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Is Colombia’s Green Party Really a Champion Against Corruption?

By: Julián Villabona Galarza - Apr 14, 2017, 9:56 am

(Wikimedia)(Wikimedia)

EspañolThe Green Party is one of the most visible political parties in Colombia. After the election of 2010, when Antanas Mockus managed to run for president a second time, the party became one of the most important in the country. One of the keys to the party’s relative success is that several of its leaders have campaigned on anti-corruption rhetoric. Yet despite their purist speech, the Green Party has been mired in much of its own scandal.

The Green Party — a background history

The Green Party emerged from the Green Party Option Center. The latter is the successor to the defunct M-19 Democratic Alliance, created by several demobilized M-19 guerrillas.

Several of the founders of this new party had relationships with Luis Alberto “El Tuerto,” who founded the Citizen Convergence (nowadays Citizen Option) movement. Luis Alberto Gil was later investigated for his connections with paramilitary groups.

Party founder Carlos Ramón González was among those who were close to “Tuerto Gil” in the former Green Party Option Center. According to local media, during the first years of the party’s creation, the closeness between several of the founders and Luis Alberto Gil materialized due to their interest in environmental issues.

But links between the former Green Party and Citizen Convergence would deepen. In the parliamentary elections of 2006, the environmental movement obtained a seat reserved for political minorities of the country. Rodrigo Romero, who worked for the ex-Governor of Santander, Hugo Aguilar, won the seat.

Aguilar, a retired police officer and commander of the Search Block, had become Governor of Santander with the support of Citizen Convergence. He was also investigated and condemned for his connections to paramilitaries.

 

Principles first?

Given the important electoral victories of the Green Party Option Center, a group of independent politicians wanted to make a pact with the party in 2009. This included former mayors of Bogotá Luis Eduardo Garzón, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa.

In 2010, Antanas Mockus surprised many by gaining significant electoral support that led him to a second run for president. He took a strong stance against corruption in a country shaken by scandals and parapolitics. Despite Mockus’ defeat in the second round, the party would remain united, though not for long.

In the local elections of 2011, Enrique Peñalosa, then-member of the Green Party, sought support from several Uribista movements. Mockus and several of his party allies withdrew support as a result. Since then, much of the Green Party has supported Santos, who was then supported by Uribe. Green Party leaders like Alfonso Prada, Luis Eduardo Garzón and Jorge Eduardo Londoño received important positions in Santos’ administration. Antanas Mockus also ended up endorsing Santos.

The Carousel of Hiring

The “Carousel of Hiring” is one of the worst corruption scandals in Bogotá’s history. It involved politicians who had assigned contracts to the Nule Group. This business group had obtained several of the most important contracts in the city thanks to bribes. As a result, Bogotá lost nearly US $686,636,569.

Former Green Party member José Juan Rodríguez was condemned for his participation in the scandal, as he allegedly intervened on the contract process. The Green Party expelled Rodriguez, but only after he was imprisoned.

Accusations again Antonio Sanguino

Rodríguez is not the only Green Party politician accused of participating in the scandal and other corrupt activity in the Garzón administration.

In 2017, the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office investigated several Bogotan politicians, including Sanguino, for their involvement in the Odebrecht scandal. He allegedly accepted money for the Tunjuelo-Canoas tunnel contract from Odebrecht. Sanguino denied any responsibility or involvement.

Conclusion

Colombian political parties are experiencing a crisis of favorability. According to a Gallup survey, 79 percent of Colombians have a negative perception of political parties. Only 14 percent of the population has a positive image of political parties, making any political renewal complicated.

The Colombian establishment elevates electoral barriers in an attempt to avoid the rise of new political parties. Certain political leaders have given up forming new parties because of the country’s restrictive laws. That was the case for Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Luis Eduardo Garzón — the so-called “triplets” who decided to make an electoral coalition ultimately accused of getting too close to “Tuerto Gil.”

In spite of rhetoric against corruption, many of the leaders of the Green Party supported the political establishment. Enrique Peñalosa accepted Uribe’s support in his campaign of 2011. Luis Eduardo Garzón accepted a position in the Santos government. But even more serious, the Green Party decided to support political figures being investigated for accepting bribes.

Julián Villabona Galarza Julián Villabona Galarza

Julián is a reporter with the PanAm Post with studies in Politics and International Relations from the University Sergio Arboleda in Colombia. Follow him: @julianvillabona.

