By Gabriel Cifuentes Ghidini, EL TIEMPO, August 2, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Next August 7 will be the beginning of the last year of President Duque’s administration, and it will have been three years since he took over the reins of the government. In his speech on last July 20, besides not offering a clear road map for the future or any clue about what his principal legacy will be, he demonstrated that he continues to be profoundly disconnected with this country.

It was predictable that in this most important address to the legislature, Duque would come out defending the governance by his administration. But beyond a languid and mistaken presentation of accounts, it looks as if the President is living in a different Colombia from the one that the majority of the citizens are living in. Two countries are co-existing, two parallel universes, very different from each other. The one painted by the Head of State, very convincingly, and the one where the rest of the Colombians are suffering.

It would be wrong to say that nothing has been done. Although rather timid, the social efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic have alleviated the plight of millions of people. The basic income, the Program for the Support of Formal Employment, and the expectation of free tuition for 700,000 students deserve to be recognized. It’s also necessary to applaud the substitution of 10 percent of the power grid, which constitutes a first step toward the transformation to renewable energy.

Nevertheless, on all of the other fronts, the panorama that Duque defends is disproved by his own official figures. Starting with the peace. At the same time that the President boasts of having achieved more than any other President, the displacements have multiplied. In just these days, 4,000 citizens of Ituango were expelled from their territory. That doesn’t count the overwhelming number of leaders and demobilized combatants that have been murdered, and the alarming number of massacres being registered almost every day. The official speech doesn’t note that the administration filed objections to the JEP in order to weaken it, and that it shamelessly thwarted the Congressional seats for peace and the Agrarian Jurisdiction Project.

On the other hand, the administration spared no effort to stigmatize social protest and to weaken programs like the substitution of illegal crops. The dissident groups and criminal gangs are proliferating. They control entire territories and subjugate defenseless people. They can do that because the President, literally, does not control public order and, because of that, the human rights of the people end up to be worthless in the face of those violent gangs.

In another sphere, the administration has not been able to capitalize on the progress that’s been made in the area of international relations. Colombia was on the front pages of the principal international newspapers because of the advances in the peace and the war on poverty. We were seen as an example for the world. Our country was turned into a desired destination for tourists and investors, and a scene of international cooperation. Now we are fighting with our neighbors, exporting mercenaries, interfering clumsily in the internal politics of the most significant ally that we have, and being listed among countries that pay no attention to the recommendations of entities like the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Those are just some of the events that denote the bankruptcy of the administration’s management of foreign policy, as we can no longer speak of “international policy” now.

Duque also sticks out his chest exceptionally for his advances in social matters and environmental protection. However, and to a great extent because of covid, poverty and unemployment have increased. Thousands of companies have had to close, and it has not been possible to combat informal employment effectively. On environmental issues, not only has he stiffed the Escazú Agreement while he was giving a free pass to the “fracking” pilot projects; in addition, he proposed to resume fumigations with glyphosate in spite of the warnings about the ecological and public health impacts.

Finally, and in a brazen manner, they are celebrating their progress in the reconstruction of Providencia. Duque is promising to rebuild the island before the end of his term. Never mind that already in January of 2021, he had committed to doing that within the next 100 days, or at least to alleviate the housing and health care crises on the island. As of now, none of that timetable has been accomplished. The hurricanes will be coming and the Raizal people will still be living in tents. The conditions on the island are not decent and Providencia creates an example of what has been botched humanitarian management.

The stigmatization of the marches, the majority of them peaceful, as an inexhaustible source for repression, substituted what ought to have been an empathetic and creative President for one that lost the last opportunity that was generously offered him: a destiny to introduce a historic turnaround when faced with all the things that happened. Instead of venturing to understand the desire for change and justice that came from the streets and that could well have catapulted into a new generation of public policies of good government for the rest of this century, the President looked like a prematurely senile personage, frightened and erratic. That is how he was reflected for all time in the mirror of the crisis. That will be the permanent cost of sleeping in a parallel and artificial universe, distant from the real lives of the people he governs.

Bonus: It has become fashionable to resign one’s seat in the legislature to avoid trials before the Supreme Court. It looks like a better deal to land in the hands of Barbosa’s prosecutors.

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