A few years ago, English journalist James Delingpole published a book titled Watermelons in which he argued that, behind the green façade of many green political parties, NGOs and pressure groups pushing for ever more state regulation to stop climate change lies a familiar foe: the old anti-capitalist left, which had to adapt its anti-free market message after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the undeniable failure of Soviet communism.
Regardless of Delingpole’s arguments about environmentalism, the term is perfect to describe the new alliance that has emerged in Colombia between Sergio Fajardo, Claudia López and Jorge Enrique Robledo for the 2018 presidential elections. Despite its members’ attempts to portray their coalition before the public as a centrist alliance, a front against corruption, or a pragmatic and post-ideological union, in truth it’s a watermelon alliance: green on the outside, red on the inside.
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On the green surface you find Fajardo and López. The former ran as the vice presidential candidate of the Green Party in 2010 before winning the governorship of the department of Antioquia for the Green Alliance, a union between the old Green Party and the Progressive Movement of Gustavo Petro (former M-19 guerrilla member, former member of the far left Polo Democrático party, a man with close ties to both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro).
From the beginning of his political career, Fajardo has attempted to project a centrist image. He’s supposed to be the anti-politics academic politician who is neither left nor right wing, and he entered the current presidential campaign under that guise. Beyond certain statist policies such as uncontrolled bureaucratic spending (during his time in charge of Antioquia), and his enthusiastic support for the Santos-FARC Agreement, Fajardo did not necessarily have to be associated with the left, let alone the far left. In fact, his decision to stand for the independent movement (Compromiso Ciudadano) that took him to the Medellín mayoralty, suggested that he distanced himself from a Green Alliance that is veering toward statist “progressivism,” especially in Congress.
But Fajardo soon began to turn to the radical left as he grew closer to the Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático / PD) party, appearing in several photographs with Jorge Enrique Robledo, the PD’s presidential candidate and leader of the Maoist Revolutionary Independent Workers Movement (MOIR). The PD later announced that it would help Fajardo to collect the signatures he needs to register his independent candidacy for the presidency. This led to the formal announcement of the union between Fajardo, López, and Robledo, who represents the watermelon alliance’s red interior.
As we explained in the PanAm Post last week, the MOIR movement, led by Robledo, is a Marxist-Leninist political organization that “highlights Mao Zedong’s China and Albania’s socialist dictatorship as political and economic models.”
Until a few months ago, MOIR declared openly on its website that its fundamental objective was “to direct the class struggle of the Colombian proletariat in order to establish its definitive emancipation, to establish socialism in Colombia, and to bring about communism.”
As the PanAm Post reported in October 2016, those in charge of the MOIR website decided to withdraw their proclamation in favor of the class struggle and communism just as Robledo announced his bid for the presidency. Was it a sudden abandonment of Marxism-Leninism on the part of MOIR, or the first stage of a communication strategy that seeks to present Robledo as a political moderate before next year’s election?
Undoubtedly, Fajardo and his team recognize the problem they face when presenting their alliance with a movement that, as we reported, “has not denounced Maoism and has not disassociated itself from Marxism-Leninism.” As we wrote on the PanAm Post, Robledo insists that “Mao’s great contribution to China’s transformation was to unite Chinese industrialists around his nationalist proposal.”
Robledo conveniently fails to mention how, during the Great Leap Forward which Mao launched in 1958, the central government ordered most of the population, including peasants and dwellers of remote villages, to engage in steel production (Mao thought that the quantity of steel production determined a country’s strength in and of itself). Such authoritarian central planning led to massive food shortages and a colossal famine which, together with the brutal repression of a regime that tortured and distributed food according to the perceived merit of workers, left 45 million dead in just four years.
The Great Leap Forward turned out to be a massacre which, according to Dutch historian Frank Dikötter, “ranks alongside the (Soviet) gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century…. It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over.” Robledo and his MOIR comrades, however, prefer to celebrate such barbarism: “We liked the experience of Mao Tse-Tung,” Robledo told a naïve journalist from El Tiempo, Colombia’s main newspaper. “We read his texts and we said: ‘Here we have an interesting experience,'” Robled added.
Without a doubt, the Colombian media would justifiably unleash a massive scandal upon any politician who said in an interview that he had found an “interesting experience” when reading the texts of Hitler, another twentieth-century nationalist / socialist butcher. But since there’s carte blanche to praise communism without any moral reproach whatsoever, Robledo can glorify a dictator who left more than seven times the victims of the Jewish Holocaust without a single hack raising a peep.
