Sunday, 23 May 2010

Colombian party election HQs tell a tale

Last week I got new gig writing about the Colombian presidential election, which required a little research. It seemed wise to start at the campaign headquarters of the two front-runners.
Currently ahead by a nose is Antanas Mockus. He is a flamboyant character with a Michael-Eavis beard, promising clean politics, change and hope. All good, inspiring stuff, apart from the disastrous beard.
The poll-topping status of the Green Party candidate must come as much as a surprise to him as it does to everyone else. It had been assumed the election would be a victory for Juan Manuel Santos, the supposed heir elect of the wildly popular President Uribe.
Only behind by a whisker, Santos was Defence Minister during the Uribe government, which its supporters credit for pacifying the Farc and saving Colombia from anarchy. He promises continuity, which is difficult to find overly exciting but possibly vote-worthy.
Were they ice creams, Mockus would Ben and Jerry’s (strong, in-your-face new flavours that you’ll love or hate) to Santos’ Haagen Dazs (classics that are comforting or you're sick to death of).
The two HQs are walking distance from each other in the affluent north, which was thoughtful of the party organisers.
A short, spluttering bus ride up the Septima took me to the Green centre of operations. Cleared through security, I was inside the smart, converted family house, which is now home to countless, terribly busy people in green T-shirts.
The walls were covered in signs about upcoming flash mobs and funky posters of their candidates. Posters were hurriedly passed to hard-working activists in green Converse boots emblazed with the party’s sunflowers symbol, slurping (I assume) organic espresso from biodegradable plastic cups.
Further back, cooler, older heads discussed strategy. The charming press lady spoke like the Skatman’s Latina cousin on speed.
The atmosphere was of place where a lot of highly focussed people were going about their business but still finding time for a little flirting and a laugh. In short, if they win, I imagine the party will be a lot of fun—assuming they can find enough fair-trade booze.
And so to Haagen Daaz. A three-block walk past the elegant locals and a couple of tiny, displaced indigenous women breast-feeding infants took me to the U Party HQ.
Rather than an evil empire hidden inside a volcano, it looked like it had recently been a functional municipal building.
For a party selling itself on its trustworthy security credentials, it was a surprise to walk straight in without any of the guards asking who I was.
Once inside, I wondered through the building, which had seen better days, looking for the reception.
I was expecting a lot of sharp-suited, US-educated political experts. Instead a youth with a heavily pierced nose sat next to his mother at the reception desk, in front of a quad/building site. Having asked to speak to their media department, I followed the lad about on his search for the illusive dahlings.
Our quest proved fruitless, and we eventually discovered that they were in another building. Alastair Campbell would have been distinctly unimpressed, he might even have sworn.
The media department were a block away in a lovely adapted home, like the Greens’. Past security, I was shown into what would have been the wood-lined dining room.
Something felt wrong, and then I realised that the whole house lacked any sign of a forthcoming election. It also lacked people. There were banks of computers with one person sat on his own—there was no sign of urgency here.
An elegant, young Colombiana arrived. While she was undeniably convivial and extremely professional; taken as a whole, the Santos brand was looking rather uninspired and shapeless.

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