EspañolDuring this campaign, I’ve been surprised to learn first-hand what a bustling democracy we have in Colombia.
Our system is far from perfect. There are serious concerns about electoral fraud and the purchasing of votes, and I have often criticized the fact that most electoral rules seem designed to benefit the existing members of parliament (MPs). For instance, Parliament is out of session during the short campaign period, so that MPs can use state funds at their whim to campaign while new candidates embark on the grim task of making themselves and their ideas known. Moreover, the actual process of voting is difficult: the ballot is a confusing periodical table of party symbols and numbers, so that the voter sees neither the candidates’ names nor their photographs.
And the worst part of all, in my view, is that there are no local constituencies as in the United Kingdom or electoral districts as in the United States, where voters know exactly who is representing their particular area in Congress. Bogotá, for instance, is a city of nearly 8 million inhabitants who elect 18 representatives, but not a single one represents a geographical area in particular. When all MPs represent all the citizens, it turns out that nobody represents anybody.
These deficiencies create a system where parties are mostly meaningless except as mechanisms of electoral wheeling and dealing — among other things, candidates compete with their fellow party members in actual elections — and this is surely part of the reason why so many citizens become nauseated when asked about politics and politicians. So when I refer to a bustling democracy, I am clearly not referring to the state institutions per se, but rather to what I have seen from many of the participants in electoral politics in the capital. I allude namely to the way in which students, journalists, academics, other candidates, and regular citizens have displayed a profound interest in serious and open political discussion.
During the last month, I have taken part in over a dozen debates about numerous subjects in universities, radio stations, think tanks, and television studios. I have openly criticized President Santos and his foreign policy, suggested off the cuff that MPs ideally should be paid nil and have regular jobs instead (I have continued to work full time during the campaign), and raised the ire of Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a silver-haired vedette of the statist left, for suggesting that there is a slight inconsistency in condemning globalization by means of Twitter.
All this may sound quite run of the mill to European or Anglosphere readers, but we should keep in mind that, in neighboring Venezuela, the regime in power has been methodically censoring the free press, viciously repressing student protests, and arbitrarily incarcerating opposition politicians. In Ecuador, another neighboring country, the current president has gradually but considerably eroded press freedom (is it a coincidence that his last vice president was named Lenin?).
So if Colombia’s neighbors have succumbed to authoritarianism in different degrees, I’m glad that in this election my only complaint in this respect is the penchant of certain collectivist-left candidates to interrupt me (MP3) whenever I stress the need to limit the scope of the state. Although this suggests that statist lefties tend to be very tolerant, except when it comes to ideas contrary to their own, it seems that, in general, we have heeded George Orwell’s dictum: if intellectual liberty “means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.”
It has also been noteworthy that my proposals have found common ground with certain candidates — mostly those who identify as lefties — in terms of civil liberties, particularly drug legalization, abortion as a woman’s choice (even if I am personally opposed), and the concept of marriage as a contract between free parties, not a state-sanctioned decree favoring one group and excluding others.
More noteworthy still has been the fact that I have usually argued alone in terms of economic freedom, for while the traditional left is quick to denounce free trade and direct foreign investment as a violation of sovereignty and a rape of national resources, the traditional right is wont to think of the state as a pater familias that must grant protection and subsidies to large landowners and maintain the poor under a supposedly benevolent dependency. All of this, of course comes at the expense of the very often poor consumer and the small businessman, for each is forced to pick up the protectionist tab with steeper prices and higher taxes.
During the last few weeks, I have tried to shatter the old notion of left-wing and right-wing politics; in the libertarian or classical liberal view to which I subscribe, there is merely freedom from coercion at one end of the spectrum and statism on the other. It is likely for this reason that our campaign team now includes entrepreneurs and professors, libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, academics and football fanatics, gays, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, and former members of the Green and Liberal parties, among others. I suspect that such a coalition of individuals eager to have the state off their backs has not been the norm in the Colombian Conservative Party.
How will this and a bit of media attention (I have been wonderfully mocked for teaching Latin and speaking German) translate into votes this coming Sunday? It is very difficult to tell, but whatever the outcome, I think we have succeeded insofar as we have placed libertarianism on the Colombian political map. According to a profile, I represent “a political philosophy that advocates for a minimum state and broad individual liberties.” This was practically unknown in Colombia prior to the current campaign.
Regardless of the election’s results, I will continue the struggle for liberty. The example next door illustrates clearly what can happen if free citizens allow the state to encroach ever more forcefully upon their lives.