Colombian Liberals choosing their 2018 presidential candidate

The 2018 Colombian presidential elections will be held in May 2018. Campaigns are already well on their way, but the field of candidates remains very tightly packed: with no one clearly breaking through in the polls, everyone are confident in their own chances and determined to go as far as possible. There are over 40 declared presidential candidates (not all of them important or even known), most of them seeking ballot access by gathering signatures rather than by a party’s endorsement. With no one clearly breaking through on their own, everyone assumes that it will be impossible to win in 2018 without a broad coalition, so different candidates and their movements are forming their own coalitions and, in some cases, seeking to hold open primaries in March 2018 to settle on their single candidate. With a first round victory looking extremely unlikely, there have even already been rumours of potential second round alliances.

The Liberal Party, one of Colombia’s two old traditional parties which has fallen on hard times, is choosing its own 2018 presidential candidate today in an open primary, the first primary election of the 2018 electoral season. It is an ‘open’ primary so any registered voter can participate, and like all other party primaries it is organized by the country’s electoral organization (Registraduría).

The rationale for organizing a primary early – rather than in March 2018 on the same day as the congressional elections – is to pick a candidate early who will participate in an ‘inter-party primary’ (consulta interpartidista) with other supporters of the peace process in March 2018, the hope still being to participate in a broad-based ‘coalition for peace’ to challenge the right/far-right (Vargas Lleras; uribismo and allies) in the first round of the presidential election in May 2018. Whether this will actually happen is another matter, but wet dreams have never stopped anyone in Colombian politics.

Turnout is expected to be very low given that there are no other concurrent elections and the clientelist political machines (which matter more when no one else bothers voting) have no real incentive to actively participate (especially when they’ll need to participate actively, and spend money, in March, May and June). Some people in the party tried until the last minute to cancel the primary, out of fear that whoever wins will win with very little votes and therefore start the presidential campaign in a weak position. The Registraduría, which complained about the costs of organization, agreed with the party – in anticipation of low turnout – to reduce the number of voting locations by over half so that it only costs about 40 billion pesos ($13.2 million). Even this cost has been judged by many voters to be exorbitantly high. The primary is comparable to the September 2009 Liberal presidential primary, which had a low turnout of only 1.3 million. Today, getting over 1 million votes would likely be a very unexpected surprise.

The field of candidates narrowed from 6 to 2 – one was forced out (Viviane Morales), one refused to participate (Juan Manuel Galán) and two dropped out (Luis Fernando Velasco and Edinson Delgado). Only two candidates are left standing, and the outcome between the two appears unpredictable given the expectation of very low turnout: Humberto de la Calle and Juan Fernando Cristo.

Dissident voices having been silenced by the imposition of a ‘manifesto of liberal values’, there are few policy or ideological differences between the two: both are closely associated with and very strongly supportive of the peace process, both are broadly socially liberal and both are wishy-washy centrists on economics. Both candidates, notably, have been very critical of ‘populism’. Both are strongly anti-uribista, and have also opposed Germán Vargas Lleras – refusing the unlikely possibility of including him in a primary in March or a hypothetical ‘coalition for peace’. With that in mind, here are your candidates:

Humberto de la Calle, the incarnation of the peace agreements

Born 1946, age 71. Native department: Caldas

Offices held: National Civil Registrar (1982-1986), Minister of Government (1990-1993), Presidential Designate (1992-1993), Vice President (1994-1996), Ambassador to Spain (1994-1996), Ambassador to the UK (1998-2000), Minister of the Interior (2000-2001), Ambassador to the OAS (2001-2003), Chief Negotiator in the peace process with the FARC (2012-2016)

