Semana, August 8, 2019 from analysis by Boris Miranda, BBC Mundo, August 7, 2019
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Iván Duque celebrates one year as President of Colombia, a period in which there has been no lack of accusations that he is the “sub-President” of his party’s patriarch: Álvaro Uribe. Experts agree that the radical Uribista wing and its extreme positions have created more than one problem for the Colombian President. Here is the BBC analysis.
Uribe is considered the big promoter of Iván Duque’s electoral victory in 2018.
“Tell your boss and your boss’s boss. . .”
These are the words used by the Colombian filmmaker Rubén Mendoza in talking to the country’s Vice President, Martha Lucía Ramírez, during the inauguration of the Cartagena Film Festival in March of this year.
The first person the producer of documentaries was referring to was, of course, Iván Duque and the second person, the “your boss’s boss”, was Álvaro Uribe Vélez. The episode is one of several that the President has had to endure throughout his first year as Colombia’s maximum authority.
What’s more, different analysts consulted by BBC World agree that this phenomenon has been converted into a heavy burden that Duque has to carry.
All of this because, from the moment he became Uribe’s “chosen one”, the debate began in Colombia about how much independence he would have, considering the influential political patriarch and chief of his party, the Democratic Center.
One year after his entry into the Presidential Palace, the President has both lights and shadows in his passage to the presidency, but he also has the permanent shadow of one of the most powerful and influential politicians of this century in the country.
The first signs
Early in 2018, Iván Duque was really lagging in the presidential polls and he was still competing with other members of his party to get the nomination. All of that went away when Álvaro Uribe picked him as his favorite. His jump was from below 10% in the polls to nearly 40%, making him in a few weeks the favorite to win the race.
In the end, Duque won the election last May with a significant advantage over his opponent, Gustavo Petro, and he confirmed his victory in the run-off that took place in mid-July.
Political Scientist Marcela Prieto points out that the undercurrent that Duque is dealing with is that the country is “very profoundly polarized”. “This doesn’t just harm the opposition; it harms the government’s own party. Everybody knows that Álvaro Uribe is the natural leader and I think that the Uribistas themselves in that party are sabotaging Duque’s efforts,” indicated the BBC World analyst. Prieto adds that the radical Uribista wing has caused the President’s efforts a lot of harm, starting with the first signs that they were influencing his speeches as he took over as President.
“Some people don’t understand that now they are no longer the opposition, they are the government and that it’s their job to try to reach agreements,” she concluded.
The government’s agenda
Another of the big unknowns that are produced by the Uribismo return to power is what can happen to the peace process now that this political front opposes it openly.
In this area, analysts find highs and lows in Duque’s first year. For one thing, they emphasize that the government has carried out several of the commitments it had taken on and has originated social programs that were part of the Agreement. But they also identify some very questionable actions, such as the presentation of his objections to the statute creating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or the government’s intention to apply involuntary programs of eradication of coca by using glyphosate.
“There are a lot of decisions that look as if they are being taken by hard-liner Uribismo. In a lot of subjects, Duque has talked in a way that lines up more with the party’s extreme wing, such as the glyphosate or the JEP, in spite of the fact that his profile could show more liberal positions,” said political scientist Nicolás Díaz.
The expert explains to BBC World that what we have seen this year are some very serious questions about the President’s agenda because “in a lot of ways, it looks like Uribe’s agenda” and as examples he points to Venezuela or those objections to the JEP.
“They have burned the President in certain areas,” concluded Díaz, referring to the political pressures by his party that have made him take positions that are at odds with public opinion.
In April of this year, the President presented six objections to the law establishing the peace court and that provoked a wave of criticism, including street protests. That decision, which was suggested by Álvaro Uribe just a few days earlier, led defenders of the agreement with the former FARC guerrillas to accuse Duque of “letting peace die” and it led columnists to call him “ the sub president”.
On this point, the analyst Marcela Prieto states that that episode was very costly for the President, and the rejection of his objections by the Congress was a sign of the ungovernability in which he sometimes finds himself with these radical positions.
“We have already achieved agreements with all of the political actors with regard to the peace court and his own errors led that political failure,” she concludes.
Both Prieto and Díaz point out that the insiders of the majority party are also annoyed because the President doesn’t act as radical as they would like and governs with a cabinet where many of the historic leaders of the Democratic Center are not listened to.
Last month BBC World requested an interview with Iván Duque to talk about his first year as President; however, the government did not give us a positive answer.
In spite of the fact that the government has serious problems in getting laws through Congress, especially regarding the economy, Marcela Prieto admits that some important projects did get passed; projects that were important for the economic development agenda he is trying to promote.
“We have also seen some infrastructure projects pass, and roads needed for effective connections in the country are getting started,” she stated. Prieto also sees his intention to open the energy matrix while considering the environment to be positive, though she admits that the possibility of fracking in the country is still being debated.
The government itself, through the ministries, has stressed the different accomplishments that have been reached in the first year of the administration.
For example, the President points to the increase in seizures of illegal substances, operations against drug laboratories and the capture of more traffickers there. Advances accomplished in immigration policy and in the management of the unexpected quantity of Venezuelans who have entered the country in recent years.
President Iván Duque even insisted that the number of murders of social leaders has been reduced since he took office and implemented a special program of protection for them.
In Cartagena last July 26, just before a mobilization against the selective murders of social leaders was carried out, Duque was reminded that the burden of being Uribe’s choice, with all that goes along with that, is a weight that he has to carry.