The Colombian Presidential Election, a Decolonial Turn!

by | 24 Jun 2022

“Colombia has elected its first leftist President” or some variation of that headline is the international’s press overwhelming description of Colombia’s presidential election last Sunday. It is correct, as correct as saying a small lot of prisoners revolted in a prison known as La Bastille the 14th of July of 1789, correct as an event that begins to occupy its own space of truth production. Nevertheless, what I want to show you is that what happened Sunday in Colombia is not only the promise of a new beginning, but as such a major historical turn, not only for the country, but for the country as a nesting ground of processes of decoloniality.

To understand Colombia, you must first understand that for the last 500 years the legal and ideological maintenance of privilege pulled by heavy chains of exclusion and the violent repression of difference (any difference that dares part a smidge from the fantasy of the white male entrepreneur) is the at the heart of what the country is and how it feels itself to be, and more importantly how it seemed condemned by some kind of destiny or historical necessity to be. Thus, we have a meager elite, circling and feeding on feudal privileges shrouded in the simulacrum of modernity, law, and discourses of superiority (personal effort, class as deserved due to whiteness, in one all encapsuling word: patriarchy), a greedy pseudo-middle class that lacking it all and owing it all survive on the parasitical desire for what they do not have and that have been indoctrinated by the mythical fear that the other, the brown and black masses, the feminine and queer masses, the other in resistance, will take everything away from them. This lethal combination has made the dirty wheel of political corruption turn, and with that fear sown deeply in them the war industry flourishes and along with the idea that the role of state and law is to punish and keep privileges intact. On the bottom of these cycles of violence, the absolute other, silenced, murdered, enslaved, and deprived of a voice of their own, but always in resistance and thus always exerting true democracy as the permanent exercise of sheer difference against models of unity and forced identity on which this country was built upon…until now.

Nevertheless, these “hidden people” as I have dubbed them, organized a massive, heterogeneous, and watertight political movement “Pacto histórico” or Historical Pact, made out of all the wretched of the earth, of all those that have traditionally stood against patriarchy creating vast zones of resistance based on solidarity and love. Unions, ex-guerillas, Afro-Colombians, women, Lgbtq, students, peripheral political parties, intellectuals, the indigenous Minga, coalesced around Gustavo Petro and put together a very sophisticated and novel democratic project based on social justice and national reconciliation to overturn 500 years of coloniality while taking capitalism, as Petro himself said in his acceptance speech, out of feudalism. On these pages eight years ago, I reported the attempt to end Petro’s political ambitions, here is where we are at.

Nevertheless, it was Francia Marquez, Colombia’s new Vice-president, a black woman that has beautifully risen from the quagmire of Colombia’s violence and who, in traditional terms, was not even supposed to feel or speak out, who has given the movement and the country its deepest and most comprehensive philosophical and spiritual meaning, the possibility for all of us to heal through the love for the other, reflected in her campaign slogan, than more than a slogan is an ethical maxim, “I am because we are”. Consequently, what happened on Sunday is the imagining not only of a new history, but of a new sense of temporality founded on new sense of agency, where those who were not supposed to be, not only became themselves through the dark slit of oppression but alienated the gap of sovereignty where coloniality stood firm.

At this point, I would like to analyze what this electoral victory could summon in terms of an event and the coming forth of a “people” as a definitive decolonial turn.       

The hidden people

Allow me to begin with a dry conceptual affirmation, coloniality as the matrix of power of modernity exists because it encrypts power1The logical progression can thus be synthetized as follows: coloniality is not an appendix or another form of creating realities within modernity, but rather well it is the milieu of power of modernity what makes modernity be essentially what it is. Our wager is that coloniality (at least since the appearance of the constitutional event) exists because it encrypts power.. Encrypting power in coloniality is fusing the “hidden people” (the wretched, the nobodies) and the sovereign in one indistinguishable simulated body in order to expel the (hidden) people, when needed, from the body politic so it may be disposed “in its own name”. This is no secondary or superlative trait of power of coloniality, but its very core, its axiomatic foundation, the destruction of democracy legitimated on democracy itself. I cannot think of another place where this is more apparent than in the colonial history of my country.

Here is the key to it all, the people in coloniality have a double constituting role, first, they are the quasi-divine fundament of legitimacy of everything that exist “we the people” sanctifies every origin and act (wars, dispossession, the spectacle of law, etc.); but second, they are the excrement where absolute and sheer violence may be executed upon. The people as the being of no-being, is the total outside of the law where sovereignty as the decision over the exceptional is permanently exercised2Sanín-Restrepo 2016.