Humberto de la Calle was born in Manzanares, a mountainous municipality of around 20,000 in Caldas (centre-west, Eje Cafetero). Educated in Manizales, the departmental capital, he graduated in law from the University of Caldas (the most prestigious regional public university) in 1969. After working as a lawyer, his political career began in the 1980s, first as municipal judge in Salamina (Caldas), departmental secretary of government and then as National Civil Registrar (head of the Registraduría, one of the two electoral bodies) from 1982 to 1986. He briefly served as a magistrate on the Supreme Court in 1986, after most of its members were killed during the siege of the Palace of Justice in November 1986. Humberto de la Calle became a political fixture in the 1990s: in December 1990, despite a largely technocratic background and little experience in the nitty-gritty of politics, he was appointed Minister of Government (interior minister) by President César Gaviria during one of the most important periods in recent Colombian political history. Among other issues of high importance, he managed the government’s relations with the constituent assembly which adopted the current constitution of 1991, the ‘revocation’ of the Congress elected in 1990 by the constituent assembly, the reinsertion of recently demobilized guerrilleros (M-19, EPL, PRT and MAQL) and the design of the new constitutional guarantees for their political participation. He was also the government’s representative in the failed Caracas and Tlaxcala peace negotiations (1991-1992) with the FARC, ELN and non-demobilized factions of the EPL. De la Calle was the penultimate presidential designate, the forerunner of the vice presidency under the old constitution of 1886, between 1992 and 1993.

De la Calle left the government in 1993 to run for president. He was defeated in the March 1994 Liberal primary by Ernesto Samper, placing a distant second with about 13% to 48% for Samper. In the Liberal conflicts of the 1990s, de la Calle was one of the major anti-samperistas or gaviristas, unlike his opponent in this year’s primary. Despite having been emphatic throughout the primaries that he would not be vice president, but with Samper’s insistence – and Gaviria’s convincing – he relented and agreed to be Samper’s running mate, in the interests of Liberal unity. It was a marriage of convenience between two men who disliked one another and came from different factions of the party. De la Calle was not, by the looks of it, involved in the campaign – witnesses and authorities both repeated that de la Calle was unaware (for real) of the Cali drug money in the Samper presidential campaign. Once elected, Samper and de la Calle began clashing on several issues – and de la Calle’s position quickly grew very uncomfortable because of the Proceso 8.000, unsure of what he should do given his position. For a time, Samper and his vice president found an agreeable modus vivendi: de la Calle was appointed ambassador to Spain. By 1996, however, the Proceso 8.000 had reached a point where de la Calle’s position was untenable. Samper would never resign and allow de la Calle to succeed him, paranoically thinking that his vice president was a conspirator in the plots against him. De la Calle was in a difficult situation: the samperistas instinctively disliked him and were suspicious of his true intentions, while anti-samperistas found that the vice president wasn’t tough enough against his boss. Then-interior minister Horacio Serpa, the leading samperista stalwart, said de la Calle ‘ni chicha ni limoná‘, a Spanish idiomatic expression for something that is unclear or wishy-washy. De la Calle left Madrid in the summer of 1996 and resigned the vice presidency in September 1996, after a strongly-worded letter to Samper in which he denounced the crisis in the country and convinced that Cali drug money had entered the campaign. He explored the possibility of a presidential candidacy in 1998, something which had been his stated intention in 1994, but his campaign soon faltered – the anti-samperista field was too crowded and, like in 1994, he lacked any strong machine backing (his only loyal ally in Congress was fellow caldense Luis Guillermo Giraldo).

In May 1997, he dropped out and endorsed former attorney general Alfonso Valdivieso, who for a time in 1997 seemed to be the strongest anti-samperista (Liberal dissident) presidential candidate against Serpa. Along with Valdivieso, de la Calle later endorsed Andrés Pastrana (the Conservative candidate supported by Liberal dissidents and independents). Under Pastrana, de la Calle was first ambassador to the UK but was called back to Colombia to be interior minister in May 2000, as interior minister Néstor Humberto Martínez (now attorney general since 2016) was facing a censure motion in Congress in the midst of a major political crisis between Congress and the presidency. De la Calle’s immediate task was to put out fires, mediating with the Liberal-dominated Congress to resolve the crisis. In 2001, he was appointed as Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS, a post he held until he resigned in December 2002, a few months after Álvaro Uribe’s inauguration. Like many old anti-samperistas, de la Calle was initially sympathetic to or supportive of Uribe. He supported Uribe’s 2003 referendum and helped him as a legal advisor for the design of the first reelection. However, from about 2002 to 2012, de la Calle dropped out of the public spotlight, returning to his legal practice with his son but never quite withdrawing from politics – remaining as an occasional commentator, columnist and, in the role of a ‘senior statesman’, advising the government on institutional/constitutional issues (notably the 2009 political reform). De la Calle opposed Uribe’s second reelection referendum in 2010.