Why Canada Has More Economic Freedom Than the United States

By: Guest Contributor - Apr 14, 2017, 8:24 am
justin-trudeau-free-money-in-canada_0

By Pierre-Guy Veer When speaking of Canada, conservatives laugh at our “socialist neighbor to the north” with its lavish social programs. The main point of contention is, of course, Canada's infamous “socialized healthcare," which has been viewed as the epitome of a system NOT to imitate because of its high costs and long waiting times. While, yes, Canada is dangerously close to Bernie Sanders’ dream of a single-payer system, the very structure of its system explains why Canada constantly ranks higher on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom – #7, compared to the U.S. #17 ranking. And that structure is federalism. Indeed, Canada’s 1867 constitution explicitly stipulates that hospitals – with a few exceptions – are under the exclusive care of the provinces. Despite many of Ottawa’s incursions in the domain, one of the only major pieces of legislation from the federal government is the Canada Health Act. It has only 18 pages – nine if it were written in only one language but all laws in Canada are written both in French and English. Including this legislation, there are eight federal laws regarding health care, totaling about 137 pages. To put this in perspective, in the United States, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare) has 906 pages, Title XVIII of the Social Security Act (which established Medicare, the government health program for the elderly) has 1,149 pages and Title XIX of the Social Security Act (which establishes Medicaid and CHIP, respectively government health program for the poor and children) has 414 pages. Education works in a similar way. Section 93 of Canada’s Constitutional Act gives exclusive powers to the provinces – minus confessional protections for Catholics, Protestants, and Natives – to rule over education. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1459522593195-0'); }); However, only two federal acts exist, totaling 33 pages: one creates a savings account for higher education while the other gives special grants to children of deceased veterans. There has been (and still is) controversy around the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which grants federal money to students, but it’s the only major intervention still effective. Again, if we compare Canada’s federal acts to the United States, there is a full-fledged Department of Education whose presence has done nothing to improve results despite a (real) fourfold increase in the budget. In fact, one could argue that federally-sponsored education programs, such as Common Core, are dumbing students down since skills must be accessible to most or none at all. Federal programs like these complicate simple problems, are very expensive and, from the few assessments about the program’s success, have proven to be a failure. A Less Choking Federal Taxation Canada’s federalism is also showing in its taxation system. Since Ottawa doesn’t try to micromanage the provinces like Washington does with the states, it, therefore “needs” fewer revenues. As a result, there are only five income brackets and the highest is set at 33 percent. The lowest bracket – 15 percent – affects revenues until about $45,000. Read More: Why Activists Should Think Twice about #DeleteUber Read More: Three Myths that Distort US Debate on Immigration For corporate income tax, the rate for income earned in Canada is 28 percent, although the Canadian Revenue Agency claims that the net rate is closer to 15 percent – 10.5 percent for small businesses. In the U.S., there are seven federal personal income tax brackets, and they are unfair for those with lower incomes (notwithstanding their deductions). Indeed, there is already a 25 percent income tax rate for people earning a little less than $38,000. Its high progressivity is also unfair to higher income revenues, which may explain why so many people renounce their citizenship. As for corporate taxes, there are eight brackets, with the lowest rate standing at 15 percent. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the U.S. ranks at the bottom fifth place among OECD countries (35 in total) where it comes to tax competitiveness – only Italy, Greece, Portugal and France do worse. In comparison, Canada ranks 19th. Will Trudeau Repeat His Father’s Mistakes? This happening could be considered an accident of history, considering how centralized Canada’s constitution is. Contrary to the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, residual powers in Canada were granted to the federal government. Also, early administrations – especially John A. Macdonald’s – abundantly used their powers of disallowance, i.e. the power to void provincial laws. Pierre Elliott Trudeau (the father of present Prime Minister Justin) also pushed the centralization agenda very hard. From his National Energy Program, which sought to nationalize oil resources, to the vast expansion of social programs through cost sharing with provinces, he greatly increased Canada’s debt. The debt was reined in under Jean Chrétien in the 1990s, after which Canada lost its infamous “honorary membership card of the Third World.” But with Justin Trudeau in power, Canada’s fiscal advantage could very well wear out. During his very first budget, he transformed a $2 billion surplus into a $30 billion deficit with no real plan to balance the budget in sight. Like his father, the younger Trudeau believes that government spending can help the economy – his first two budgets increased spending by nearly 15 percent. And yet, after two high-deficit budgets, GDP growth isn’t much different from the previous conservative administration’s performance. He also created a new income tax bracket at 33 percent for revenues higher than $200,000 – the previous highest bracket was at 29 percent. This is all opposite of what Donald Trump wants to do. Should he keep his fiscal promises, he will reduce the number of income tax brackets to three, lower corporate taxes to 15 percent and eliminate the estate and gift tax. Combined with his desire to slash through red tape, this could very well mean that he could spur economic growth like Ronald Reagan was able to do with his tax plan. Canadians will have to face difficult choices in the coming election. They can stay on the current path of illusory short-term prosperity with increased spending with the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, or they can choose short-term pain for longer-term prosperity. If libertarian-leaning Conservative Party candidate for leadership Maxime “Mad Max” Bernier wins the nomination, that latter choice will definitely be available.  Pierre-Guy Veer is a Canadian-born libertarian now living in the US.This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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