A (Digital) Revolution in Latin America

By James Davis

If Barack Obama’s campaign introduced American voters to the raw power of the web to win elections, the come-from-behind victory of Juan Manuel Santos as President of Colombia showed that e-democracy works even in places where democracy itself is fragile.

Santos, a conservative-leaning Defense Minister under popular incumbent President Àlvaro Uribe, ultimately won election on June 20 in a 2-to-1 blowout, racking up 69 percent of the vote. But on the day 38 -ear-old Ravi Singh from Washington-based Electionmall.com arrived in Colombia, Santos’ campaign was clearly in trouble, with polls showing Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus’ reformist Green Party within striking distance of victory in the first round of voting on May 30.

"We were being crushed by the ‘Green Wave,’" explains Luis German Lopez, who was Singh’s liaison with local campaign operatives.

Mockus had captured the imaginations of an increasingly tech-savvy Colombian population utilizing innovative social media techniques: by the time Singh and his team came on board, the Greens had accumulated nearly 700,000 Facebook friends and a big Twitter following. Santos, the establishment candidate, had virtually no online presence at all.

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The Men with Large Necks and Democracy

Hastaviz-12

Every Armenian, I’m told, knows about the unidentified individuals whose job is to scare away election observers and monitors during elections in Armenia. Referred to as the “men with large necks,” these individuals generally work as bodyguards for the local oligarchs or businessmen. After the January 10, 2010, parliamentary elections during which a well known opposition candidate was defeated by an unknown pro-government candidate, the US embassy in Yerevan had this say about the “men with large necks”:

Embassy observers found numerous irregularities, including intimidation of voters, verbal and physical threats directed at journalists and observers, and in some cases the presence of uncredentialed, non-voting individuals sympathetic to the National Unity Party candidate, who appeared to be managing the electoral process in lieu of the authorized members of the local electoral commissions,” the embassy spokesman, Thomas Mittnacht, said in response to a question from RFE/RL.

View the Democracy Video Challenge winners

Last year the State Department embarked on an ambitious mission of encouraging others to describe what democracy meant to them. This was a smart and creative use of social media to amplify and empower trusted and authentic voices to speak about subjects that matter to them. Let’s hope State continues the concept…

Six winners were selected from the 900 people from nearly 100 countries submitted videos in the Democracy Video Challenge. View all of the winning videos here. All of the winners are superb, but my favorite is below.

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U.S. Underestimated Hamas’ Strength

Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election is not surprising. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answered her own question of "why nobody saw it coming" when she said we do "not have a good enough pulse." Professor Eytan Gilboa suggests the admitted underestimation misses the point. Professor Gilboa is right when he says the Hamas victory "reveals a major strategic deficiency in the American design for democracy in the Middle East." The bigger point, the underestimation, is how did Hamas become such an attractive alternative to the Palestinians? The validity and designs of Hamas is not the real issue but a manufactured consequence of inputs leading to the election.

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