In September 2012, Juan Manuel Santos appointed de la Calle as the government’s chief negotiator in the peace negotiations with the FARC, which had just been publicly revealed. De la Calle was perhaps the ideal pick for this important role: prior experience with peace processes (especially the [semi-]successful precedents of 1990-1991), a recognized expertise on constitutional matters (having been one of the ‘fathers’ of the 1991 constitution), a sensible and serious politician, a skilled diplomat and ‘senior statesman’ who didn’t owe anything to anyone having been out of politics for a decade (and even when he was in politics in the 1990s, he was more of a senior civil servant than traditional Colombian political boss). This is neither the time or space to retell the story of the Havana peace process, but de la Calle has received widespread praise for his role as chief negotiator. Not only did he secure an historic peace agreement in the end, but he was crucial throughout the actual peace talks in Cuba in ensuring the government spoke with a single voice, in keeping the negotiations focused, in resolving disputes and controversies and ensuring that the talks didn’t break down during the several times where they seemed to be on the verge of collapse (and with everybody, including Bogotá, ready to pull the plug).

He formed an unlikely successful power duo with Sergio Jaramillo, the high commissionner for peace — Jaramillo, a brilliant introvert, was the perfectionist who had studied other peace processes and had designed a clear methodology for the peace talks down to the last details; Humberto de la Calle, an eloquent diplomat and fine negotiator, brought the necessary rigour and discipline to the work of the government’s team and kept it together for four years in a foreign country. While Jaramillo’s cold personality rubbed some people the wrong way, no one publicly criticized de la Calle, who also had the respect of the opposite side (FARC). After the defeat in the plebiscite in October 2016, de la Calle’s resignation was refused by Santos and he returned to Cuba in a hurry to re-negotiate the peace agreement and, once again, he played a crucial role in keeping the FARC at the table and quickly reaching a re-negotiated peace agreement when many people thought it unlikely.

De la Calle’s success as chief negotiator greatly increased his notoriety and popularity. In the last Gallup poll (Oct. 2017), de la Calle’s favourability was 42% (unfav. 30%). Before the plebiscite, the high times of optimism when it seemed as if the Sí would triumph, de la Calle began being talked about as a potential presidential candidate and was declared by the media to be one of the favourites. His successful handling of the expedited re-negotiation kept his presidential hopes alive. Freed of his obligations to the government once the peace agreement was signed and ratified in November 2016, de la Calle remained characteristically coy about a candidacy but clearly began laying the groundwork for one. In early 2017, de la Calle participated in several academic forums about the peace agreement, where he welcomed students’ exhortations for him to run. He also began talking like a candidate – attacking opponents of the peace process and the implementation, throwing projectiles at Uribe and Vargas Lleras – and acting like one, meeting Liberal congressmen. De la Calle’s incipient unofficial candidacy was supported by former president César Gaviria, who was acclaimed as the Liberal Party’s leader at its last convention in late September, despite other presidential candidates’ concerns over his favouritism for de la Calle. Gaviria organized opportunities for de la Calle to meet with Liberal congressmen.

De la Calle officially announced his candidacy in early August, on the heels of a letter from 400 leaders – from social movements, civil society, retired politicians, businessmen and academics – asking him to run for president. He defined himself, indirectly, as the candidate of the peace agreement but also as a ‘civic’ rather than ‘partisan’ candidate – seeking to be the man to assemble a broad, civic coalition with students, businessmen, social movements and others to defend the peace process over and above individual parties. At the same time however, cognizant of political realities, he also sought out the Liberal Party’s support – but symbolically putting himself outside of it and conditioning it to certain points (party’s commitment to peace and ‘liberal ideals’). More concretely, de la Calle forcefully insisted on an open primary in November rather than in March (unlike Juan Manuel Galán), and in September he imposed an ultimatum and threatened to quit the party and run as an independent if the candidate wasn’t chosen before the end of the year. At the convention, supported by Cristo and Gaviria, the idea of a November primary won out – which led to Juan Manuel Galán to refuse to participate in it.