Robledo surely recognizes that the Colombian public has no great appetite for communism at the moment. He therefore limits his rhetoric to economic nationalism and “anti-imperialism” (without criticizing Soviet or Chavista imperialism, of course). Curiously, since the extremes of statism end up being indistinguishable regardless of their ideological origin, Robledo’s economic ultra-nationalism is very similar to the protectionism of the current US president. In fact, a libertarian author has criticized Trump’s “Maoist steel obsession” due to his insistence on protecting the domestic steel industry.
Like other nationalists, Robledo and MOIR seek to eliminate free trade with economic actors from other countries in order to ensure that all industrial production is national and “autarchic.” This, however, would be only the first step towards their ultimate goal of “instituting socialism in Colombia and bringing about communism,” as they used to proclaim openly on their website before it was politically inconvenient to do so. If all industrial production is national, it becomes far easier for a dictatorship of the proletariat to carry out its “emancipation” by expropriating everything.
Fajardo, his supporters, and Claudia López know very well that most of the electorate is not in the mood for socialism or communism, particularly since Colombians are experiencing the ghastly consequences of its implementation in Venezuela. They have thus attempted to portray their pact with Robledo, which includes a joint list for congress, as an alliance not of the left, but “against corruption.”
Certain Fajardo supporters have even argued that Robledo pledged to respect free trade by signing the agreement that made the watermelon alliance official last week. Believing this, however, requires a leap of faith of galactic proportions, beginning with the assumption that Robledo, by simply signing a piece of paper, abandoned the MOIR’S ideological pillars after promoting them ad nauseam for decades. This is fanciful because there is no evidence that Robledo has experienced anything similar to a conversion on the road to Damascus moment in ideological terms in recent months.
If anything, Robledo strengthened his nationalist and statist discourse in recent weeks by proposing that the state should impose price controls at Colombian discount stores D1 and Justo & Bueno, which would increase the cost of food, beverages, and household items for hundreds of thousands of consumers, hitting the poorest particularly hard. Even after formalizing the watermelon alliance, Robledo promoted a “National Agricultural Mobilization” to oppose the importation of food into Colombia, which would also increase the price of food for the poorest.
Such recent outbursts, while perplexing those Fajardo supporters who sincerely believed that Robledo became a moderate by joining the watermelon alliance, should not surprise anyone. MOIR’s ideology, however dismal and anachronistic, is consistent and has a long history. On the other hand, Fajardo has only put forth a superficial, diffuse, and malleable ideological vision that goes well with his outsider image, but which has no underlying solidity or coherence.
In fact, such is Fajardo’s ideological weakness in relation to MOIR that he has already begun to spout Robledo’s chief policy points, for instance by arguing that Colombia should renegotiate the Free Trade Agreements that that it already signed.
In order to collect enough signatures for ballot access, Fajardo has had to rely on the PD’s national political structure, a structure which his own movement lacks. Clearly, Fajardo’s alliance with Robledo arises from electoral convenience. I suppose that he and his advisers believe that a joint ticket with the PD would gain them a good amount of the 1,958,000 votes they received in 2014.
Electoral alliances like the watermelon coalition are completely valid, but their creation has political consequences. In this case, Fajardo can hardly pretend that joining Robledo doesn’t make him an ally of the hard left (the one that seeks to “bring about communism”) and that the watermelon coalition moves him considerably away from the political center he has sought to fill throughout his career. Hence his supporters’ official rhetoric that having Robledo within a triumvirate does not move the watermelon coalition drastically to the left amounts to an insult to voters’ intelligence.
The same applies to the argument that implementing Robledo’s ideas from the government would represent some kind of progress for Colombia; the reality is the exact opposite. As economist Luis Guillermo Vélez argued, Robledo
hates free trade and wants to return, in reactionary fashion, to the bygone era of industrial protectionism with its import quotas, restrictive licenses, and high tariffs, all of which made it possible only for the very rich to have access to imported goods. The rest, meanwhile, had to settle for expensive, low-quality, locally produced goods, thus guaranteeing a high rate of profits for national producers, who were free of all competition.
From any point of view, a vote for Robledo or any coalition of which he is a member is a vote not only for taking a step backwards to the time when Colombia was a country so closed to the rest of the world that former president Alfonso López Michelsen called it “South America’s Tibet.” It’s also a vote in favor of MOIR’s class struggle and its attempt to “establish socialism in Colombia and bring about communism.”
It’s essential that voters look beyond the watermelon alliance’s green surface and recognize its true nature before deciding whether it’s the option which Colombia really needs in 2018.