Saturday, May 23, 2009

Colombia: Gay candidate sponsorship might earn political parties additional public funding

On Wednesday, Colombia's El Espectador published the following attention-grabbing headline: "Political parties would receive additional funding if they include gays on their rolls". And they would, under a new initiative, but so would political parties that sponsor other minorities as candidates for political office as well.

The idea is part of a liberal senator's response to a current bill making it's way through Congress - with the backing of conservative President Alvaro Uribe - which would restrict political participation from emerging political parties and unfairly restrict potential candidates from running for office (the bill would prohibit anyone in current public office from running for higher office as long as they are still in their current post; a city councilmember, for example, would be barred from running for Congress until his council term has ended).

Proponents of the restrictive bill have denied that the intention is to limit the political participation of smaller political parties or minorities, as has been charged as well, but Senator Armando Benedetti (above) - a critic of the measure - has challenged them and argued that if they support minority participation in the political process, they should ad the following language to the bill:
The law will establish incentives for the financing of political parties and movements which create the conditions of representation according to the criteria of gender equality and respect for diversity.
Also on Wednesday, El Tiempo reported that the government had accepted making changes to the measure, in light of the criticism. Among the changes, says the paper, is "an article in which it is guaranteed that the State will increase financial support for [political] parties which highlight the participation of women, ethnic minorities and members of diverse groups such as the LGBT [community]".

It's uncertain whether the bill will pass or not but it's striking to me that the Colombian government might be ready to officially encourage political involvement by ethnic and sexual minorities throughout the nation. From a US-based point of view, it also seems a bit tokenish, but - so far - I haven't heard those who work with minority communities in Colombia criticize the plan.

In fact, it reminds me of an unrelated announcement back in February, when the Governorship of the City of Bogota announced that they would leave it up to voters on how the city would spend 6 million Colombian pesos (approx. 2,000 US dollars) on a number of suggested projects targeting several minority communities, including women, LGBT individuals, youth, Afro-Colombians, and youth communities. Voters were invited to vote for a single project targeting each group and funding would be distributed among the top projects in each area.

I don't know which projects ended up being funded but, even as I was intrigued by the engagement of community participation in the spending of public funds, I couldn't help but feel that leaving it up to an American Idol type of voting would necessarily mean that the money would be best spent. At least they did not pitch one minority organization against another in the search of funds.

As for this week's efforts to pass legislation that would reward political participation by minority communities, interestingly, I found an early mention of the idea in an April article published on a newspaper blog in Cali's El Pais. Interestingly, the article is authored by Daniel Mera Villamizar, a Colombian man of African descent, who suggests that political organizations should be granted 10% in additional public funding for campaigns if they demonstrate a 10% increase in minorities being sponsored as candidates and vouchers not only for the black Colombian community but also for the LGBT and indigenous communities and also women.

To illustrate the proposition and its potential empowerment of minorities as a political force, Villamizar uses an image of who else but United States president Barack Obama.

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