De la Calle is the ‘candidate of opinion’ – seeking to be seen as a ‘civic candidate’, supported by the Liberal Party but going over and above parties to build a broader coalition. In part because it is very much in vogue in Colombia right now to be an ‘independent’, even when you’re not, and disparage party labels — just ask Germán Vargas Lleras. De la Calle has less support within party structures than his rival, although de la Calle does have the very thinly-veiled support of party director César Gaviria and has shored up his support among party establishment ranks during the campaign. Although most congressmen are behind Cristo, de la Calle has received – among others – the endorsements of senator Rodrigo Villalba (Huila), representative Fabio Amín (Córdoba), representative Jack Housni (San Andrés), former senator Guillermo Santos (Tolima), senator Álvaro Ashton (Atlántico) — now under investigation for allegedly participating in both the Odebrecht and judicial corruption scandals — and senator Édinson Delgado (Valle del Cauca) — who dropped out of the race earlier this month. Outside the party, de la Calle was endorsed by U senator Roy Barreras, former Bogotá mayor and 2010 presidential candidate Antanas Mockus and Green representative Ángelica Lozano (who will, however, not vote).

Humberto de la Calle has been seeking out a spot in the ‘ni-ni’ coalition formed by Claudia López, Jorge Enrique Robledo and Sergio Fajardo — López and Fajardo like him and seem amenable to receiving him, but neither of them want an old traditional party like the Liberal Party to join their coalition.

Main platform points: Under the slogan “Un país donde quepamos todos” (A country where we all fit in), de la Calle is still ‘receiving proposals from citizens’ and sharing ‘his ideas’ — which seems to me to be a lazy way out of not having an actual platform. ‘His ideas’, from his website, are largely extremely vague valence issues and generic shout-outs to liberal ideas: peace, importance of education, ‘liberal and progressive ideas’, anti-corruption, security, democratic participation, ‘social transformation’, protecting the environment and fighting discrimination and inequalities. He describes the free market and free enterprise as the ‘engines of development’ but growth must be ‘inclusive’ and the state must ‘provide tools to the most needy’.

Fun and/or irrelevant details: This 1997 interview with de la Calle is interesting, if only because many of the same things he said then could still be said about the current state of Colombian politics, 20 years later. Also, here is Humberto de la Calle huffing helium with Daniel Samper Ospina, Ernesto Samper’s nephew and now YouTube personality.

Juan Fernando Cristo, the candidate of the machines

Offices held: Consul General in Caracas (1992-1993), communications advisor to the presidency (1994-1995), Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs – Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania (1995-1996), Ambassador to Greece (1996-1997), Senator (1998-2014), Minister of the Interior (2014-2017)

Juan Fernando Cristo was born in Cúcuta (Norte de Santander), the son of local Liberal leader and senator Jorge Cristo, who was assassinated by the ELN in 1997. Cristo is a lawyer with his degree from the University of the Andes in Bogotá, but has been in politics since 1990. Fresh out of university, at 26, he became private secretary to Ernesto Samper when he was minister of economic development under Gaviria from 1990 to 1991. He then served as consul general of Colombia in Caracas (Venezuela) for about a year, before going to work as a communications strategist on Ernesto Samper’s 1994 campaign. Once Samper was elected, Cristo – a loyal samperista, unlike de la Calle – became presidential advisor for communications (until 1995), while the Proceso 8.000 was emerging and growing. In late 1995, while remaining loyal to Samper, he moved for a more distant role – vice minister of foreign affairs to Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania and later ambassador of Colombia in Athens (Greece). In the 1990s, Cristo was questioned by authorities after César Villegas, a businessman tied to drug trafficking, accused him of having participated in the financing of congressional campaigns in 1991 with drug money. These accusations were never proven and Cristo never found guilty, although Álvaro Uribe – in his usual style of character assassination – brought them up again in 2009, during a feud with Cristo and the Liberal Party.

