Christmas Eve, 2020, in the City in the Sky

It dawns in this city nestled high in the middle range of the Colombian Andes, always beautiful in diverse ways, whether brightly lit in amber rays of light or covered in low lying clouds or drizzling amidst chilly breezes, but always a shade of spring.

Holidays and special days always seem melancholy and nostalgic for me. As always I miss my sons and friends back in my other homes, Ocala and Charleston and New York and Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte and Miami, but I’m grateful for my friends and family here in Manizales. Christmas Eve, once a day of delightful anticipation, no matter how poor we then were, now a day for memories and reflections. And gratitude for the life I’ve been privileged to live, regardless of how often I’ve wallowed in self-pity.

The world seems awful today but it almost always has, with evil (purportedly lesser) in charge, evil setting us against each other, dividing friends and families in fruitless fights over which party will abuse, deceive and steal from us least, driving us to expend energies better spent in savoring the delight of those around us, in helping each other cope, in creating a more equitable and happy world instead of expecting someone to hand it to us on a holiday platter.

It’s been decades since I was comforted by our holiday myths, times when I believed that the Prince of Peace would soften our hearts and open our eyes, and his rotund emissary would bring the gifts I’d been promised while sitting in his lap in a crowded and happy shopping center, bills be damned. But still, hope that goodness is tangible and real survives somehow, just out of reach, as if we were in a nightmare from which we could not yet escape but already knew it for a dream and were fairly sure we’d soon wake.

A few friends will gather here tonight, seven of us, sharing food and drink and memories and aspirations. This will be a quite Christmas in the midst of a pandemic that may or may not be as serious as described but which is serious enough to require us all to take care. I’ll be thinking of Billy and Alex and Edward. I’ll be wondering what magic Candice and Paula have cooked up. And I’ll be imagining the delight that Rosey and Melissa will be feeling as they look at wrapped presents under beautifully decorated trees with mature Salome looking on indulgently; my sons, their wives and my grandchildren.

I’ll be remembering old Christmases when I was the child and my mother and stepfather and brother and sister reveled in that special day in small apartments in Miami, or Queens, or with my grandmother and aunts here in Manizales. Old Christmases when I was the father with my sons and their mother in Fort Lauderdale and Hendersonville and Belleview and Ocala, when Santa’s deer sometimes left hoof prints on our roofs, and when, whether we had plenty (usually) or very little (once) we were as happy as it was possible to be because we were together.

I’ll be wondering what the memories I make today will taste like in some future far away.

I’ve shared so much love with so many people across the years, my family and friends, lovers with whom I’ve lost touch and lovers who’ve always remained nearby (at least spiritually), my classmates and former students at the old Eastern Military Academy and my class mates and ever growing chain of brothers at the Citadel. My colleagues and former students at the several universities in Manizales with whom I’ve been involved during the past thirteen years as well as the civic leaders, journalists and artists with whom I’ve developed strong bonds. I’ve had and am having a wonderful life, one that even Jimmy Stewart and Satchmo, somewhere on the other side of the veil with many others I’ve loved and treasured, might find enviable.

I miss my mother and grandmother and Aunt Carola, who left too early, at least for my tastes, and Pop and my Uncle Pacho who were the first to go. And those of my classmates and friends who have gone on to join them. I’ll be thinking of them today too, and reliving memories, the best of presents when one stops to think about it, gifts that really keep on giving. Christmas, 2020, a terrible year in too many ways until we stop and remember those closest to us, and then, it really is a special time of year.

Merry Christmas to all, or Saturnalia, or Yule, or Chanukah or Festivus or Solstice (winter or spring depending on where you find yourself). May peace finally find a home among us, and equity and justice and tolerance and respect, and may honor and honesty prosper someday soon, at long last.

And may the legends and myths with which we seek comfort bring us together rather than split us apart.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at and much of his writing is available through his blog at

Electoral Fraud, a Cynical Reality, Indeed, a Cynical Tradition We’ve Come to Accept

Today, all major media sources in the United States are discredited and rightfully so.  The current “extradition” hearings in the United Kingdom involving the world’s most authentic journalist, Julian Assange, makes that blaringly clear.  Indeed, one of the news sources I find most reliable because of the credentials of its authors, most of whom are western academics, is utterly disparaged as a mere tool for Russian interference in the internal affairs of others.  Still, the United States corporate media frequently comes through with stillborn seeds of truth that one can analyze and from which one can find useful ideas, concepts, issues and information.  Just not all that complete, contextualized or accurate, and certainly not fair and balanced.  One such article appeared today on the Fox New site, an article entitled “DOJ orders Pennsylvania county to change ballot practices after ‘troubling’ findings”.  Myriads of other articles from opposing news organizations such as CNN, MSNBC, the NYT, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, etc., are instead focused on the refusal of President Trump to acknowledge that the next election will be free of electoral fraud and that he will abide without protest with the published results, “turning over power peacefully”.  A strange redux of the same issue during the last election when Democrats all took the pledge and then have spent the next four years violating it.  But then, we, the electorate, are seemingly not all that bright, we are seemingly all too easy to manipulate, at least usually.

