By Albeiro Rodas
A new political crisis has put the Colombian Peso and the Dollar in a frenetic dance of revaluations and devaluations. The Supreme Court of Justice’s decision to sentence the ex-Senator Yidis Medina, who confessed that she accepted bribery from the government in order to support the constitutional reform that allowed the consecutive presidential election, caused also that the 2006 – 2010 presidential period was questioned in its legality. To this, President Álvaro Uribe called almost soon after the Yidis´ sentence for a referendum to repeat the 2006 elections, an event that created strong reactions from Uribe´s opponents and an institutional crisis.
The history of a reform
The reform to the 1991 Constitution allowed that a Colombian president could apply for a consecutive period, just as it is in countries like the United States. Until that 2004 reform, a Colombian president could only present himself for new elections but not in a consecutive way, therefore, to wait other’s presidential period. The Uribe´s government introduced the reform project to the Constitution in order to follow the program of Democratic Security of his government that almost defeated the leftist guerrilla and involved Paramilitary groups in a kind of peace process. The constitutional reform was signed by President Uribe on December 2004 and approved by the Congress of the Republic.
According with the Spaniard Real Institute Elcano (RIE) in a 2005 analysis of the constitutional reform of 2004 in Colombia, such reform would transform the times of the Colombian democracy opening the possibility for 8 years´ presidential periods and changing therefore the conducts of the central government. RIE said at that time that it would modify also the balance among the three branches of the democratic power giving more capacity to the President for the direction of his own political organizations and consequently a more leading role to the former presidents, although limited.
The Constitutional reform of course opened the way for the reelection of Uribe in 2005, which had already a great popularity. Even today his popularity is of 80%, being the highest of any Latin American chief of government. Again under the perspective of the Spaniard analysis, the reform would guarantee strengthen of the State and its consequent capacity of ending the long decades political conflict in the South American nation.
The approval of the reform was not easy among many discussions in the entire political arena of the country, preceded by a referendum at the beginning of 2004 called by the same government and that was a real failure. However the high popularity of Uribe and the statements of Noemí Sanín, at the time the Colombian ambassador in Spain, reopened the discussion in favor of the constitutional reform. Sanín said then that the president should be reelected or his presidential period should be extended. With all this circumstances in favor, the government began a campaign in favor of the reform that was seen as inappropriate by some observers that suggested that the government should not be so much involved in its approval, otherwise it could be read as a political campaign, for example, Semana Magazine in an edition of April 4, 2004 said that if President Uribe faced directly the matter, the reform would not have success.
The government, however, tried to gain favor to the approval of the constitutional reform in the Parliament. In June 2004 the reform suffered a crisis when the Chamber almost refute the project and the reform could pass with only two votes in favor, but it passed the other Parliament sessions without problems. At the same time, the project received some demands that stated problems in procedure and legal principles, actually things that were simple as delays in the publication of the official media of the Congress. Others said that the Parliament was not competent to approve radical reforms to the Constitution. If the reform was approved, said some of the opponents at the time, it would break the principle of equality, because a President would have more advantages in his/her candidacy than others.
The reform was signed by the Congress on November 30, 2004 and it opened the reelection of President Álvaro Uribe who won the new elections with a 60% of votes in his favor and let him in the Nariño Palace until 2010.
Yidis – Politic
In April 2008 the former member of the Parliament Chamber, Yidis Medina, admitted that she received bribery from the government to vote in favor of the Constitutional reform. All the persons implicated by the statement of Medina denied the accusations and President Uribe said that “The National Government persuades, it does press nobody and it does not buy the conscience of others.” However, on June 26, 2008 the Supreme Court of Justice concluded that Medina sold her vote in favor for the Constitutional reform and that she is guilty of bribery. The Supreme Court declared also that the approval of the Constitutional reform was “a clear deviation of the power.” The Court asked also to the Constitutional Court to review the reform.
The Yoyo – Peso
The decision of the Court opened then a new institutional crisis for the Coffee country. For some observers, if President Uribe is asking a referendum, he is hiding his responsibilities in the case with the people and then growing the President power over the other democratic branches. If there is a repetition of the elections, according to such point of view, Uribe could extend his period until 2012, however this conclusion was denied by President Uribe who said that he just want to review the legitimacy of the 2006-2010 period.
The announcement of President Uribe affected the economy immediately. During the last weeks the Colombian Peso was suffering a speedy revaluation of the Dollar that put troubles to the exporters. With the new political crisis the Peso fault again in 5, 7% to be in 1.980,5 pesos per a Dollar at the end of last Thursday. If the exporters were headache before, the headache passed now to the investors.
The decision of the President is seen by many observers from many points of view. For some experts it only brought to a bigger concentration of power in the hands of the President. For others, the referendum is the only way to prove the legality of the reform and that Medina was not the vote that made the reform to pass in the Congress, but it was a decision of the Parliament as a whole.
However, what is true is that Colombia is suffering currently a crush of powers, with a gross group of Congressmen who have been investigated for links to Paramilitary groups and many of them in prison, most of them supporters of the President. The solution to the crisis should come therefore from prudence, either from the same President or from his opposition.
- POSADA CARBÓ, Eduardo. Colombia ante la reforma que permite la reelección presidencial. ARI, No. 11, 2005. Artículo publicado por el Real Instituto Elcano, Madrid, 24 de enero de 2005.
- “‘El Gobierno persuade; no presiona ni compra conciencias’: Uribe”, Secretaría de Prensa de la Casa de Nariño, abril 19 de 2008. Consultado el 11 de mayo de 2008.
- Uribe ante una nueva tormenta. America Economía, 27 de Junio de 2008.