In 1997, Cristo’s father Jorge Cristo, a senator and one of the main Liberal caciques in Norte de Santander, was assassinated by the ELN. His son left Athens to run for Senate in 1998, elected with 46,000 votes. Cristo served four terms in the Senate, reelected in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Somewhat unusually for a Colombian congressman, Cristo was in opposition for three of his four terms – in opposition to Andrés Pastrana (as a samperista loyalist) and then to Álvaro Uribe until 2010. Between 2002 and 2014, Cristo was a member of the Senate’s first commission – the most prestigious commission, responsible for important issues like constitutional reforms, peace, statutory laws, civil liberties and territorial organization. Cristo supported Uribe’s 2003 referendum (unlike his party, which called for abstention) but opposed the justice and peace law (2005), both the first and second reelection and organized ‘political control’ debates on scandals like the ‘chuzadas‘ (illegal wiretaps) and Agro Ingreso Seguro to name just two.

In his last two terms, Cristo’s cause became the victims of the conflict — an issue which was personal (given his father’s assassination) although also a good political cause for his party. In July 2007, Cristo organized a day of solidarity with victims of the conflict in the Senate, an event which turned into a shameful farce as only a third of senators bothered listening to all victims’ testimonies – the same senators who had packed the house and applauded the discourses of paramilitary war criminals Salvatore Mancuso, Ernesto Báez and Ramón Isaza in 2003. Along with other Liberal senators, Cristo proposed a bill to recognize and offer reparations to victims of the Colombian armed conflict. This ambitious legislation, which served as the model for the victims’ law adopted by Congress in 2011, would have recognized the existence of an armed conflict (including the victims of the state) and guaranteed victims a right to reparations including humanitarian aid and assistance, compensation, restitution, rehabilitation and non-repetition. Because nobody bothered to read the text, uribista majorities in the first commission of the Senate duly approved the bill in its first debate in December 2007. In June 2008, despite the government – through interior minister Carlos Holguín – coming out in opposition to the bill, the bill was approved by the plenary of the Senate in its second debate. The government opposed the recognition of the armed conflict, the responsibility of agents of the state and claimed that the bill would be too costly (there never lacked money for ‘democratic security’, but when it came to victims, then suddenly they were scrooges). The original bill was supported by human rights NGOs, victims’ organizations, the Procuraduría (controlled by the liberal Edgardo Maya at the time) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, by the third debate (first commission of the House), the government took control of the bill and amended it to suit its wishes – most notably by redefining victims to only include those of illegal armed groups, rather than those of the state (who could only be recognized by victims after a lengthy judicial process). The government’s version was adopted in the third debate in November 2008, and Cristo claimed that his project had been ‘dismembered’. This same text was adopted by the plenary of the House in the fourth debate in June 2009. In conciliation, a text similar to that which had been adopted by the Senate, unacceptable to the government, was passed so the government asked its congressional majorities to kill the bill – with the finance minister (Óscar Iván Zuluaga) claiming, without bothering to offer actual evidence, that the bill was not fiscally viable because it would cost 75 billion pesos, and Uribe publicly repeating these claims and complaining that the bill treated ‘terrorists and soldiers and policemen’ the same. In June 2009, Cristo’s first victims’ law was killed in Congress.

Fast forward to the 2010 presidential election. In exchange for joining newly-elected president Juan Manuel Santos’ Unidad Nacional coalition, the Liberal Party obtained from him a commitment to pass two of the party’s cornerstone legislative proposals, including a victims’ law. Cristo, it could be noted, did not endorse Santos in the second round (unlike most Liberals), having been very critical of Santos when he was Uribe’s defence minister. In September 2010, the new president himself personally tabled a new proposal for a victims’ law before Congress and the government gave its full support to the law, which became one of the first major legislative battles of the new administration and one of the first direct causes of the ‘divorce’ between Santos and Uribe. Juan Fernando Cristo, now a member of the governing coalition in Congress, was one of the new bill’s strongest advocates in Congress, urging the government to push through despite visible rifts within the governing coalition because of the Conservative Party and the Partido de la U‘s preoccupation with some aspects of the bill. The victims’ law – Law 1448 of 2011 – was promulgated in June 2011.

