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What a heady few days it’s been for Colombia. There’s what you might call a giddy excitement about the place. Most of that, unsurprisingly, is emanating from La Selección’s (national football team’s) rather impressive start to the World Cup. After a gap of 16 years since their last appearance at the finals, seeing off a seasoned tournament side as Greece are 3-nil, the European’s somewhat muted challenge notwithstanding, has to be applauded. And that it certainly was, and then some. You can only imagine what the celebrations would be like if Colombia actually went on to win the World Cup.
Then, just over 24 hours later, you had what for many is seen as a victory for peace – or at least to give it a chance – with Juan Manuel Santos’ re-election as president. Sure, this hasn’t united the country in anyway close to the way the football team has nor was it celebrated as universally.
A quick look at the numbers illustrates this: Taking the amount of votos en blanco (votes for neither candidate, at just over 4 per cent) and null votes together with the 45 per cent who sided with the challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga, and it could be argued that just as many Colombians are against Santos, or at least indifferent to him, as are for him. A turnout of 48 per cent further muddies the water.
However there is a feeling that a Zuluaga presidency, with the hard-line, highly divisive former president Álvaro Uribe in the background, would have been somewhat of a regressive step for the country. It certainly would have been for the ongoing peace talks the current government is holding with the Farc rebels for one. While there have been false peace dawns here in the past, there does appear to be a majority of Colombians who feel this time could be different.
What’s pretty much assured is that it’s something that is effectively going to define Santos’ legacy. At his victory speech, he spoke about how any peace achieved is not going to be that of ‘Juan Manuel Santos or of this government.’ It will be, he said, ‘peace for all Colombians.’ That of course is true. Yet as president, Santos is the man leading the way. Rightly or wrongly, it will be at his door praise or criticism lands. Fail and he’ll be seen as another Colombian leader duped by the guerillas; succeed and a Nobel Peace Prize surely awaits.
Whatever your thoughts about Santos, he has certainly proven himself to be astute when dealing with both colleagues and potential rivals. He was happy to use his Uribe links to help him claim his first term; then he washed his hands clean of them once the job was done.
To this end, questions are being asked about what, if anything, he has in mind for Clara López. The defeated leftist candidate from the first round very publicly endorsed him for president, replete with a TV ad, once she exited the race. It’s hard to precisely measure how much this helped, but it didn’t do any harm. So is there a seat at the cabinet table for López after showing such support? Or will it be a case of ‘thanks, now off with you’?
Then there’s the Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and his faction, again from the political left, who also supported the Santos ticket. It’s hard to believe that all this was unconditional; not in these parts.
At what could be seen as hints as to what he has in mind, and for the weekend that was in it, Santos spoke about learning from La Selección. ‘Our players’, he said, ‘taught us that it’s not possible to arrive at the big leagues playing as individuals; it’s indispensable to work as a team.’ Thus, he added, ‘we are going to form a national selection government to continue building a country more just and egalitarian.’
This begs the question: Is his ‘national selection’ going to contain diverse elements, a counterpoint to the traditional centre-right that Colombian politics is chiefly made up of? We’ll have to wait and see on that one. Furthermore, that ‘more just and egalitarian’ country might be harder to achieve than peace with the Farc; and perhaps less sought after.
One of the Santos campaign slogans was ‘A lot done, more to do.’ As is the case for the national football team at the World Cup, the greater challenges lie ahead. For now optimism remains, and with mostly good reason.
However Colombians from all backgrounds don’t need to be reminded how hope can quickly turn to despair. In many ways, on all fronts, the work is only beginning.
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