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Thursday, May 25, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

This Sunday is the first (and probably final) round of the Colombian Presidential Elections.

Here is the first in a series of profiles on the candidates (at least the major ones).

Horacio Serpa (Partido Liberal): Official Web Site.

Serpa is a classic Colombian politician, insofar as his political career was built as a party insider and out of local clientele networks. He is a career politico.

He was a cabinet-level minister in the Samper (1994-1998) administration (Government and Interior) and has been the PL’s nominee for President of late (1998, 2002 and now 2006). He is therefore poised to be a three-time loser, matching Álvaro Gómez who ran as the Conservative nominee in 1974 and 1986 and as the candidate of the National Salvation Movement in 1990.

Serpa is also on the brink of doing what no PL candidate has ever done: come in third in a presidential election.

The zenith of his career was when he was part of the tripartite leadership of the National Constituent Assembly that wrote the 1991 Constitution along with the aforementioned Álvaro Gómez and Antonio Navarro of the AD/M-19, who recently lost the nomination of the PDA to Carlos Gaviria. The nadir of his career may be coming this weekend. (In parlance of PoliBlog, Serpa is toast).

Serpa was no favorite of the US during the Samper administration, which was viewed by the Clinton administration as having inordinate ties to drug cartels. See: Russell Crandall. 2002. Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press. for an excellent discussion of that (and other issues in recent US-Colombian relations).

Here’s a chronology of his career 1970-present:

1970: Alcalde de Barrancabermeja.
1970-76: Juez Promiscuo Municipal de Tona; Juez Penal Municipal de San Vicente de Chucurí; Juez Civil Municipal de Barrancabermeja; Investigador Criminal de Santander; Juez Superior de Barrancabermeja.
1971-74: Director de la Federación Nacional de Comerciantes FENALCO - Bucaramanga; Director Caja de Compensación Familiar - Barrancabermeja.
1974-76: Representante a la Cámara por Santander.
1976: Secretario de Educación de Santander.
1978-82: Representante a la Cámara por Santander.
1979: Presidente Directorio Liberal de Santander.
1982-86: Representante a la Cámara por Santander.
1983: Presidente de la Comisión Política Central del Partido Liberal.
1986-90: Senador de la República.
1988-89: Procurador General de la Nación.
1990: Ministro de Gobierno.
1990-91: Senador de la República.
1991: Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente.
1991-92: Consejero Presidencial para la Paz.
1994: Ministro de Gobierno.
1995-97: Ministro del Interior.
1998: Candidato a la Presidencia de la República.
1998-99: Director Nacional del Partido Liberal.
2002: Candidato a la Presidencia de la República.
2006: Candidato a la Presidencia de la República.

Of the candidate running, Serpa is the only one (to my recollection) that I have seen in person (and may have been introduced to, but am unsure). I was invited to a talk that he gave at the University of the Andes—I think it was during my first trip to Colombia in 1992 rather than the year I spent there doing my dissertation research in 94-95.

I must confess that I don’t remember a word he said. I do remember struggling to stay awake, however. I attribute my sleepiness less to the fact that Serpa may have been boring, but to the fact that I found operating in a foreign language, especially when I first arrived, to be extremely fatiguing—not to mention all the walking around Bogotá—at high altitudes to boot!

Trivia: in Colombian political cartoons Serpa’s mustache is oft-ridiculed. Serpa himself has been referred to as “El Bigote.”

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7 Responses to “Know Your Colombian Presidential Candidates: Horacio Serpa”

  1. Matthew Says:

    His bogote is simply classic. I would never have recognized him in that first, goofy, photo. But the photos get to be more and more Serpa as one scrolls down.

    I have always considered that Constituyente triumvirate to be worthy of the best magic realism, just by its existence, because the M-19 of Navarro had once held Gomez captive. (Navarro, as noted above, also could have been a candidate for this election. Gomez’s son was elected to the Senate, I think, in March. Clientelism and its family politics dies hard in Colombia.)

    I saw the triumvirate in action at the Constituyente, and Serpa is indeed boring (except for the mustache, of course). The only one I got to meet was Navarro.

  2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    The top photo is from his official campaign web site and show that ‘stache as trimmed as I have ever seen it.

    One could get a lot of ajiaco stuck in that thing.

  3. Karen Says:

    Never knew who he was before; now I know. Talk about persistance. Does he not get the hint. Perhaps he should look into another line of work.

  4. B. Minich, PI Says:

    Three words:

    Best. Mustache. EVER.

    You wouldn’t see that on most politicians.

  5. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Know Your Colombian Presidential Candidates (Ballot Edition) Says:

    [...] ential Candidates (Ballot Edition)
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    The second in a series leading up to this Sunday’s presidential elections in Colombia Here’s the ballot (cl [...]

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    [...] in a series of profiles on the candidates (at least the major ones)-previous entries here and here. Carlos Gaviria (PDA): Official Web Site. Gaviria is the candidate of the Alternative Democ [...]

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