Juan Fernando Cristo served as President of Congress for the last legislature of the 2010-14 Congress, from July 2013 to July 2014. He did not seek reelection in 2014, and his seat was ‘inherited’ by his younger brother Andrés Cristo. Cristo became one of the major actors in Santos’ 2014 reelection campaign, particularly in the campaign shake-up which followed the ‘shock’ of the first round and gave greater weight to the Liberals within the campaign organization (spearheaded by César Gaviria). Cristo is said to have been the one who insisted in putting peace at the centre of the campaign, which it was in the second round. In the second round, Cristo also coordinated the Santos campaign in Santander and Norte de Santander – two departments where the president had lost in the first round, but reverted the result in the runoff to win in both. Cristo’s regional role in the campaign was more that of a facilitator or coordinator than typical regional cacique – although Cristo and his political group remain a strong political machine in Norte de Santander, it is not hegemonic or unbeatable (as shown by the 2016 plebiscite, where the Sí, despite Cristo, lost heavily in Norte de Santander). In local politics, Cristo’s group in Norte de Santander has intermittently received support (notably in 2011 and 2014) from Ramiro Suárez Corzo, the former mayor of Cúcuta (2003-2007) who is now serving a 27-year prison sentence for masterminding the assassination of a lawyer.

Strong from his role in the reelection campaign, Cristo was appointed Minister of the Interior in the second Santos administration in August 2014 – an important senior cabinet portfolio which handles a wide range of issues. As interior minister, Cristo was behind some of the main legal and constitutional projects of the second term, first and foremost the ‘balance of powers’ constitutional reform of 2015, a political and judicial reform from which only the political reform (abolition of presidential reelection and some more minor changes) has survived, but also the law which made possible the plebiscite (with the reduced threshold) in 2016 or the constitutional amendment creating the ‘fast-track’ for implementation of the peace agreement. Cristo also became a key player in the final stages of the peace process in Cuba, with Santos effectively adding him to the negotiations to speed them up (the government was in a rush to get a peace agreement sealed and signed at the earliest possible date in 2016). Cristo was also critical to the legislative and constitutional implementation of the peace agreement — as minister, he presented the amnesty law (adopted in December 2016), the constitutional reform for the political reincorporation of the FARC and the constitutional amendment giving legal security to the agreement. Before leaving office, Cristo presented the political reform – to implement part of the peace agreement – before Congress, although he had anticipated it a few months before with a few of his own ideas (some of which didn’t make it to the actual bill) — compulsory voting, voting age lowered to 16, a 5-year presidential term, elimination of the vice presidency, 100% public political financing, closed lists and territorial representation for small departments in the Senate.

Ironically, the political reform initially proposed by Cristo back in May is still making its way through Congress, agonizingly slowly (despite the ‘fast-track’ which is now a joke) and has effectively been drained of its initial purported objectives to support the peace agreement (by expanding political participation and providing new guarantees to minor players), instead re-engineered by self-interested congressmen to support their own political/electoral interests only months before the March 2018 congressional elections. Cristo has abandoned ‘his’ political reform, asking Santos to withdraw it, saying that it has been emptied of its intended content. That hasn’t stopped Cambio Radical, Germán Vargas Lleras’ party (although he doesn’t want you to know that), from still calling the political reform (which it officially opposes but will happily use to serve its own interests if adopted) the ‘Cristo law’ (allegedly because it favours Cristo’s presidential candidacy). But facts have definitely never stopped Cambio Radical.

