Photo: Correo del Orinoco

Sunday’s elections in Colombia show Gustavo Petro running strong, giving us reason to fear his lead in the presidential polls, even if the overall results aren’t that good for him. I’m not saying no vale, yo no creo; I’m saying DON’T PANIC.

At least not yet.

First things first: what were we voting for?

  • Senate: elected from party lists presented nationwide.
  • House of Representatives: elected from party lists in each department.
  • The left-wing primary: between Gustavo Petro and Some Dude.
  • The right-wing primary: between uribista Iván Duque, conservative Marta Lucía Ramírez and hard-right, religious conservative Alejandro Ordóñez.

It’s true, Petro did really well. It’s not that he beat a minor, local politician, 85% to 15%, but rather that he was able to get 2.8 million votes two months away from the first round of the presidential election. That’s more than a leftist candidate has ever obtained in such a race, positioning him well to the runoff.

On Venezuela, Petro has been all over the map, from saying Chávez was a great leader, to ignoring the issue, to accusing his opponents of being the ones with chavista-like policies.
But if Petro won, Iván Duque won big.

Despite facing a tougher primary opponent (former presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez), he won decisively with over 4 million votes, confirming he’ll be Uribe’s voice in this election. Ramírez is now his running mate.

Venezuela has been an important theme in their campaigns. Ramírez even visited Caracas and met with opposition leaders, in an effort to show the extent of the Venezuelan crisis to voters.

That being said, around 8 million people decided not to participate in any primary, which were open to everyone, but only for one of the two.

All you need to know is that Santos’ party (U) lost seats and Cambio Radical, the party of former VP and presidential candidate Vargas Lleras, gained a few.

In the Congressional elections, the uribista party, Centro Democrático, also performed well. Despite losing a senator, they’re now the largest party in this chamber, increasing their vote total. Uribe himself was the most voted candidate, with over 875,000 votes.

Then comes the messy middle, with four parties getting 12-14% of the vote. These parties, Cambio Radical, Conservative, Liberal and U, don’t have much of a defined ideology, relying mostly on regional figures. All you need to know is that Santos’ party (U) lost seats and Cambio Radical, the party of former VP and presidential candidate Vargas Lleras, gained a few. Party cohesion is close to non-existent and support will shift as the political winds change.

Within this bloc, attitudes to the Venezuelan government are fairly uniform (opposing and denouncing it), but there are differences on whether to take a directly combative approach, like Uribe, or a more pragmatic one, like Santos.

Something worrying me is that we’ve started to see Venezuelan immigrants as political targets, and xenophobia may become a useful political weapon as the crisis aggravates, especially in border regions like Norte de Santander, where Santos won in 2014. Regions have become more uribista, as seen in the peace deal referendum, and these elections.

The smaller, more progressive parties, also saw improvement, especially the Greens, who doubled their representation in the Senate to ten seats and were the most voted party in Bogotá. While they don’t have a single cohesive ideology, their base tends to be upper/middle class, educated, urban and progressive. They’ve denounced Maduro and chavismo, making the case that there’s room for progressive proposals and open criticism of the Venezuelan government.

Freshly-elected Green Senator Angélica Lozano has made the case that mass migration from Colombia to Venezuela presents us with two challenges: first, the ethical imperative to reciprocate and, second, that restricting migration does absolutely nothing for the millions of Venezuelans who have, or can claim, Colombian citizenship.

While middle class Colombians face tough challenges, they’ve seen Venezuelan immigrants transform from being their bosses, coworkers and small business owners, to informal sellers on public transportation.

Something worrying me is that we’ve started to see Venezuelan immigrants as political targets, and xenophobia may become a useful political weapon as the crisis aggravates.

Why are these voters so relevant? Because they’re the key to Petro expanding his base (perhaps forming an alliance) and being competitive, especially if the election goes to a runoff. His coalition did well for a first time party, crossing the threshold to get seats, but it only got 4% of the vote, with similar results for the traditional left-wing party Polo Democrático.

How about FARC? Well, a very smart piece argues that, despite the attention they got around the world, they were not relevant in the election, getting just a tiny percent of the vote (though they have 5 seats in each chamber guaranteed by the peace treaty), and won’t field a presidential candidate.

