The Human Impact

Votes for cash, beer and bricks in Colombia’s upcoming elections

In Colombia, it’s easy to tell when election season is in full swing.

Potholes are suddenly filled with cement, stretches of roads are paved and local officials rush to inaugurate often unfinished public buildings. It’s one way to show that public funds have been well spent under their watch as a way of helping the political party they represent to do well at the polls.

Election campaign posters and pamphlets stuffed in postboxes say “no to corruption” and “public funds are sacred”.

Yet election-rigging scandals, allegations of election fraud and vote-buying are an all too common feature of the political landscape in Colombia.

In Colombia’s parliamentary, local and presidential elections over the decades, local media have reported ineligible voters casting ballots, including some using fake or stolen identity cards, and tampered electoral registers that include the names of dead citizens or have names listed twice.

In past elections, local camera crews in slum areas have shown how votes are exchanged for a plate of meat, rice and plantain, or for bricks, roof tiles and other building materials. Local media have reported votes being allegedly bought for around $15 a go.

Are Colombians willing to give ex-fighters a second chance?

Over the past decade, a stepped-up government military offensive against Colombia’s two main rebel groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) – has prompted growing numbers of guerrilla fighters to desert and lay down their arms.

On average, 10 fighters demobilise every day in Colombia.

Since 2003, nearly 55,000 combatants from illegal armed groups have given up their weapons, including some 30,000 fighters from right-wing paramilitary groups, who disarmed during a peace process with the previous government.

The Colombian government says helping former fighters to return to civilian life is a top priority.

Little justice for Colombia’s acid victims

Acid attacks are on the rise in Colombia.

In the first four months of this year, 19 women have been attacked with acid in Colombia – more than during the same period in 2011.

Gloria Piamba, 26, is one of those victims.

As I wait on a street corner for Piamba to turn up on a recent drizzly day in a gritty residential neighourhood in central Bogota, she is an easy figure to spot.

Piamba emerges from a government-run women’s refuge with her head wrapped in a shawl and a young son in tow.

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