to elections, and given Sunday’s absenteeism, the youth probably did not come out to play.

What is known is that the run-off election is on June 20th, and the Antanas Mockus’s page has broken through the 700,000-Facebook fan base. He still ranks 7th place worldwide in being one of the most liked politicians.  The other Colombian politician whose fan base has increased this week is that of German Vargas Lleras, whose fans increased by 51% after the first round of elections. So, Vargas Lleras is definitely building on his political future. What does this mean for Antanas Mockus and German Vargas Lleras? That they have a following with the public, but a “fan” base will not “get-out-the vote.”

Enthusiatic Followers & Weak Party Organization

Some reports believe that Antanas Mockus’s Green Party was not able to mobilize his followers to the booths.  Juanita León, a journalist from La Silla Vacia an Internet newsmagazine, reported that transportation to election booths was disorganized, and by the time the campaign decided to provide transportation to its base, public buses and taxis were already reserved by opposing political parties.

Another story from La Silla Vacia, reporting from a rural area in the Department of Choco reports that Betty Moreno, a Green Partisan, had the support from a great number of new voters, but that the Party did not send them logistical support or enough money to cover transportation costs. Voters stayed home, because they would have had to transport themselves through canoes or trucks, and travel for two hours to vote.  In these instances a political party needs to organize a “get-out-the-vote” campaign to get people to the booths. Calling potential voters, knocking on people’s doors, organizing volunteers, and getting transportation ready is very important during the last weeks. Since the Green Party is a new party with only 5 months of existence, it lacks logistical support especially in rural areas, which are dominated by traditional politicians that use clientelism to get votes. In the logistical aspect of a campaign, whether an election is close or not, a political party’s organization is a determining factor in translating public opinion into votes. It is an important factor for facilitating the vote and reducing the transaction costs of voting. If the Green Party wants to improve its electoral outcomes it has to resolve these logistical problems, or it is going to be a one-election party.

The Persistence of the Traditional Party Machinery

The short answer to the last blog post is that the party machinery won, as a strategy to get votes. Not so much because of the use of clientelism to buy votes, but because machineries organize “get-out-the-vote” campaigns especially among those in the electorate who have difficulty getting to the booth, be they living in far away places, disabled, older adults, and/or poor.

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.

“The Judge and The General” a Celebration of Chile’s Democracy? Yes.

11 Apr

“The Judge and The General” is a documentary on the criminal investigations of human rights violations, which took place during the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 until the early 1990s. More than recording the life-changing investigations of Conservative Judge Juan Guzman, who presided over the investigations, the documentary dramatically shows how Chilean democracy is strengthening and slowly shedding the legacy of authoritarianism.

At the individual level….

The film presents a dilemma on individual responsibility. Can an individual put aside, or transform, his or her worldview when he or she is a witness to government human rights violations?  It questions whether an individual is able and willing to stand up to the injustices committed by governments, even if the individual in question approved of such governments. Can a Chilean supportive of the Pinochet regime acknowledge human rights abuses, just like a German supportive of Hitler’s regime acknowledge the holocaust?

The protagonist of this documentary is Judge Guzman, who is an educated man and a lifelong political conservative mainly because his family belonged to Chile’s Christian Democratic Party and his father was a Chilean diplomat.  Like conservatives of the time he was influenced by the chaos of the early 1970s. Baffled by Salvador Allende’s trips to Castro’s Cuba and his socialist propositions to nationalize private industries, he believed the military led by General Augusto Pinochet was doing the “right thing” by ousting the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende from power. Today, Judge Guzman believes that he would have continued to live in a bubble protected from the truth, had he not been appointed, by lottery, to oversee the allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chilean military dictatorship. In 1998 when Judge Guzman was appointed to investigate thousands of cases, it was thought that his Christian Democratic background would be an obstacle to the investigations, but instead his loyalty to the law, the justice system, and the overwhelming evidence supporting human rights abuses led him to rule in favor of the victims. The documentary is important because its footage showcases how Judge Guzman was able to present a case against General Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship.

The importance of the judicial process…

The film also takes the audience into the processes of the civil legal system as practiced in Chile. In this inquisitorial legal system, the judge has to use state resources to gather evidence and make a judgment on accusations facing a legal party. The inquisitorial legal system is different from the adversarial system of law as practiced in the United States. In an adversarial system, two parties, the prosecution and the defense, present and argue their cases to a judge and jury. The judge presiding over a criminal case in the United States acts like a referee between two parties, the jury decides whose argument is best, and finally the judge uses his/her discretion on the type of penalty placed on the individual. In the legal system as it exists in Chile and in many Latin American countries, the role of the judge is more powerful than in the United States because he is an investigator, a prosecutor, and a judge–based on his/her discretion and evidence, he/she decides what penalty to impose on the accused party.

