‘Life Is Sacred’ Documents Antanas Mockus As He Confronts Institutional Violence in Colombia
Antanas Mockus’ presidential campaign in Colombia and his impact in Colombian politics were documented in “Life is Sacred,” which was shown at the Human Rights Watch’s Human Rights Film Festival on June 20.
The documentary, directed by Andreas Dalsgaard, begins in 2010 with Mockus’ campaign, running for the Green Party, against Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate for the incumbent party in power.
A major issue in the election, still existing to this day, is violence committed by the FARC rebel group throughout the country.
FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, formed in the 1960s in response to a dominant two-party system. Both parties–Liberal and Conservative–shared rule during the Frente Nacional period. This led to a very polarized society, which made groups like FARC frustrated and, in turn, viewed communism and violence as the only alternative.
As a result, more than 200,000 Colombians died and millions more were displaced. Although, it should be noted, officials in government also use paramilitary groups for their own nefarious, and violent, purposes, including protecting mining interests.
In 2002, Alvaro Uribe, noted in the film as one of the most powerful people in the country, became president and immediately used a mano dura, which means “heavy hand,” approach against FARC.
This strategy led to the deaths of civilians. Santos, then-secretary of Defense under Uribe’s administration, offers money to soldiers killing FARC rebels with proof. Soldiers, instead, kill civilians and dress them up in FARC uniforms to claim their prize. U.S. military aid, totaling in the billions, contributed to these “false positives.”
Katherine Miranda, a Green Party youth organizer, is introduced as a central narrator of the film. Her father, a police officer, was killed by guerrilla rebels when she was young.
“In Colombia, violence is a part of society,” Miranda said.
Miranda notes she immediately felt revenge in response to her father’s death, but her mother taught her to first ensure others do not suffer in the same way.
The youth organizer campaigns for the Green Party in 2010 as an organizer where she talks to Colombians about Mockus’ candidacy for president. At one point, she speaks to a man who tells her all politicians in Colombia’s history, even Mockus, only want power. She defends Mockus as different and true to his word, although the person does not believe her.
Antanas Mockus’ history in Colombia is reviewed afterward where he is first shown as the president of the National University of Colombia. In 1993, he, famously, dropped his trousers and mooned an assembly of students in response to a few people causing noise. He told New York Times journalist Simon Romelo:
Innovative behavior can be useful when you run out of words,
After this, Mockus successfully ran as mayor of Bogota, the capital of the country.
Mockus, during his tenure, implemented policies such as forcing every official to denounce corruption or else be fired, which led to the dismissal of corrupt traffic officers. Moreover, he hired more than 400 mimes to direct traffic and reduce accidents. The government also gave “Knights of the Zebra” badges to good taxi drivers, which massively grew in membership.
In an April 29, 1995 article by The New York Times, titled “In Colombia, ‘Anarchist’ Brings Change,” Mockus said he liked the idea of a mayor with “no political commitments,” who “could be a precursor of renovation”:
I have always distrusted people with too much hunger for power, and the political class was no capable of self-renovation.
As Miranda notes, Mockus viewed Bogota as his own classroom to teach everyone valuable lessons. During Mockus’ tenure as mayor, homicide rates in the capital dramatically fell by 70 percent.
Years later, the film shows Mockus as a presidential candidate emphasizing peace and non-violence as methods to stop bloodshed. “Life is sacred” is one major slogan Mockus and his supporters use during the campaign.
“For the future, Colombia’s history will be written with a pencil, not with blood,” Mockus says.
Youths, including Miranda, plan, organize and discuss with Bogota residents why Mockus should be elected over Santos.
Soon Mockus rises in public polls ahead of Santos, even taking a major lead against him. The Santos campaign, however, responds by hiring J.J. Rendon, perhaps equivalent to Frank Luntz in the U.S., where he tells CNN En Espanol there is value in using rumors to counter political opponents.
Rendon, noted as winning more than 20 presidential campaigns across Latin America including Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign in Mexico, uses rumors to his advantage against Mockus. Indeed, Mockus is accused of potentially cutting a popular social welfare program once in office, which scares residents. His supporters re-assure residents it will never happen.
