Colombian Hernandez offers a passive revolution from above | Opinions

On May 29, businessman Rodolfo Hernandez of the League of Anti-Corrupt Governors (LIGA) came out of nowhere in Colombia’s presidential election. Hernandez is a brash construction magnate with a mediocre political stance (sound familiar?), who once bizarrely confused admiration for Adolf Hitler and Albert Einstein and promises bounties for citizens who report corrupt officials.

Left-wing front-runner, Gustavo Petro, couldn’t muster the needed 50 percent +1, so he will face Hernandez in a second round on June 19. Place.

Hernandez is about to join a long list of right-wing populists who came to power using polarizing politics around an “us versus them” binary, mostly blaming racial, ethnic and religious minorities for political and economic stagnation. This list includes Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India, Duterte (and now Marcos) in the Philippines, Berlusconi in Italy, Orban in Hungary, Morales in Guatemala, Bukele in El Salvador and others. Despite their many differences, one paradoxical aspect unites these disparate right-wing populists: an anti-corruption mantra that is not what it seems.

Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that corruption is a bad thing; not all anti-corruption fights are the tool of right-wing populists, and anti-corruption right-wing populists respond to real social and political crises.

Indeed, corruption saps resources from already weakened states, weakens democracy, favors elites and wastes money that could be spent on necessary programs.

Leftists, including Colombia’s Petro, are waging their own anti-corruption campaigns targeting the inherent biases of late capitalism, and centrist anti-corruption proponents draw on rational-legal norms and good government traditions like those of 20th-century American reformers. Left, center, and right-wing anti-corruption movements often arise simultaneously as rival responses to very real social and political crises.

Over the past few years, such crises have combined the pandemic, recession, inequality, inflation, climate change and infighting among political elites, creating a perfect storm and sparking protests – and several anti-corruption battles – around the world.

Also in Colombia, these crises led to widespread and hard-pressed protests between 2019 and 2021. Hernandez responded to the situation by adopting a uniquely right-wing, populist anti-corruption policy, committing millions to millions despite his tenure as mayor of Bucaramanga and real estate.

For right-wing populists like Hernandez, anti-corruption means a top-down revolution, responding to any social and political crisis without fundamentally changing social relations. This tacit support for the status quo often allows right-wing populists who walk on anti-corruption pledges to gain support from the traditional center and the right, as has already happened in the US Republican Party and is currently happening in Colombia.

To resolve political crises characterized by standstill, passivity and infighting, right-wing anti-corruption populists elevate unelected actors to positions of power within the state, including elements of the security apparatus, judicial officials and the bureaucracy.

These actors often seem stern against corruption – arresting, incarcerating and regulating – and their unelected status means they are answerable only to the right-wing populist who appoints them or keeps them in office. Right-wing populists also elevate far-right partisan elites and force centrists and center-right actors to accept extremist leadership. In such scenarios, left-wing politicians are always the most disadvantaged, as they are constantly attacked by unelected authorities.

To respond to economic crises, right-wing populists elected on anti-corruption promises are reorganizing economic elites. International capital and its local allies, especially intertwined national and international financial interests, dictate their strategies for recovery – mostly extreme versions of neoliberalism, replete with privatization and relaxation of environmental and labor laws. Elites who support the national productive capacity are usually seen as corrupt, especially in developing countries.

The biggest targets of such anti-corruption right-wing populists are always trade unions, environmental groups and other basic rights advocacy groups.

Instead, right-wing populists mobilize working-class voters around dominant group identities, blaming all their problems on corrupt (left-wing) politicians and marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and gender groups. The middle class, mostly from dominant groups, also join the farce because they fear that left-wing redistribution could erode their status.

There is much reason to believe that a Hernandez presidency will see a repeat of all these tried-and-true right-wing populist tactics in the Colombian context — a scenario that will do the most harm to the most marginalized and vulnerable segments of society.

And in Colombia, a right-wing populist like Hernandez will also have the approval of the US. After all, the US deplores attacks on democracy and minorities abroad, but joins populist right-wing regimes that openly attack democracy when they are useful as bulwarks against the left.

Just weeks before the first round of the Colombian presidential election, US diplomatic envoy Victoria Nuland met with all of the center and right-wing presidential candidates, including Hernandez, who knocked out frontrunner Petro, and handed over $8 million to Colombian security forces so that they could commit their own human rights abuses. It’s clear that if Hernandez wins on June 19 and becomes Colombia’s next president, the US will fully support its so-called “anti-corruption” agenda and in turn privatize, deregulate and other economic moves in favor of American companies and their local allies. will welcome at the expense of the Colombian people.

Only the Colombian people can prevent this grim scenario from becoming a reality.

The track record of right-wing anti-corruption populists around the world foreshadows what Hernandez really promises: a top-down revolution that would not change social relations for the better, while empowering unelected state organs, organizations and movements that work to improve the lives of the working class and advance Washington’s interests.

Hernandez offers no real remedy for the crisis of the middle and working class. Only the left can truly end the Colombian crisis by promoting national sovereignty, raising working class incomes, defending minority rights and above all preserving democracy. What the populist right, Hernandez included, is offering is nothing but a passive revolution from above.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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