With Tulio Gómez Possibly Out of the Race, Dilian Francisca Toro Looks Poised to Once Again Become Governor of Valle del Cauca
If the polls and popular expectations hold true for the upcoming election on October 29, the next governor of Valle del Cauca will be physician Dilian Francisca Toro, the seasoned politician seeking to re-occupy the position she already held from 2016 to 2020.
She has the machinery of the Partido de la U party at her service, a party that under her directorship from 2020 until August 5 achieved broad influence in all regions and in decision-making positions in Bogotá.
Photo: Dilian Francisca Toro, frontrunner to win the October election to become governor of Valle del Cauca. (Credit: Partido de la U)
The only candidate within close proximity of her in recent polls, Tulio Gómez, is no longer in the race.
Despite holding nearly 25% in a recent poll of those who intend to vote by the firm MM Consultores, the Superinter founder was disqualified by the National Electoral Council (CNE) due to the fact that the football club he owns, América de Cali, has entered into multiple contracts with the mayor of Cali in recent years. Though he may appeal the decision, the vote was heavily against his ability to run in this election
The other main challengers — including Ferney Lozano, William Cruz, and Óscar Gamboa — have failed to register even 3% of expected voter, leaving a potentially easy path to victory if Gómez is in fact unable to participate.
Dilian Francisca Toro and Valle del Cauca
Valle del Cauca is the biggest and richest department in Colombia’s Pacific coast. Cali, its capital, is the third in the country (after Bogotá and Medellín) and receives the migratory flow from areas of the Pacific zone and southern Colombia. Additionally, on its coast of the Pacific Ocean is located the Port District of Buenaventura, where 44% of the nation’s foreign trade is moved.
Having an outlet to the Pacific also represents a challenge for the authorities because criminal drug trafficking organizations, heavily armed, seek this exit corridor for their illicit business and are in a continuous battle between them for territorial control.
In political terms, this part of Colombia holds special interest for Colombian President Gustavo Petro given that it was where he received his second-highest vote total when he was elected in 2022 with more than 1.3 million votes. (Petro received 2.25 million votes in Bogotá.)
Toro stood in first place in the race, holding favor with 31.5% of those with the intention to vote, in the MM Consultores poll on September 20 — even before Gómez was disqualified.
During her previous term, which began with her winning the election by more than 500,000 votes, she faced and solved social problems such as the increase in crime in the coastal city of Buenaventura and Palmira, a neighbor of Cali. Despite this, and financial instability of the region’s state hospitals, whose crisis had them on the brink of closure, she was selected as the best governor in the country by the Colombia Líder organization.
All those are known attainments that the inhabitants of this part of the country appear to remember and that they apparently recognize in terms of the favorability that backs her in the surveys. During Toro’s term, her manager of the Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation of Valle del Cauca, was Clara Luz Roldán, who won the election later in 2019 and is the current Valle del Cauca’s governor.
On her official website, she recounted that her political career began as Mayor of Guacarí —a city where she was born and is located in the center of Valle del Cauca— from 1992 to 1994. Afterward, she held the position of Departmental Health Secretary between 1995 and 1997 and from 2002 until 2010, she was elected as senator in the National Congress.
Toro lost in her first attempt to win the governorship election in 2000 before her success in 2015. Concurrently, she expanded her participation in the Partido de la U party until she was chosen as its director in the midst of the pandemic, in 2020.
Having become an important actor in the Colombian political scene, it has earned her the nickname The Baroness, which she already accepts, although reluctantly, as she hinted in an interview with La Silla Vacía on August 13. For the 2023 candidacy, she has the support of six other political parties. Toro is also backed up by the majority of the Cambio Radical party senators.
For the 2022 presidential elections, her name was considered as an option, but in the end she declined. Because of this, it is not ruled out that Toro will try again to run for the first position in the country in future political campaigns.
Gómez, a Formidable Challenger, Exits the Governor’s Race
Gómez, originally from Caldas before relocating to Valle del Cauca more than 50 years ago, looked like a formidable challenger who potentially could have prevented Toro’s return to office.
But in a surprise turn of events, on September 25 de CNE revoked his candidacy with a vote of 6-2, according to them, because there were merits to overthrow Gomez’s aspiration given that he would be disqualified by law from holding the position.
The CNE had a pending request asking them to revoke his candidacy (file #CNE-E-DG-2023-019080), in view of the fact that the electoral regulations emphasize that no candidate for popularly elected office can have a contractual relationship with the state, at least one year before the corporation to which he wants to aspire.
