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Colombia: Just University Graduates in Congress

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

6 September 2020

There is a bill before Congress that would make having a university degree a requirement for standing for Congress.  The initiative comes from the Democratic Centre Party and seeks to "set a further requirement for high positions within the state, that currently do not require it, to hold a primary university degree."(1)  According to its backers, they seek to elevate the level of debate in Congress.

The Bill sets out some exception, such as for indigenous or blacks in the special constituencies, but the indigenous or black person who stands for election outside the special constituencies must also have a degree.  It is a highly reactionary proposal, but it didn't come to life in the heart of the right, but in the left and it is a clear example of be careful what you wish for.

When Macías was elected as president of the Senate, there was a lot of controversy about his lack of academic training and not so much about his intellectual brutishness in and of itself, as if a university degree conferred intelligence.  Macías was responsible for many messes in Congress, but they were political and backed up by members of Congress, such as his speech to the opening of Congress.  First they questioned his baccalaureate as it seemed to be fake, they he produced documents showing that at the age of 41 he sat the ICFES tests where he obtained a score of 270 out of 400.  She is not exactly a leftie, much more of a liberal but in reality many so called left congress members are just liberals in practice, so we can cite María Antonia Pardo.  Her questions are a faithful reflection of what was said by large section of those who describe themselves as revolutionary.

It is no secret that the Colombian educational system comes at the end of any international list and so when it comes to evaluating it, the majority of national students obtain mediocre results or just barely scrape by.  This is very clear.  But who the hell convinced us that, as this is the case, we should resign ourselves to being governed and that our laws be proposed, drawn up and passed by the most insignificant, the shallowest of those who come out of our educational institutions and not by the most brilliant?  If you look at the Executive, it is currently presided over by a "seven" and the Legislature by a "six".  Is it a lot to ask that we be lead by "eights" and above as in the time of check patterned uniforms and polished buttons we chose the best to represent us in another college?  Is it hateful, discriminatory or anti-democratic?  Why do we despise the most studious, those we disparagingly refer to as "nerds"?  Do you think that in competitions not related to art or music, someone would choose a representative for their institution that scraped by with a six?  It seems as youths we were clear about it.  Is it not the case that as we dropped that healthy custom of choosing the best in the past, that the current president is great playing the guitar and football but really bad when it comes to governing?(2)
You can feel the elitism of the author regarding the educational system, who uses it and the grades received by the students.  We should be governed by eights.

Cabal(3) has a degree in Political Science from the elite Los Andes University but but believes the Soviet Union still exists, Putin is a communist and the Banana Workers Massacre is a myth.  Paloma Valencia(4) has various university qualifications, she is lawyer from Los Andes with a post graduate diploma in Economics from the same university and a Masters from the University of New York in Creative Writing.  But there is no one more stupid.  Simón Gaviria(5) is another one.  According to his own web site he is an economist from the University of Pennsylvania with a cum laude thesis on Pension Reform and a post graduate diploma in Mathematics and Econometrics.(6)  Not only can we presume that he can read but also that he can read in English.  However, he doesn't read, or at least he doesn't read the laws he passes.  In 2012, a scandal broke during Santos' first mandate regarding justice reform, as Gaviria signed the law that he hadn't read.(7)  Santos had to call Congress in for special sessions to undo the mess that "Doctor" Gaviria had made.

Criticisms of the academic background come from the left, as if in practice going to university was a universal right.  They believe that the problems in Colombia are a question of individual failing and a lack of qualifications on the part of the politicians.  However, Uribe, José Obdulio(8) and Alfredo Rangel(9) and others all have university qualifications and they are not stupid people.  Now the right has picked up on the idea and aims to exclude the majority of the population from being members of Congress for not having a university degree, a qualification that the poor obtain with great hardship, if they manage to obtain it at all.

The right to politically represent a group of people is a democratic right which should not be filtered by academic or professional qualifications.  A shoe shine has the right to put themselves forward in the name of other shoe shines or even medical doctors, if they want to.  There is an idea about that only the privileged should or can represent others.  It is not a Colombian idea; it is found throughout the world.  Even Gandhi had the idea that he was the representative of the so called untouchables (Dalits) and not Ambedkar who was a Dalit.  It is worth pointing out that Ambedkar would go on to play an important role in drawing up the constitution of the new republic of India, but to the elitist Gandhi, he didn't deserve to represent his own people.(10)  There have also been, and there still are,  discourses around Blacks, Latinos and Arabs etc. about who should represent them and whether they should meet some requirement imposed by their lords, whether they be of the left or right.  The criticisms of the academic background of various politicians comes back like a boomerang and the right with one stroke of the pen, should the Bill be passed, can restrict the right of the poor to represent themselves.  The very cheap Colombian left throw around proposals, slogans and chants with the precision of wedding guests throwing confetti and with the same result: they just litter the streets.

The problems with Colombian politicians are ideological not academic and the feudal lords in Congress on the left and right are not better than the poor and have no right to exclude anyone from being elected.  Colombia has elected many with Masters degrees and it has done no good, time to elect shoe shines and recyclers. Or do they not have a right to have a say and a vote?

After restricting the right to be elected they will restrict the right to vote with the same arguments.  Around the world many voices on the right have said so and there are historical precedents for it.


(1) El Espectador (04/09/2020) El proyecto que busca "elevar" el debate político exigiendo títulos a congresistas

(2) Pardo, M.A. (29/03/2019) El Icfes de los presidentes

(3)María Fernanda Cabal is an extreme right wing senator linked to Uribe and married to the president of the notorious cattle ranchers' association that backed the paramilitaries.  She has stood out for some amazingly stupid comments, including one to protestors: "Study you lazy shower"

(4)Paloma Valencia is another extreme right wing senator linked to Uribe.  She is the grandaughter of President Valencia whose decision to bomb a group of peasants led to the founding of the FARC.

(5) Simón Gaviria is an influential figure in Colombia, he was the head of the Liberal Party Directorate and is the son of former president, Cesar Gaviria.

(6) Semana (22/06/2012) "No vi la minucia de la ley ni revisé la ley artículo por artículo": Simón Gaviria

(8)José Obdulio is the cousin of Pablo Escobar and one of Uribe's main advisors and is also a senator.

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