Episode: The Authoritarian's Playbook: Undermining Institutions in Colombia

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The Authoritarian's Playbook: Undermining Institutions in Colombia

In September, 2016, Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, and Timochenko Jimenez, the rebel leader of the FARC--the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia--signed a historic agreement that formally ended more than 50 years of conflict.

It was a remarkable scene. Guests were dressed in white to symbolize peace, and a childrens’ choir sang Beethoven’s* Ode to Joy.*

Timochenko spoke first. Near the end of his 30 minute speech, he made a plea to the entire country.

“I would like to ask for forgiveness for all the pain that we have caused during this war.”

Santos spoke next. With great anticipation, he said that the entire planet celebrates because there is one less war in the world. He also addressed FARC members directly, on their new role in Colombian society:

“Today as you rejoin society, as you become a political party, without weapons, following the rules of justice, truth and reparation that are part of the agreement, as head of state of this country that we all love, I would like to welcome you to democracy.” 

It seemed this historical event would unite the country. But today, Colombia has yet to enjoy the promises of this peace treaty. Opponents of the accord’s implementation are assassinating social activists across Colombia, and some members of FARC have rearmed. Colombia’s political leaders, whose actions, or non-actions, are hurting the very people this peace deal was supposed to help.

In a six-month reporting project titled Democracy Undone: The Authoritarian’s Playbook, GroundTruth reporting fellows in India, Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Poland, Italy and the United States chronicled how seven nationalist leaders in each of these countries seem to be working from the same playbook. It is a playbook that can be pieced together from the speeches and techniques in use by an interconnected web of populist leaders and their strategists as a way to gain power, impose their values and implement their agenda. Scholars on democracy say they seem eager to join China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other leading authoritarian states in stamping out democratic protections and reshaping the global order.

Democracy Undone: The Authoritarian’s Playbook, A GroundTruth Podcast/Atlantic Magazine Collaboration

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