In Tulio Gómez’s case, he signed arrangements with the municipality of Cali, in the last year, related to spaces that he rented at the Pascual Guerrero stadium, home to América de Cali, of which he is the largest shareholder.
It is known that he was involved — as representative of América de Cali — in three contracts, between November 2022 and January 2023, with the Sports Secretary, which is part of the Cali mayor’s office. When notified of the decision, Gómez may appeal it through an appeal resource and the court would have two days to respond.
On Twitter, Gómez decried the decision: “I am not a state contractor, they want to disqualify me for a place that they were going to rent to us for the América de Cali’s merchandise, but that place was not the one we needed, therefore the contract was not finalized. Let them defeat me at the polls, not with tricks.”
Who Is Tulio Gómez?
Gómez has a reputation as a successful businessman and savior of lost causes, although no experience in politics, per a characterization by Huevos Revueltos con el Partido (Scrambled Eggs with Politics), a well-known podcast covering Colombian politics.
His popularity emanates from the football. More specifically, his tenure as the main shareholder and president of América de Cali has seen the team promoted from the second division back to the top flight after several embarrassing years in the lower level for the storied club.
In the business world, since 2019, he has been the owner of a well-known network of retail supermarkets called Agromercados La Montaña. He is considered a successful business person because he went from having a little grocery store in a Cali’s low-income city area to becoming, in 1990, the owner of Super Inter, a large chain of supermarkets with commercial premises in several cities of Valle del Cauca. Years later, in 2014, he sold it to the giant economic group Éxito, based in Medellín.
La Silla Vacía highlights on its website that Gómez, who was registered by signatures before the National Registry representing the Valle 2.0 movement, received support from politicians such as Senator Carlos Motoa, from the Cambio Radical party, and Duvalier Sánchez, from the Alianza Verde Party. Also, he is backed up by Ritter López, a former senator of Partido de la U party and old ally of Dilian Francisca Toro.
In like manner, Horman David García, who was in the race for Valle del Cauca’s next governor with the endorsement of the Verde Oxígeno political movement, renounced his aspiration and joined Tulio Gómez’s campaign.
Other Candidates Remaining in the Race
The rest of aspirants sit below 3% in the latest by MM Consultores. Ferney Lozano (2.74%), promoted by the Pacto Histórico, the current national government coalition, worked closely with President Gustavo Petro during his position as Bogotá’s Mayor (2013), and actively was part of his campaign in Valle del Cauca when Petro ran for President in 2022.
In turn, William Cruz (1.20%) represents the Fuerza Ciudadana movement and this is his first foray into politics.
With the same percentage in the MM Consultores firm’s survey (1.20%), Óscar Gamboa is seeking for the third time to become governor of Valle del Cauca after obtaining more than 100,000 votes in 2015 and again in 2019, when he achieved a little more than 22,000 votes. On this occasion, he is supported by the Dignidad & Compromiso party. He is a close friend of the Colombian ambassador in Washington, Luis Gilberto Murillo.
The representative of the traditional parties is Santiago Castro, who appears with 1.03% in the survey. Castro has been part of the Conservador party (founded in 1849), which he represented as a congressman (2002-2006), but currently represents the Centro Democrático party.
At the bottom of the named survey are Luis Velásquez (0.85%) for the Liga Gobernantes Anticorrupción party (the political group of Rodolfo Hernández, former presidential candidate in 2022) and Horman David García (0.68%) who, as noted, is working on Gómez’s campaign.
MOE Monitors Elections in Valle del Cauca
One other major factor that will surround the upcoming elections are concerns over public order, a threat that has unsettled the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) in this department.
Alejandro Sánchez, MOE coordinator in Valle del Cauca, told Finance Colombia that their worries are about the upper area of Jamundí (city neighboring Cali, in the south), in the western mountain range, where the Jaime Martínez mobile column of the FARC dissidents is present. In addition to this area, MOE is concerned about the central mountain range, bordering the department Cauca, a part known as “The Marijuana Triangle” that involves cities in Cauca and Valle del Cauca, such as Pradera.
Additionally, there are cities about which the MOE presented reports on political violence, such as Buenaventura and Cali, which are the ones that historically, in the last 10 years, were beset by the violence associated with the voting processes. However, in Tuluá, a city located in the center of Valle del Cauca, has also attracted the attention of the MOE due to recent situations of electoral violence, including candidates killed and threatened last August.