“There is not much room in the agenda of public opinion to pay close attention to the US elections,” says Elizabeth Pinilla Duarte
By Adriana Dancu
This is the last in a series of interviews with people in Groningen that have a connection to the Americas, to try and find out their views on the recent US elections. In this last interview we spoke to Elizabeth Pinilla Duarte, a PhD researcher from Colombia, who gave insights into how Colombia has experienced the US elections and their aftermath.
The Coronavirus pandemic affected everybody. But when your country is confronting major political issues as well, it is very unlikely that you can make the time to engage in the political affairs of another country, even if that country is a global superpower. This, essentially, is the view from Colombia on the US Elections, says Elizabeth Pinilla Duarte, a PhD student at the University of Groningen.
Colombia’s domestic issues generate a tendency towards indifference regarding the US elections
Two weeks ago, The Northern Times talked to Gonzalo Albornoz, about how Chile experienced the US elections, and there we also saw a note-worthy disregard on the part of Chilean people regarding the US political affairs. The main cause was the persistent domestic issues in Chile (which is in the process of writing a new constitution). Colombia, another regional South American power, is very much similar to Chile in that regard.
Currently, Colombia is confronting with political polarization, violence against social leaders, the Coronavirus pandemic, and protests against police brutality. Thus, “there is not much room in the agenda of public opinion to pay close attention to the US elections,” says Elizabeth. She further states that “media channels do not seem to highlight the subject in a relevant way. TV news and online newspapers streamed US elections during the counting of votes, but there has not been much more information about it.” As a result, Colombians, especially ordinary people, do not have the time, or the easily-provided means to engage with US politics right now.
Regarding the way in which Colombia judged Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, Elizabeth says that, indeed, “there is a general negative image of Trump’s management of the pandemic.” However, she argues that there were “not so many comments on Trump’s racist statements and racist political actions,” which is quite surprising, because in the past months anti-police brutality protests took place all over the world, many in support of the US protests. Nevertheless, Elizabeth says that the US protests “made Colombian people see with better eyes protests against Colombian police brutality some weeks after George Floyd’s murder.” It looks like that the anti-police protests in the US have begun to inspire similar movements in South America as well.
“The fear of becoming ‘like Venezuela’ has increased during the last years because of the way that narrative spreads through the media”
Last week, The Northern Times interviewed Prof. Dr. Bieger at the University of Groningen, who explained media’s role in the 2020 US elections, and how media outlets can be very divisive. Unfortunately, Colombian media seems to be spreading the same narrative as the US: “there is a very similar narrative between Colombian mainstream narrative and the USA’s one,” says Elizabeth. Both Colombia’s officials, and the media are trying to accomplish their own agenda, regardless of how questionable, or controversial it is.
“It is well known that Donald Trump is constantly and publicly making statements against every other position that differs from his own, and that he easily accuses those other positions as belonging to socialist ideologies,” says Elizabeth. She argues that this is also the case among Colombian politicians: “the right-wing and former president Álvaro Uribe (member of Centro Democrático) filtered the idea of Colombia as being endangered by what he called “castro-chavismo,” which merges the names of Fidel Castro from Cuba, and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, and tries to spread the idea of Colombia risking to become as Venezuela “if any other party than the Centro Democrático party led the country.”
Elizabeth states that given the present polarisation in Colombia, “some people (including Colombian politicians) might support Trump because they believe he is fighting against communism. The fear of becoming “like Venezuela” has increased during the last years because of the way that narrative spreads through the media.” Colombian politicians were urged not to get involved in the 2020 US elections, amid allegations that lawmakers were campaigning for Trump in Florida.
Colombia’s FARC-EC peace agreement, and US interventions are decisive for what administration Colombians prefer
The FARC-EC peace agreement refers to the peace process between Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to bring an end to the Colombian conflict. After an unsuccessful referendum, the agreement was given to both houses of Congress, which ratified the agreement on November 29-30, 2016 thus, marking an end to the conflict. Nevertheless, the ratification of the agreement did not put an end to the violence against FARC members, and social leaders defending the peace agreement, which makes peace within the country still difficult to achieve.
Among Colombians, mostly officials, there is some hope that Biden will support the FARC-EC agreement more than Trump, and Trump’s interventions in Colombia do not put him in a good light. “Trump sent in the military to Colombia to fight against remaining guerrillas and other illegal combatants. Something that almost nobody saw with good eyes for two different reasons: firstly, military intervention is completely against the objectives of the peace agreement, the view on peace it addresses. Secondly, and not related to the first, is the general perception that US military going to Colombia would bow the country before the United States even more,” says Elizabeth. She argues that ordinary people see that “with the passing of the years, politicians have “sold” the country, especially to US interests. And during Trump’s administration that image was invigorated.”
“Independent journalists have said that Biden would support the peace agreement, as he stated when still vice president under Obama. However, there is the fear that because the Colombian government openly supported Trump’s campaign, the US might take some subtle retaliation regarding international relationships among the two countries,” says Elizabeth.
As a result, because of the Colombian’s government reluctance to actually implement the peace agreement, and to decrease social inequality and exclusion, and because of US interventions in Colombia, Elizabeth argues that “ordinary people might see that Biden or Trump as presidents are the same regarding Colombian affairs. Because, as I said, traditionally it has been witnessed how US interests might be going against Colombian growth as a country.”
Similar to Chile’s perspective of the US and of the coming Biden administration, Colombia’s domestic issues, and US’ constant interventions that are sometimes “against Colombia’s growth as a country,” plus media’s unwillingness to thoroughly present and debate important events, the relationship between Colombians and the US is somehow cold; Colombia’s fear of bowing even more before the US is very much persistent. Albeit, there is also the notion that US’ presidential elections would be relevant for the peace agreement in the coming years.
Elizabeth Pinilla Duarte is a Colombian PhD student at the University of Groningen. In her PhD paper, “Twittering for peace? The construction of meaning and Otherness in digital media representations of the Colombian Peace Process,” Elizabeth addresses public opinion on Twitter about the Colombian peace agreement and murdering of Human Rights Defenders, with analysis of semantically-latent layers in discourse around the subject.