Aug. 9, 2011, 5:29 p.m.
Cutting the Links Between Crime and Local Politics: Colombia's 2011 Elections is a paper published by the International Crisis Group that focuses on the link between local governments and illegal armed groups. As Colombia became more decentralized, illegal groups had more to gain by influencing the decisions of local governments. A long standing relationship existed between criminal and political actors. While over time there has been a decrease in violence and killings related to elected officials and candidates, recent years have started to see an increase again as new groups start to make a stand and old entities, like the FARC, want to show their continuing relevance. This is especially important in relation to the upcoming local elections on October 30, 2010. Thirty-two governors, 1,102 mayors, and departmental assemblies, local councils, and a local administration board will be elected. In order for Colombia to keep this under contro,l preemptive steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of candidates and increased prosecutions of those who resort to violence and intimidation. The paper provides multiple recommendations to the Colombian government, campaign officials, candidates, the National Electoral Council, and Colombia’s congress to combat the influence of illegal actors and armed groups.
There are substantial risks that a variety of additional means, including intimidation and illegal money, will be used to influence outcomes. The government must rigorously implement additional measures to protect candidates and shield the electoral process against criminal infiltration, corruption and fraud. Failure to mitigate these risks would mean in many places four more years of poor local governance, high levels of corruption and enduring violence.
Colombia is better prepared than in the past to take on these challenges. Impunity is decreasing, as judicial investigations into links between politicians and paramilitaries have resulted in the conviction of some two dozen members of Congress. Investigations and indictments are now moving down to the local government level, albeit slowly and unevenly. In July 2011, the government signed into law a far-ranging political reform, paving the way for the imposition of penalties on parties that endorse candidates with links to illegal armed groups or face investigation for drug trafficking and crimes against humanity. Election financing rules and anti-corruption norms have also been stiffened, although shortcomings in the legal framework remain.
Guaranteeing the conditions for free, fair and competitive elections remains the dominant immediate challenge for the government. But more needs to be done to protect local government from the influence of illegal armed groups over the long term. The National Electoral Council (CNE) must be strengthened and become more independent. Congress needs to update and simplify Colombia’s diverse electoral rules. Political parties must establish stronger internal structures and develop a culture of accountability. These changes will ultimately be insufficient, however, if local government continues to lack the institutional capacities to guarantee democratic, clean and efficient management of its affairs.