Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can an Election Turn White People Black?

Afro-Colombians? Moisés Orozco and María del Socorro Bustamante, elected to represent Colombia's AfroColombians. (Photo: Semana)
About 20% of Colombia's 47 million citizens are of African descent. So, many people - particularly AfroColombians - found it strange that in Sunday's vote the two people elected to the two seats reserved for the AfroColombian community look very white.

Afro-Colombian protesters carry a banner denouncing the
white holders of the Afro parliament seats.
In addition to appearing quite white, Moisés Orozco and María del Socorro Bustamante, have some dubious connections and episodes in their pasts.

After the vote, AfroColombian leaders who really are Afro, questioned whether these two white people really had the experience and knowledge to represent Colombia's black population.

"(Those two) don't represent the spirit of the Afro-descendent community," Zulia Mena, mayor of Quibdó, Chocó, who once held one of the seats, told El Tiempo. "They don't have a legislative agenda for the reality lived by Colombia's black population. They don't know the situation."

Neither of the new congressmembers has made many comments to the media. Socorro Bustamante reportedly 'declared herself a member of the AfroColombian community,' while Orozco claims to have a distant relative who was black. Perhaps both are seizing onto the old 'one drop rule' in the Southern United States, in which anybody with a single black ancestor was considered black. Or, perhaps they're relying on the fact that, since humanity evolved in Africa millions of years ago, all of us are ultimately of African descent.

Afro-Colombian participants in a recent
protest march in Bogotá.
Socorro Bustamante's election was challenged before the National Electoral Commission (CNE), which confirmed her victory.

The election of the Afro representatives had been somewhat polemical from the start. Strikingly, some 70 candidates had competed for the two seats. The great interest may come from the fact that the organization on whose ticket the two were elected, Fundación Ébano de Colombia (Funeco), holds numerous contracts with local governments in Sucre Department, according to Semana magazine.

Both Orozco and Socorro Bustamante also have questionable pasts and connections. Orozco, an attorney, has defended alleged narcotraffickers. In 2010, two politicians accused Orozco of making death threats. One of the accusers was later murdered, a crime which has never been solved, reports Semana.

For her part, Socorro Bustamente has links to Enilse López, known as 'La Gata,' a political business and political power player from Colombia's Caribbean coast linked to corruption and now in prison for murder.

Both Orozco and Socorro also have political links to a regional political boss in Sucre Department, who himself reportedly has links to outlawed paramilitary groups.

But electoral authorities appear to believe that both politicians were elected fairly by the AfroColombian community, and that they hold their seats legitimately.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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