Santos’ campaign, at one point, forces civilians on social welfare to support him at a rally or else lose their benefits.
As election day approaches, Mockus upholds truth and honesty as the best way for his campaign without restoring to aggression. The “Green Wave,” described by Miranda in the film, seems poised to push Mockus into the presidency.
Although, on the day of the election, Santos wins nearly 70 percent of the vote. Mockus’ base feels disappointed by the result and and, initially, Mockus too. Although, he later views the defeat as a lesson for the future.
For youths, they feel disappointed and disillusioned in politics at what they saw was a inevitable victory. During a small meeting, one person calls for Mockus to be, symbolically, killed and new figures be pushed in the party. Miranda, on the other hand, still believes in Mockus and believes a change can still happen.
Hours after the election, the issue of fraud comes up, which angers the Green Party youths and supporters. Stories of discarded votes or bribes are brought up to the party members. Gestavo Petro, another presidential candidate, tells a room full of journalists Santos sat on the board of an organization who administered the tallying process, which makes the election result more suspicious.
Mockus is later forced to deal with the issue of fraud and tells a reporter he fully trusts the election process. As a result, nothing significant happens and the election result stands.
The film fast forwards to a year after the election where Mockus appears to be done with politics. He struggles with Parkinson’s disease, first diagnosed in 2010, and wonders about his legacy as a politician, especially during a visit to his mother.
Miranda, meanwhile, works for a Green Party lawmaker and focuses on corruption in government. In fact, she meets with a government whistleblower who tells her, along with the senator, about a kickback scheme involving government officials. They agree to meet the following day to discuss more with evidence.
The following day Miranda is unable to meet with the whistleblower, who is now in hiding after threats to him and his family. Miranda tells the camera another aide, just like her, was murdered for investigating corruption.
Miranda finally gets in contact with the whistleblower and obtains documents exposing the kickback scheme, which leads to major governmental hearings and international coverage.
The documentary shifts to the 2014 presidential election where the Green Party, in spite of nominating a presidential candidate, only gains six percent of the vote in the first round. As a result, focus shifts in ensuring Santos is able to defeat Oscar Zuluaga, the main political contender.
The documentary notes how Santos, instead of following mano dura, opts for peace with FARC. This infuriates Urribe and his conservative base, which leads to the creation of a new political party with Zuluaga nominated as a presidential candidate.
Mockus, along with other members of the Green Party, decide to mobilize support for a peace vote against Zuluaga and for Santos. In fact, Miranda notes how Santos’ rhetoric in recent speeches is similar to what Mockus said back in 2010.
In spite of losing in the first round of voting to Zuluaga, Santos wins nearly 51 percent in the second and final round.
Mockus decides to hear Santos’ victory speech at a rally. Once Mockus arrives, many Colombians attempt to take a photo with Mockus or thank him. Santos, after celebrating his victory, immediately thanks Mockus for his help in getting re-elected.
The film ends with an update on Mockus, Miranda and the current peace negotiations between the government and FARC.
Afterward, Dalsgaard spoke to the audience about the documentary along with Mockus’ legacy on Colombian politics.
“It’s really interesting how Mockus introduced phrases now a part of Colombian society,” Dalsgaard said.
Dalsgaard responded to questions about his previous works, information not presented in the film, and how the idea for the film first came about.
In response to a question, Dalsgaard stressed how Mockus did not unconditionally support Santos, but supported him as a counter to Zuluaga’s support for mano dura.
Interestingly, Dalsgaard notes the Green Wave as a democratic, flat structure full of youthful energy. He even said how, when interviewing the youthful members of the Green Party, every person in the room needed to agree to the camera crew’s presence. If not, they could not record.
Although Mockus left the Green Party in 2011, his influence is still felt in Colombia and elsewhere. Indeed, the film brilliantly captures the spirit of the Green Wave, hopes among the figures in the film and major political as well as social changes to Colombia since Mockus’ presidential campaign in 2010.
As of now, film dates are still pending, although updates to it, can be found at www.lifeissacred-film.com.