Clearly enough, the aegis of modernity, capitalism and coloniality is both a subject and an agency, “the people”3 Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 43.. Nevertheless, it is a totality that is split at its core4Agamben, 1998.. In modernity the key to encryption is the conversion of the concept of the people into a synecdoche. Accordingly, a false totality (the people of human rights and constitutions, the white, the male model, the included) become to symbolize and falsely represent an impossible infinity (the excluded, the black and indigenous, the hidden people).

As we have established5Sanín-Restrepo and Araujo 2020., the people as a totality are a pars pro toto synecdoche. An absolutely arbitrarily part (the citizen within a nation state, for example) defines an unattainable infinity (the marginalized people, the forced migrant, the Minga). The people as a synecdoche joins a part that is a leftover of the (simulated) totality and what the totality lacks in order to become a true totality. As the unrepresentable excess of liberal democracies, the hidden people escape all forms of representation and symbolize what exists beyond the representable6 Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 19; 40..

The negativity inscribed in the heart of coloniality brings to the consideration of power an uncanny novelty: the hidden people are the constitutive exclusion of coloniality and, at the same time, the fundament of its operability.

As Agamben explains “The exception is a kind of exclusion (…) But the most proper characteristic of the exception is that what is excluded in it is not, on account of being excluded, absolutely without relation to the rule. On the contrary, what is excluded in the exception maintains itself in relation to the rule in the form of the rule´s suspension”7 Agamben 1998, 18.

The fusion of coloniality and liberalism creates the most impermeable machine of power in history8Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 200.. We can formulate it with sheer simplicity: “the people must be both the exception and the (simulated) sovereign!”. Coloniality achieves its primordial exploit: it establishes the people as sovereign as it immediately seizes their sovereignty as absolute power (constituent power)9Sanín-Restrepo 2016; Sanín-Restrepo 2020.. All of this is done while maintaining the simulacrum of popular sovereignty as the political and legal axiom of the people as the cornerstone of ideology. What is achieved with this fusion is the perfect and most abominable machine of domination that rests on the firm support of the transcendent model recognition of the hidden people and in turn guarantees that the latter can be destroyed at any time evoking its name as the moral and ethical justification of its own destruction10Sanín-Restrepo and Araujo 2020..

What has happened or has begun to happen on June 19 in Colombia with the election of the Petro-Marquez ticket is nothing short of a clear beginning of the un-hiddenness of the people and the decryption of sovereignty in coloniality, the true decolonial turn where the people become what they were never supposed to be, a true democracy. The alienation of the gap that falsely separated the people as a simulated totality and its hidden counterpart. The event of the election is at least the unveiling of a clear possibility of the hidden people to inhabit the place of sovereignty that was simulated by the false construct of the people as a totality. What Francia Márquez is teaching us, is that June 19th let the people of Colombia see what was always before our eyes, the people in resistance, “the other” as the hidden other, not only contains within but “is” the true meaning of democracy.

Bibliography:

Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford. Stanford University Press

Sanín-Restrepo, Ricardo. 2016. Decolonizing Democracy: Power in a Solid State. London & New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

_____ 2018. “The Meaning of the Encryption of Power as the Razor´s Edge of Politics”. In: Sanín-Restrepo, Ricardo. Decrypting Power. London & New York:  Rowman and Littlefield.

______2020. Being and Contingency: Decrypting Heidegger´s Terminology. London & New York: Rowman and Littlefield International. (Forthcoming).

Sanín-Restrepo, Ricardo and Marinella Machado Araujo. 2020a. “Is the Constitution the Trap? Decryption and Revolution in Chile.” Law and Critique, Vol 31, issue 1 2020.

  • 1
    The logical progression can thus be synthetized as follows: coloniality is not an appendix or another form of creating realities within modernity, but rather well it is the milieu of power of modernity what makes modernity be essentially what it is. Our wager is that coloniality (at least since the appearance of the constitutional event) exists because it encrypts power.
  • 2
    Sanín-Restrepo 2016
  • 3
    Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 43.
  • 4
    Agamben, 1998.
  • 5
    Sanín-Restrepo and Araujo 2020.
  • 6
    Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 19; 40.
  • 7
    Agamben 1998, 18
  • 8
    Sanín-Restrepo 2016, 200.
  • 9
    Sanín-Restrepo 2016; Sanín-Restrepo 2020.
  • 10
    Sanín-Restrepo and Araujo 2020.

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