Electoral fraud is the central issue involved in the foregoing “news” stories and it comes in many flavors.  Electoral promises, platforms and related paraphernalia is one form of electoral fraud favored by both major parties.  Indeed, it seems to have become a tradition expected by the electorate.  We seem to plead for it: “fool us again, please, please, just say what we want to hear, tell us you love us and agree with us and that this time you really will solve the problems that plague us most, and that this time you really, really mean it!”  And the parties and their leaders and their candidates are happy to oblige, after all, they honestly and truly are the lesser evil.  And this time, the election really is existential.  And even if there are better candidates and better parties, they can’t win so “don’t waste your vote on them!”

Electoral fraud is and always has been a real issue, in the United States and elsewhere, and not just because of perpetually broken electoral promises.  The United States elections of 1876 (stolen through obvious fraud by the new oxymoronically named Grand “Old” Party) and the election of 1860 when the dead in Chicago, obeying their Mafia masters, stormed the polls to elect the flamboyant young Democrat, John F. Kennedy, are obvious examples.  But they are different only because the electoral theft was obvious.  Gerrymandering is a bipartisan tradition and after the 2016 elections, the Democratic Party argued in open court that its primary elections were not subject to restrictions designed to assure they would be fair, even if such restrictions had been promised.  Sorry Sanderistas, you lose and you will always lose!!!

For some reason, during the past decade, despite the obvious examples referenced above, not all involving ancient history, the corporate media has sought to minimize the problem.  Logic dictates that such effort is a deeply troubling symptom that electoral fraud on behalf of candidates the corporate media favors is a real probability.  In Colombia where I’ve lived during the past thirteen years and where I am active as a political intermediary among diverse political groups, the problem is endemic.  It occurs among officials charged with assuring that it does not occur in the National Electoral Council, and at the local level, through massive vote buying disguised as “charity” (e.g., gifts of baskets of groceries).  One of the most successful and hard to deal with schemes involves the use of pre-prepared ballots handed to targeted voters to cast into the ballot box, and then, to return with the unused ballot he or she was issued at the polling center, which, after receiving the agreed upon payment, is then filled out and distributed to other voters, a ballot exchange program hard to spot but easy to implement. 

Receipt of any kind of compensation in exchange for a promise to vote is electoral fraud and vote buying, even if in the form of charity such as is now being orchestrated in the United States where, in exchange for an implied promise to vote for certain candidates, outstanding penal fines will be paid.  That is electoral fraud no different than that engaged in in Colombia and elsewhere where desperately needed groceries and building materials are “exchanged” for an unused ballot.  This year, taking advantage of the fear instilled with respect to the Covid 19 pandemic, a plethora of free floating ballots will apparently become available through “vote by mail” programs.  Not the now traditional and well-regulated absentee ballot process but the one now already adopted in number of states where all voters receive ballots, by mail which they can then use by mailing them in, or elect to vote in person, or, perhaps, donate the ballots to worthy and sometimes profitable causes.  And like any good crop, harvesters are available to see the process through, harvesters as likely to be Republicans as Democrats as a 2018 Congressional election in North Carolina made clear.  Additionally of course, as the Fox news article referenced above makes clear, the good old fashioned, tried and true technique of “losing”, hiding and destroying unfavorable ballots remains popular, something almost certain to become more problematic with mail in ballots.  We are told that there is no evidence that electoral fraud is a real problem.  That is a blatant lie (as we all know but many will not admit), although it is true that the evidence of such fraud is, as with any crime by competent professionals, carefully obfuscated and denied.

In the United States, with electoral affairs regulated at the local level, adequate policing to prevent fraud is extremely difficult and reliance is based on the integrity of county clerks and state secretaries of state.  However, political polarization and desperation to attain and retain political control have attained levels unsustainable for even the verisimilitude of democracy. And it appears the problem will become worse in the upcoming elections.  If both candidates and voters lose faith in the legitimacy of elections, as has clearly been the case since 2016, even the illusion of democracy cannot survive, perhaps the case in which we find ourselves today.  Which is why the current President’s reticence to pre-accept the integrity of results so fraught with the potential for fraud among partisans willing to do anything to win is hardly unreasonable or indicia that he intends to “steal another election”.

Full disclosure requires that I admit that I have been an advocate for replacement of the de facto two party system with a true multiparty system, and to replace the consolidated monolithic corporate media behemoth with a decentralized media legally responsible when it disseminates false news.  I must also admit to not being so naïve as to believe that as new political parties attain power, they too will not be tempted to use corrupt means to retain power.  Only an active and informed electorate willing to vote in favor of what its members believe rather than against political boogeymen and boogeywomen, one that refuses to vote for evil, even if it is portrayed as lesser, can really implement and maintain functional democracy.  But democracy is a fragile thing reliant on a complex series of factors to function, chief among them: access to accurate and complete unbiased information; the absence of corruption; and, the acceptance of results contrary to our immediate expectations and desires. 

Unfortunately, today, in the United States, none of such factors exist, but then again, perhaps they never have.  As the Trojan seeress and princess Cassandra might have cried to us three thousand years ago: “something to think about.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution. Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at and much of his writing is available through his blog at