So despite Petro’s results, anti-Maduro uribistas did well and Petro needs more moderate voters to support him. Yet, I’m still worried.

It’s not that we won’t talk about Venezuela in the campaign, we vote a week after Maduro’s “election”, it’s the way it’ll be used as a political weapon, excluding all discussion on how to address concrete issues like migration or international relations.

On the right, candidates haven’t been able to effectively argue what exactly has gone wrong in Venezuela. Taking pictures of poor people living in precarious housing in Caracas is not a convincing argument, when millions of poor people already live in neighborhoods that look exactly like that all over Colombia.

This gives the left space, while not directly endorsing chavismo, to claim that the argument is being used as a political boogeyman and, worse, that the problems in Venezuela are as bad and of the same kind as those in Colombia, completely missing the point.

And that frustrates me to no end.

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  1. What can I say?
    It is nothing more than a vulgar popularity contest in the end, a roll of the dice!.
    Unlike you, the overwhelming majority of voters have no clue about Politics, Economy, International affairs, etc. Mainly because quite simply there is no enough time to learn and keep updated about these very complex issues. It is unrealistic, dishonest and naive to pretend otherwise.
    What frustrate me is the many Democracies around the world that keep exposing themselves stubbornly to these dangers, always an election away from total disaster in the name of an anachronistic Dogma that has proven time after time a destructive agent for Democracies.
    Don’t get me wrong Self-determination is key but within reasonable limits. same for Liberties.
    What is the point in electing among A, B or C if most of the people doesn’t even know the differences between A, B -AND- C.
    Why is acceptable that people have these voting rights but not acceptable to demand for their civic duties, at least to know A, B -AND- C ?
    When I see people encouraging others to vote, it frustrate me to the end, because both parts have missed the point of what a prosperous Democracy should be about.
    If you don’t know and have no interest in politics, Please don’t vote, that should be the proper message instead.
    Good *LUCK* Colombia!

  2. Thanks for the explanation of factions and their support and putting it in understandable perspective. American press is not making this “headline news”.

  3. “On the right, candidates haven’t been able to effectively argue what exactly has gone wrong in Venezuela”.

    Pendejos.. all they have to do is showcase such simple, obvious facts as:

    -Highest hyper-inflation in the planet
    -Highest murder rates
    -Highest massive immigration in Latin America’s history: up to 5 million gone.
    -Poverty rates before/after Chavismo
    -Repression, political prisoners, media censorship,
    -Proven ties of Colombia’s Farcs with Chavismo..
    -Kicked out of Mercosur, Summit of the Americas, bombarded by ONU, accused by Almagro’s OEA..
    -Punished by Macron and the entire EU
    -Soon to be vilified and castigated again by Pompeo and the USA.
    -1 Bolivar “fuerte” = how many Colombian pesos before and after Chabestia?

    If Duque is smart, he should emphasize all this and more, get all the stats. Then show ample proof existing on YouTube plus other media that Petro is a hard core Chavista disfrazado. Latest TV interview where he talks about “global warming” when asked about Chabestia.. If Duque does this right, he’s the next president. Colombians are a bit more educated than clueless Venezuelans that supported Chavez. That and a good campaign tying Petro-Chavez should suffice. It already killed Pablo Iglesias’ Podemos in Spain..

  4. Hey, I can appreciate the urge to comment on Colombian elections. But come on:

    Let’s not contaminate that country in any way by saying a WORD on what they’re doing.

    Not only don’t Venezuelans have the right to do that, Venezuelans have enough problems of their own.

    Seriously, dudes.

    • How is reportage “contamination”? How does one group of people not have the right to follow another group of people and stay informed? Perhaps you don’t like the editorial tone (“DONT PANIC”) — that I can understand. But Columbia is Venezuela’s neighbor and an important country in South America whose political transformation is important for a host of reasons. I’m appreciative that the CC team is giving us some coverage!

      • Humoridium is a critical element, atomic number 119, atomic weight 0. It’s very rare as a pure element (must be manufactured in labs in a vacuum, sometimes at near absolute zero temperatures). It’s extremely volatile and unstable because it combines so readily with other elements.


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