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Results of the recent elections in the conflict region of Catatumbo, Colombia

As the statistical econometric data, electoral maps conceal the reality which is unseen by the unaware reader. For instance, when they say that the per capita income in Colombia is US$16.00, the hidden fact is that a good number of Colombians do not receive any of these dollars and others receive this in a matter of seconds.

By the same token, the mass media published electoral maps with a big blue blotch of 23 provinces considered as those which voted for then-presidential candidate  Iván Duque (72 %) and nine provinces including the capital city, Bogotá, in purple for also then-candidate Gustavo Petro (28 %). From the academic point of view, 23 of the provinces do not belong to Duque, nor do the other nine provinces belong to Petro, there are nuances the figures do not consider.

The Catatumbo region, near the border with Venezuela and in the Province of Norte de Santander is one of the paradigmatic regions of the conflict in Colombia, as all the armed actors of the conflict are present in this area. Currently, this region is the least inclined toward a peace process because its different violence scenarios are re-fed with border issues, illegal crops, violence from illegal groups, a skinny industry and even skinnier infrastructure and the highest unemployment rates of the country.

The region is comprised of 11 municipalities:

  • Ocaña
  • Tibú
  • Abrego
  • Sardinata
  • Convención
  • La Playa
  • El Tarra
  • El Carmen
  • Teorama
  • San Calixto
  • & Hacarí.

The first six are the oldest and have almost 65% of the electoral census. In these municipalities, Duque won with 63% of the vote and Petro won in the remaining five with 33% of the vote.

A historic view of the presidential electoral behavior between 1994 and 2018 provides an insight to think about the characteristics of the political participation and infer on identities and differences with other regions of the Colombian conflict and the agreement process.

Less abstentionism

The first characteristic is abstentionism, which in the analyzed period represents an average of 65%, a percentage greater than the national average of 55.4 %. However, it has been decreasing steadily since 2002 from 68% to now at 46.2%, a figure lower than the national abstentionism (46.62 %). This behavior is encouraging as it indicates that participation has increased (53.8%), very sure in conjunction with the post-agreement.

In regards to the election for Mayors, participation increased from 46%, in 1994, to 61%, in 2015, and for Municipal Councils from 47.9%, in 1997 to 68.2% in 2015, reaffirming the aforementioned.

This trend indicates how stimulating local elections are for citizens and is also an invitation for strengthening, to deepen democracy, and one of the keys for the post-agreement.

Varied participation

The second characteristic is related to the fact that there was not any municipality where the winner took 100% of the vote because all had multiple participants from different political parties. In general, among the winners, Juan Manuel Santos reached a total in 2010 of 78% and Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the lowest in 2002, with 51%.

The results of the recent presidential elections show that Iván Duque achieved 62% while Gustavo Petro only obtained 39%. Per municipalities the distribution was:

  • Abrego, Iván Duque 88%, and Gustavo Petro 12% 
  • San Calixto, Duque 7%, and Petro 93%
  • Tibú, Duque 55 %, and Petro 45%.

The results for all the municipalities were:

It is worth mentioning that there were no reported face-offs between voters such as in bipartisanism times, which does not mean the illegal groups do not want to take advantage of the situation to become their representatives and not only ignore the rights of minorities but eliminate their leaders. This is a situation which may be offset by citizen participation and the presence of a state governed by the rule of law.

The role of the parties

The third characteristic involves the beliefs, values and basic goals of party ideologies. For the most part, the region has conservative roots and traditions akin to the lags of bipartidism of the so-called National Front, represented still in 2002 by the Conservative party (Andrés Pastrana won the elections of 1994 and 1998 in 10 of its 11 municipalities and between 2006 and 2018, for the Primero Colombia, Unidad Nacional, and Centro Democrático parties, of neoconservative nature of Uribe and Santos. In this context it is worthwhile highlighting:

  • First, the dominance of these beliefs and values in the older municipalities and of the greater electoral census, such as Ocaña, Abrego, Sardinata, Convención and La Playa
  • Second, the historic dissonance of the municipality of El Carmen as the only municipality with traditional liberal values but ends up voting for a neoconservative regime as of 2006.
  • Third, the incongruous sense of the municipalities of El Tarra, Hacarí and San Calixto, which in the elections of 2002 and 2006 opt for the Liberal, Visionarios and Polo Democrático parties but in 2004 vote for the parties of the Centro Democrático, but again in 2018 turn the vote for the Colombia Humana proposals.

The preceding allows considering that the Catatumbo region has a solid conservative core of values and beliefs, which in presence of illegal armed groups returns to the governmental-political-administration akin to the old National Front regime, which finally dies as of the post-agreement.

Consejo Editorial