Although covering the legal process may put many people to sleep, showing of the legal process is what makes this documentary interesting, because Judge Guzman with his conservative Christian Democratic background could have blocked each point of the investigation’s process, but he did not. Guzman could have dismissed charges of human rights abuses as propaganda. He could have selectively overlooked evidence pointing at human rights abuses. He could have not interviewed the families of those who had disappeared thirty years before. Even after gathering evidence of human rights abuses, he could have sentenced low-level military officers who committed acts of torture, instead of going for high-level officials who masterminded the whole oppressive operation. Why didn’t Guzman, a conservative judge, obstruct the investigation? This paradox is why the documentary is valuable for students of democratic regimes.

The film is also valuable for those of us studying countries dealing with high levels of violence, and who are trying to grapple with how truth commissions work and are organized. Whereas in Chile the state actively engaged in killing citizens based on their political beliefs, in Colombia armed social groups on the left and the right of the political spectrum have killed citizens based on their political beliefs. Civilian deaths have taken place many times with the complicit knowledge of government officials. The Colombian government under President Alvaro Uribe has attempted to implement a law called the Law of Justice and Peace, to investigate human rights abuses committed mainly by right-wing paramilitary groups such as, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) during the mid 1990s and early 2000s.  However, the judicial investigations into the crimes perpetrated by the AUC have been limited by small budgets and to date no high level AUC member has been convicted for human rights abuses.  Some high level AUC members have been extradited to the United States for illicit drug trafficking, but none have been convicted for organizing and carrying out systematic massacres throughout Colombia.

The importance of patience…

The lesson this documentary on Chile gives those of us studying Colombia is that patience is a virtue—it may take more than thirty years for the truth to be revealed and for victims of violence to receive respect and compensation for their suffering. Getting to the truth involves dealing with slow moving institutions and astute political leaders such as Augusto Pinochet. For example, before his 2000 detention in England, Chilean democratic governments failed to try him because he was a Senator for life and was protected under parliamentarian immunity.  Once in England, Pinochet avoided being judged in Spain for human rights abuses based on mental incompetence. Upon the General Augusto Pinochet’s return, Judge Juan Guzman accepted the argument posed by the victim’s lawyers to withdraw Pinochet’s immunity, and argued at the Court of Appeals that the ex-dictator should be tried in Chile. However, the court’s ruling was lukewarm. It took away Pinochet’s immunity, but held that he was mentally incapacitated to stand trial.  Still, in a moment of arrogance, Pinochet granted an interview to the television program “Maria Elvira Confronta” a news program, which airs in Miami’s the Mega 22 television network. This 2003 interview allowed Judge Juan Guzman to present the case that Pinochet was mentally fit to stand trial, and this 2006 judgment finally placed Pinochet under house arrest while he waited to be tried.

Democratizing the legal system…

The significance of the documentary is the democratization of Chile’s legal system. “The Judge and the General” highlights the success of the Chilean democratic system and the courage shown by judges and lawyers to uncover the truth. In the new democratic system the judges and lawyers were no longer reduced to mere legal secretaries, who were told to create reports and deny the writ of habeas corpus to “prisoners” that had already been killed by the state’s intelligence organizations.  In the new democratic system, judges and lawyers made their own investigations and made conclusions based on evidence. The investigations made by Judge Juan Guzman and other judges, and their courage to charge General Pinochet with fraud, torture, and murder, allowed the democratic system to remove Pinochet’s criminal immunity and place him on house arrest. Even though Pinochet died in December of 2006 without being tried, these events coupled with the election of Chile’s the first woman Prime Minister Michelle Bachelet (who was imprisoned with her mother during Pinochet’s regime and whose father was tortured and killed) had to personally affect General Augusto Pinochet, because he always thought of himself as someone above the law—an untouchable, who was an “overseer” of Chilean politics. His arrogance was constantly reflected during the documentary in his continual denial of state violence and in his final request to be cremated to avoid his tomb’s desecration.

The legal process shown in the documentary celebrates and strengthens the Chilean democracy, because it shows how the legal process became part of Chilean society, instead of remaining just a dictate given by a military dictatorship. The legal process (however slow or convoluted it may have been) was democratized, as it involved witnesses, victims, the media, lawyers, experts, officers of various courts, and overall Chile’s people even if they continue to be polarized on the topic of Pinochet and his military rule.

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.

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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.

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

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Inappropriate Back-Rubbing a la Bush-Merkel

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“Luchadores” by Bryan Cunningham

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

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