Monday, May 24, 2010

Amid Tensions and Surprises Colombia Prepares to Elect a New President

My latest article from The WIP, an intro to the Colombian presidential election on May 30th for those who don't regularly follow Colombian politics.

An Earth Day campaign celebration for candidate Antanas Mockus in Medellin, Colombia. Photograph by Flickr user Sergio Fajardo Valderrama
Colombia prides itself on being Latin America’s oldest democracy. Unlike its neighbors, Colombia has not suffered brutal military coups and dictatorships and, with one brief exception, has held regular presidential elections since the mid 19th century. Nonetheless, in a country mired in internal conflict in which armed actors attempt to influence outcomes through violence, vote buying is not an uncommon practice and dozens of senators have recently been convicted of collaboration with paramilitaries. Election season in the country highlights the danger and complexity in which the country continues to live. And, as Colombians prepare to elect the successor of Álvaro Uribe, tensions are high and some surprises are surfacing.

While Uribe – who changed the country’s constitution in order to run for a second term – remains popular and is hailed by many for improving security, recent scandals tainting his presidency may be affecting the two candidates seen as his heirs, his former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Conservative Party candidate Noemí Sanín. Those scandals include both wire-tapping Supreme Court justices, journalists, and opposition politicians and extrajudicial executions – a practice in which poor young men are kidnapped from cities, taken to the countryside and shot, then dressed up in guerrilla uniforms and claimed as combat kills. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adjusting to life back in the Bay

I have been back in San Francisco for about two weeks now, after nearly two years of living and working in Colombia. Many things are the same here--the weather that changes moment to moment, the hipsters on their fixies, the lovely Victorian architecture--but some things have definitely changed--way more fancy coffee and ice cream shops in the Mission, a new apartment building where I remember an empty lot. Kind of like me, I suppose: I am still Moira, but several seemingly-small changes I have undergone in the past two years have created important shifts in my character. Now I have to figure out how to navigate those changes in myself and in the people and places in this familiar-yet-different old home of mine.

Despite the fact that it's been nearly two months since I've been back in the U.S., I still have periodic moments of culture shock, though the feeling of confusion and disorientation have mostly faded by now. In my first days back in the Bay, though, I didn't feel totally at ease in many public settings because the norms I became accustomed to in Colombia are different in so many ways. A couple weeks ago I had lunch with a friend who has also spent time in Colombia, so we were able to talk in depth about current events and dynamics in the country. As she explained her analysis of recent guerrilla and paramilitary activity, I found myself tense, and glanced around to see who might be listening in. As soon as I realized what I was doing I laughed at myself and relaxed; here in the U.S., unlike in Colombia, I don't have to be careful about what I say where.