Mockus goes to run-off in Colombian presidential election

  • 2010-06-02
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On May 30, Aurelijus Rutenis Antanas Mockus Sivickas, 58, the son of post-WWII Lithuanian emigres Nijole and Alfonsas, received 21 percent of the vote in the first round of the Colombian presidential election. His main rival, Juan Manuel Santos, former defense minister of the very popular outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, received 47 percent of the vote. These two candidates will compete in a run-off on June 20. Social surveys predicted a better result for Mockus, but Colombian media says that surveys in this country, with a population of 45 million, are a rather new phenomena representing mostly the views of the urban population. Although Mockus has Parkinson’s disease, he says that he still has 12 years of relatively good health left in him.

Santos would like to continue the policy of pro-U.S. President Uribe, while Mockus, like Brazilian President Lula, wants to keep good relations with the U.S. as well as with the left-leaning countries of Latin America. Santos is a typical representative of the political elite, which is quite corrupt in Colombia, while Mockus is a rather extravagant intellectual, not having the support of a traditional party organization. Mockus’ main problem: his mostly Internet-based election campaign is not reaching the rural areas.
“Both my parents are Lithuanians. Later, my mother lived with another Lithuanian. It was more important for my family to buy books than purchase some furniture,” Mockus said on Lithuanian public TV in very good Lithuanian on the day of election.

“I’m sure that in the case of a Mockus victory, soon we will have the visit of the Colombian president in Lithuania. I have no doubts that relations between Lithuania and Colombia would become closer. […] There are the words Lituano Antanas Mockus in almost all articles in the press here,” Laima Andrikiene, member of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats and Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, participating in the European Union’s monitoring team in Colombia, told the daily Kauno Diena. Mockus has become quite popular in Lithuania: there is a 340-strong Lithuanian group on Facebook named “Antanas Mockus for President - Lithuanian Support.” Mockus is not a typical politician. He joined the Partido Verde (“Green Party” in Spanish) in 2009. He has no big sums for self-advertising - his election campaign is mostly done by his enthusiastic supporters on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In March, he was supported only by three percent of potential voters. At the moment, no candidate from any green party has won a presidential election anywhere in the world. The popularity of green T-shirts with the Spanish inscription “Mockus Presidente” shows that Mockus has some chance to become the first one.

Mockus is not a new kid on the block of politics. He was a successful two-term mayor of the Colombian capital Bogota, which has 7.3 million dwellers. He was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1998 and 2006. During his rule in Bogota, this city’s public transport sector improved significantly and the crime rate dropped. According to Mockus, the main thing is to do a revolution in people’s heads - “then nobody will even think about murdering another human being for 2,000 pesos (0.8 euros) or 200,000 pesos” - he said in one of his election campaign rallies. The main symbol of his campaign is the pencil, which symbolizes the need for education. Mockus is a former rector of Colombia’s National University, a mathematician and philosopher.

Although his pacifism is sympathetic to many Colombians, who are tired of violence, he made a couple of mistakes after which his popularity rating dropped during the campaign. Mockus spoke positively about Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of neighboring Venezuela, who is unpopular in Colombia. Mockus mentioned that he would hand over current President Uribe to Ecuador for his military operation against Colombia’s Marxist FARC group on the territory of Ecuador (though he later took back his words, stating that he was not well informed about this case from the point of view of international law). Uribe is popular because of his tough stance against the FARC terrorist army, which controls a huge area of Colombia. Mockus is not a friend of the FARC either. When he, as mayor of Bogota, was threatened by FARC, he started to wear a flack-jacket with a hole in the shape of a heart near his heart. Such pacifism impressed the FARC and they reduced their activity in Bogota.

In 2006, Mockus visited Lithuania and gave an interview to Lithuanian TV and Radio (his first visit to Lithuania was in 1974 when he was improving his Lithuanian language at Vilnius University). He denied that he is eccentric. “No, I don’t think that I’m eccentric. I behaved weirdly several times because of educational reasons,” Mockus said. For example, he was taking a bath in front of TV cameras, showing his compatriots how to save water. However, in fact, he has some eccentricity - when he was the 44 year old mayor of Bogota, his marriage with his wife Adriana took place in the circus in a cage full of Bengali tigers. Now he has two daughters and a son in this second marriage. His first wife was Lithuanian-Colombian Danute; their daughter now lives in Australia. Mockus also said, back in 2006, that Lithuania has changed a lot since the Soviet era and looks like Western Europe, just with some U.S.-style inclusions. He knows what he says - he studied in France and gave speeches at Harvard and other U.S. universities.

During the last pre-election week, Mockus communicated on Spanish TV with Jurgis Didziulis, leader of the Lithuanian band InCulto, who represented Lithuania in Eurovision 2010. Didziulis was born into a wealthy Lithuanian family in Colombia. Although InCulto had no luck in Eurovision, the Colombians were proud that their countryman participated in Europe’s show, which is watched by 120 million TV viewers: 10 Colombian journalists called Didziulis with requests for interviews on the eve of Eurovision’s semi-final, with the participation of InCulto. Mockus invited InCulto to give concerts in Colombia.

Mockus’ presidential campaign became a top story in Lithuania due to his Lithuanian origin. Other ‘Lithuanians’ in power abroad are acting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski (he is expected to win the presidential elections, the first round of which will be held on June 20) and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Komorowski sometimes describes himself as “Lithuanian.” His family roots are in the Kavoliskis estate near Rokiskis. In 1988, after visiting his family’s former estate, he even managed to smuggle, in his jacket’s sleeve, a painting from the Kavoliskis estate through the then Soviet-Polish border. Komorowski is a relative of the Belgian Princess Mathilde, who is the wife of the heir apparent to the Belgian throne. The majority of European royals have some Lithuanian blood due to the rich medieval history of Lithuania. Papandreou has ancient family documents regarding his belonging to the Lithuanian nobility, and he visited the graves of his ancestors in Lithuania. However, Komorowski, Papandreou and the European royals have no strong attachment to Lithuania as does Mockus, who speaks Lithuanian.