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"Clans" win big in Local and Gubernatorial elections: Petro's party loses ground
The Colombian president's party lost mayoral races in every major urban center, while traditional parties made big gains in governor slots
A special edition update on Colombian elections
There is no other way to frame it. Pacto Histórico, the party of leftist president Gustavo Petro, took a beating in local and gubernatorial elections Sunday. They lost mayoral races in every major urban center, including Bogotá. They captured governor positions in only two departments— Amazonia and Nariño, though allied parties won two more— in Magdalena and Cauca.
Perhaps more surprising however was the astonishing degree of success of Colombia’s traditional political machinery and the familial political clans that have long dominated the country.
The Liberal party, Conservatives, and the Party of the U, all long-established political coalitions, even made headway into bastions of Petro support during the 2022 presidential elections, including regions still wracked by conflict such as Chocó and Guaviare— a phenomenon that could be a public expression of frustration with a lack of progress in Petro’s “Total Peace” plan for the country.
Alex Char, whose family has long run the Atlantic coast, and has long been implicated in a host of illegal activities, including laundering money for criminal armed groups, held on as mayor of Barranquilla, where he will carry out a third term.
His brother is in jail, and just last week Mexican Intelligence services accused him of working with a host of criminal groups, including the Sinaloa cartel, via shipping ports on the coast controlled by his family.
The new mayor of Sincelejo, near the Atlantic coast, will be Yahir Acuña, who gained fame handing out whiskey and bills in exchange for votes. He is also under formal investigation by the Supreme Court for his alleged links to paramilitaries.
Traditional party machinery even outed “outsider” incumbent candidates in Cartagena, Cúcuta and Buenaventura— all of whom vowed to fight Colombia’s notoriously corrupt political system, and all of whom had difficulty governing.
In small municipalities in conflict areas, it is difficult to parse the results from the influence of organized armed groups that control the areas (we reported in depth on this a few weeks ago), but many were carried by coalition parties that do not make up a part of Pacto Histórico’s coalition.
The extreme right, however, hardly fared any better. Centro Democrático (CD), the party of former president Iván Duque, only netted two governor seats. And their candidate for mayor of Bogotá, ex-defense Minister Diego Molano, managed only 2.5% of the vote share in an embarrassing defeat that likely prevents him from running for political office again.
They did however win an unlikely City Council seat in Cali. Andrés Escobar, who in 2021 famously fired a pistol at protesters in Cali, netted 11,000 votes to represent CD as a councilman. Escobar has been charged with usurpation of public functions, use of dangerous objects and disproportionately aggravated threats for his actions during mass protests in Cali.
Despite some colorful exceptions, however, these elections seemed to be a grand victory for the “maquinarias”— the traditional political machines that have been built up by an elite political class over decades.
Their candidates can often be described by a common phrase here in Colombia “they steal, but they get shit done”. It seems that after a cycle of electing outsiders, most of the Colombian public largely endorsed career politicians from the center-left and center-right.
It’s an illustration of the lasting power of the political class here as much as it is a rebuke to Petro’s so far disappointing delivery on reform-based campaign promises.