SEMANA, December 5, 2019

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

What is the reason for a President who had the highest popularity in the history of the country ending up converted into the politician with the highest unfavorable image, according to Gallup’s most recent survey?

It was 2005. Then-President Álvaro Uribe surprised the country by talking about his public opinion status. With a favorability above 60% and his strategy of democratic security under way, the President set people talking about that number as he faced a re-election contest. WhatUribemeant atthattime, more or less,wasthattheopinionofthemajorityofthepeoplemightevenbemore importantthantheruleoflaw: thevoice of the people as a supreme good. Now, fourteen years later, Uribe has not just lost that public opinion, but it has turned around and it’s against him. What happened? How do you explain this phenomenon?

Ex-President Uribe is carrying with him the most unfavorable image in the history of Gallup’s surveys. His disapproval reached 66 percent, which makes him into the most unpopular politician of all that have been measured by the survey firm since December of 1996. Uribe is registering a higher level of disfavor than his ideological rival for that honor, Senator Gustavo Petro, whose unfavorability in this survey reached 56 per cent.

Not only that, Uribe’s favorability is trending downward. In August of 2018 his favorability was 42 percent and now in December of 2019, it is at its historic minimum. Only 26 percent had a favorable image of the ex-President, the same ex-President who in 2018 helped elect Senator Iván Duque as President of the Republic, and the same one who in 2016 led the vote for No, which vote, in the end, did win the plebiscite on the peace.

Uribe’s honeymoon with public opinion is over. In his second term, in July of 2008, when his government carried out Operation Jaque to liberate Íngrid Betancourt and other kidnapping victims, 85 percent of the people surveyed by Gallup had a favorable image of the then-President. A bare minority, ten percent, said they had an unfavorable image of him. It was a historic height of popularity and connection with the people that neither Gaviria, nor Samper, nor Pastrana, nor Santos ever managed to reach.

But now the reality has turned around and the collapse of Uribe’s popularity is the political news that will close 2019. If you look at Gallup’s survey, you can notice the fall beginning in February of 2018, during Juan Manuel Santos’ second term. Today, the question that half the country is asking is–how do we explain how the ex-President most popular in the history of the country could turn into the politician with the most unfavorable image?

Ernesto Borda, Director of the firm Trust, which carries out analysis of current events, points out that Colombia is passing through a tendency that was seen in the recent regional elections. It’s that “public opinion has a loathing for polarization and political confrontation”, something that Uribe has embodied as the leading voice of a sector of the right that opposed the peace agreement with the FARC and also the eight years of the Santos government. “Neither fear nor rage, which have been the instruments used by radical Uribism to preserve their favorability, is effective today,” Borda comments.

Fear and rage, basically, are what have been reflected in the famous claims that “castrochavismo” would take over Colombia, or that the peace agreement would put the country in the hands of the FARC. Neither of those claims has come true in real life, but neither did those two threats become part of public opinion, in spite of the fact that they were present in Uribe’s speeches during the eight years that Santos occupied the Presidential Palace.

The country’s agenda has also changed. The Colombia that Uribe connected with, between 2002 and 2010, is very different from the Colombia of the “cacerolazo” and the social protest. Colombians now are not as concerned with the “heavy hand” of the “war without quarter” against the FARC that enraged Uribe. Rather there are new concerns, almost global concerns, such as climate change, the environment, or quality of life, that the ex-President is not really part of.

Along with that, judicial scandals are taking a toll on Uribe. And the singular image of an ex-President being forced to appear before the Supreme Court of Justice for possible manipulation of witnesses has damaged his political capital in an important way.

“Uribe has turned into a kind of irritation for a sector in the country that used to sing his tune, but that now feels less supportive. You also have to keep in mind that the people were hoping for something different from the Duque government; judging that he had good intentions, but a huge incapacity to get things done. And the country thought that Uribe would help to sustain his administration and now it feels that he has not played any role in that. That has also influenced his unfavorable image,” says the well-known Argentinian analyst, Ángel Becassino.

Augusto Reyes, director of the Political consulting firm Poder y poder (Power and power), adds that Uribe, now a Senator from the Democratic Center Party , ought to be thinking about retiring from public life. “In politics it’s important to identify your expiration date. Extending it with elegance is a virtue, but failing to recognize it is self-indulgent. Here we have the focus of what has been, in public image terms, the erosion of Uribe. He could have made a triumphal exit, but seeing that there was no strong leadership on the right, he chose to keep on participating in politics,” notes Reyes.

In the sectors of the right, what Reyes says is viewed as accurate. In the Democratic Center itself, after the beating it took in the regional elections, many are wondering if the time has come to pass the torch. “It’s curious that one year of Duque’s administration has done more damage to Uribe, I mean to the Uribist philosophy, than eight years of Santism,” notes Reyes.

This Thursday, in a dialog with The W, Uribe talked about the Gallup survey. “It’s hard for me,” he said about the results. “I have to accept them with humility, but that won’t stop me from continuing to work in good faith for Colombia.”

The ex-President claimed that there is an “infamy” against him and lamented that, in the midst of the Strike, many young people were shouting “Uribe paraco” (Uribe is a paramilitary). Later he recounted his successes during his eight years in the Presidential Palace. “Hasn’t anybody told the young people that this country went from 28,000 murders to 15,000; that in this country poverty was reduced from 52% to 37%; that this country went from $2,500 per capita income to more than $6,000; that the Gini coefficient (which measures inequality) was improved. My government demobilized the paramilitaries.”

Uribe, in spite of that, said that he was not going to make “any apology” about the free fall that you see in the indicators of his popularity. You could tell by the tone of his remarks that the Senator was affected by the results.

In his book “The Fictions of Power, Patriotism, Communications Media, and Reorientation of Feelings of Colombians under Uribe Vélez”,[1] Professor Fabio López de la Roche, at the National University, explains that Uribe at that time achieved “enormous authority by public opinion,” thanks to the sole enemy: the FARC.

The country changed. The peace with the FARC was signed and now the citizens’ concerns are different. In that context, Uribe’s public opinion no longer exists. It’s history.

[1] “Las ficciones del poder, patriotism, medios de comunicación y reorientación afectiva de los colombianos bajo Uribe Vélez”.

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