Cristo’s interest in the presidency has been an open secret for over a year, but the defeat of the plebiscite and the need for a strong minister to manage the first laws of the ‘fast-track’ forced him to stay on a bit longer in the government. He finally announced his resignation (as legally required) only days before the deadline, in late May 2017. He did, however, remain as a member of the committee monitoring implementation of the agreement (Csivi) until August. Upon resigning, he said he would defend peace ‘in the streets’, although in reality he worked to align his network of supporters within the party’s congressional caucus and structures. Cristo’s strength is his support within the caucus and party structures, the result of the alliances and contacts he made both as interior minister (which is responsible for relations with Congress) and as a senator himself for 16 years. Cristo officially announced his presidential candidacy in late September. While de la Calle came with a letter from 400 members of civil society, Cristo came with a letter from 40 congressmen – 30 representatives and 10 senators (over half the caucus) – asking him to run. Cristo’s campaign was a more typically partisan Liberal one, even only going by the choice of colours (only red and white for Cristo) or dress (red sweater vest).

If this was a normal primary with respectable turnout, then Cristo would not stand a chance at winning. His name recognition remains low (42% in the last Gallup), and among those who do know who he is, he isn’t very popular – 28% unfavourable for only 14% of favourables in the last Gallup, because he is associated with an unpopular government and seen as a traditional party politician. In polls for 2018, if they even ask for him, he only gets 0.5% – 1% of voting intentions. However, because turnout will be so low, the support from the party’s machines will be more important and Cristo has, I think, a strong chance of actually winning. His strength, in either case, will be that he can ‘bring’ the lion’s share of the Liberal caucus (minus a few high-profile dissidents) to any coalition, which gives him a strong bargaining position in any coalition negotiations. Cristo was endorsed by senators Horacio Serpa (Santander), Jaime Durán (Santander), Lidio García Turbay (Bolívar), Arleth Casado (Córdoba, the wife of convicted parapolítico Juan Manuel López), Mario Fernández (Sucre), Luis Fernando Duque (Antioquia), Luis Fernando Velasco (Cauca, who dropped out of the race) and Guillermo García Realpe (Nariño); and representatives Olga Lucía Velásquez (Bogotá), Andrés Villamizar (Bogotá), Miguel Ángel Pinto (Santander, president of the House for 2016-17), former representative Neftalí Correa (Nariño, corrupt political boss of Tumaco) and both Liberal representatives from Magdalena. In Norte de Santander, he has his own political group with his brother Andrés Cristo, and is getting support from powerful governor William Villamizar (recently indicted on corruption charges) and, from jail, from former mayor Ramiro Suárez Corzo. In Barranquilla, in a potential case of ‘outside sabotage’, the very powerful political machine of mayor Alex Char, one of Vargas Lleras’ key allies in the region, is working for Cristo – the reason being that charismo believes that a Cristo victory would weaken the Liberals and help Vargas Lleras. Indeed, while Cristo was one of the most vocal critics of Vargas Lleras for several months (even when both were in the same government), he has significantly toned down his criticism of the VP-turned-presidential favourite and left the door open to Vargas Lleras participating in an inter-party primary in March 2018 with the Liberals and others (on condition that Vargas Lleras commit himself fully to the peace agreement, which isn’t the case now).

After a quiet and uncontroversial campaign, Cristo began stirring up controversy, accusing César Gaviria of favouritism towards de la Calle and using his control of the party to pressure representatives to support de la Calle (with rumours that 2018 congressional endorsements are being conditioned to supporting de la Calle). Gaviria retorted by accusing Cristo of distributing ‘marmalade’ as interior minister. Just recently, La Silla Vacía broke that the secretary-general of the Liberal Party, who was Gaviria’s private secretary, is campaigning for De la Calle. De la Calle sought to avoid all controversy, refusing to comment on Cristo’s accusations and deflecting the issue to Gaviria.

Main platform points: Cristo has offered his ‘Ten Commandments’ (terrible pun) which are, broadly: peace, “tirelessly seek the political, social and economic changes needed”, regional autonomy/decentralization, security, rights for all, ‘proud of being Liberal’, anti-corruption, victims, “not falling in the temptation of populism” and “you will not insult, you will not offend and you will not spend too much” — in other words, meaningless blabber, with the possible exception of regional autonomy/decentralization, which Cristo has made into one of his main campaign planks.

I will have another post with the results once they are finalized in the next few days.

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