Sunday, May 30, 2010

Voting Rules (Part II)

Today marks a very important day for Colombians; this will be the first time in eight years that they will elect a new president. In the country's bumpy and politically challenged history, only recently have people had the opportunity to be politically active without fear of retribution, or worse. If a candidate gets over fifty percent of the popular vote, the race will be over. Historically this has not happened and subsequent elections are held, knocking out the lower vote-getters each time, until a majority is achieved. This also means the potential for several future "dry weekends" in the coming weeks, as is one of the voting traditions here.

As it stands, the election has become a two-candidate race with two others in contention but not threateningly so. Juan Manuel Santos, a member of the "U" party and self-proclaimed ally of current two-term president Álvaro Uribe, and ex-Bogotá mayor, Antanas Mockus of the "Green Party," are leading in the campaigns. (It should be noted that Mockus's "Green Party" is in no way similar to the "Green Party" of U.S. elections.) The other two candidates that have fallen and risen in popularity, respectively, are Noemi Sanin, the only woman in the race and another self-proclaimed Uribe ally, and ex-Senator Gustavo Petro.

It is amazing to me the knowledge of those too young to vote but the empowerment many of them feel irregardless of this fact. Many times it is easy to dismiss the political views and opinions of students as simply being the rehashings of what they hear at home. Refreshingly, many of my students, can not only give an informed opinion about the candidates but also the entire political process. I know that I didn't have that kind of understanding when I was in ninth grade, let alone an interest.

At school and on the streets, it is not uncommon to see not only signs and flyers but bumper stickers and t-shirts, campaign propaganda techniques that are par for the course in the U.S. but unseen in Colombia before this race. The most frequent are the green shirts sported by Mockus supporters (pictured above at a rally in Cali last weekend*) although the orange and white of Santos and vintage-style yellow and black of Petro are also not unpopular.

Its fascinating to be living in a country undergoing such a potentially huge political change and be able to watch it without having to form an opinion. As an ex-patriot who has only just begun to scratch the surface of the complex history of the country, I do not feel as though I deserve to have one, which makes being a spectator to the whole process that much more engrossing. Whoever emerges victorious, one this is clear - the Colombian people are the true winners for finally finding their voice and being able to participate safely in true democracy.

*Photograph by (and jacked from) K. Radermacher

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Being that time of year, crescendoing toward the final days of school, sometimes it feels like a miracle that I make it to the end of the week without maiming someone. It was appropriate then that last weekend my friends Beatriz, Hana, and I took a short day-trip to the small town of Buga (say: boo-gah), about an hour north of Cali, to visit the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros, a church credited with granting miracles to many who have visited.

The entire city of Guadalajara de Buga, as it is offically known, seems to be build with the "Miracle Church" as it's crown jewel. If one is approaching the basilica from the front, it is possible to have an unobstructed view of it for about the preceding seven blocks as a buildingless bricked promenade leads worpshippers toward the towering building.

Basilica del Señor de los Milagros

As a municipality, Buga is one of Colombia's oldest cities, founded in the mid-1500's. Part of this reason is tied directly to the church and its miracle-giving properties. According to the story, when missionaries from Spain came to the area they attempted to convert the local indigenous populations. One indian woman was saving her money to be able to buy a small crucifix for herself. One day she saw some conquistadors taking a man away to jail for his outstanding debts which he couldn't pay due to his poor econimic standing and his large family, who needed food. The indian woman payed the man's debts which her crucifix-savings. Later, while she was washing clothes at the river, a small crucifix came floating by. She took the tiny cross home and, according to legend, it grew bigger and bigger each day. The cross now hangs in the church crypt behind the altar in a glass case where visitors can view it during church hours.

Although we did not see anyone, it is customary to revisit the church, as a show a gratitude, should your miracle be granted. People blessed with miracles walk on their knees into the church; some, presumabley, from several blocks away. Maybe I can swing a return visit if June 18th arrives and no one - students or teacher -have been hospitalized. That might be a miracle.