Semana, Bogotá, August 8, 2019

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

On this August 7, Iván Duque celebrates a year as President of Colombia. While that was a gift for him, for Colombia it’s been 365 days of waiting. When is he going to start developing his leadership?

If Iván Duque weren’t President of Colombia, a country with almost 50 million inhabitants who need jobs, education, housing, health care, and a future to look forward to, instead of a “student in his apprenticeship”, as Semana considers him to be, things would be different.

Iván Duque came to be President because he himself accepted the nomination of his mentor, Álvaro Uribe. But many Colombians often think that a teenager is governing in the Presidential Palace. Celebrating his 43rd birthday last August 1, Duque is an adult who, as President of the fourth largest economy in Latin America, has not been able to convince either his moderate or his radical opposition, or those who don’t want to play the polarization game, or even his far-right party.

Today, two of every three people think that things are going the wrong way. Duque has only a 37% approval rating, according to the last Invamer survey.

After the signing of the Peace Agreement, Colombia was trying to leave behind a half century of primitive violence, and the country needed clear and inspiring leadership, looking to a future that would inject optimism and deliver energy and productive ideas for a better Colombia. Then arrived Iván Duque: young but with a lot of ideas past their expiration date; conservative, but representing ultraconservative concepts, positions that are dangerous for Colombian democracy.

These concepts are dangerously politicizing and ideologizing the Colombian Armed Forces that, up to now, had respected democratic elections by civilians and had stayed at the margin of the political debate, as required by the Constitution. But now, from the battalions and the clubs formed by retired military officers, we are seeing pamphlets that defame every party except the one that controls the current government as “castrochavista”. Even though some members of the Armed Forces and the Police have committed crimes against humanity during the conflict, there has been no divorce between them and the population. Now, the mutual contempt is increasing and the radicals of both left and right are sowing that seed.

Iván Duque is responsible for that, by action and by omission. In spite of the fact that Duque and his government know that it is thanks to the peace that confidence is growing in the country, and that tourism is experiencing an unprecedented increase, he has permitted the polarization that his party wants. He has consented to those attempts to change the laws to release his criminal co-religionists from the prisons, and he has chosen to encourage the confrontation with Venezuela instead of supporting a dialog.

Also, in Colombia hate speech has been turned into lead: the violence has started to increase. That is shown by the most recent report by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  This not an atmosphere in which an economy can prosper. And it is not prospering. While the official statistics talk of a supposed reduction in unemployment to 10%, analysts say it’s no such thing. They say that many Colombians are so frustrated because they cannot find work that they stop looking and turn to the informal sector, disappearing from official statistics.

Duque is the President, also thanks to the propaganda claiming that the opposition wanted to install a second Venezuela in Colombia. But in the midst of the screaming against the dictatorship in our neighboring country, there is taking place in Colombia a slow and stealthy process that could actually lead to the loss of our democratic equilibrium, as happened in Venezuela. The extremes have taken over the Colombian political panorama and the danger lies with both. The risk is in believing that only the one who argues the other side’s extremist position is evil and not the leader who defends that, whether because of connection, ideology, or conviction.

This government has not managed to “smash the peace to pieces”, thanks to the democratic processes that have prevented that. And thanks to the international community that, detached from our internal rancor, keeps its eyes on Colombia, a country that is important to regional stability and with a population that deserves a prosperous future.

Iván Duque, in spite of his milieu, can still become a defender of the rule of law. A whole country and an attentive international community, is waiting for that. But Iván Duque is evoking Oscar, the protagonist of  “The Tim Drum,” the allegory by the German novelist Günter Grass, about the little boy who, on the day he receives his drum, the best gift he had ever got in his life, decides not to grow any more.

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