ELECTIONS IN COLOMBIA: Álvaro Uribe disappears from the political scene for the first time in two decades

The Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) loses political power in the presidential elections and suffers the effects of Iván Duque’s unpopular government.

EL PAÍS, Bogotá – 25 may 2022 – 22:30 COT


(Translated by Beatriz Vejarano Villaveces, CSN volunteer translator)

The country that Álvaro Uribe found when he first became president in 2002 is not the same as it is today. Colombia is no longer that place besieged by guerrillas, where one could not travel by road without running the risk of falling into a miraculous catch, as FARC kidnappings on the roads were known. His “iron fist” discourse sounds worn out and the fall of his image, which at the peak of his popularity reached 85% and last year was barely 20%, has been felt in these elections. The Democratic Center, his party, has no candidate and Federico (“Fico”) Gutierrez, the only one who is close to the right, has not even publicly acknowledged his support. In March he had already suffered the first of his defeats when the left-wing coalition led by Gustavo Petro outpolled his party in the legislative elections. Uribism, which had always been very strong in the regions, began to collapse.

The analyst and former vice-minister of the Interior, Héctor Riveros, says that the little weight that Uribism has had in this campaign is explained in the need for change that the country demands. “Uribe has tried to stay on the sidelines as a strategy so that some pieces of the crockery survive and not all the plates end up broken. He trusts that the rest of the establishment has done its homework, even though -for the moment- they are not convinced that they will pass to the second round”, Riveros reasons. Facing the confrontational discourse of the Democratic Center, there is Gustavo Petro, who leads a social movement that managed to group in the Historical Pact and that with Francia Márquez as his vice-presidential formula has awakened sympathy in the minorities and in a great part of society that has never felt represented by the rulers.

After the March elections, “Fico” Gutiérrez emerged as the viable candidate of the right wing, by obtaining the third vote in the inter-party consultations, and soon received the support of the traditional parties. Óscar Iván Zuluaga’s withdrawal from the Democratic Center’s candidacy made the former mayor of Medellín the bet of former President Uribe’s movement. “My political bosses are the people”, Gutiérrez usually says, but if he is guaranteed votes in this first round, it is precisely those of the big political parties that support him. In addition to Uribismo, he has the support of the liberals of former president César Gaviria, the conservatives and others with great electoral capital such as Cambio Radical. His chief debater is precisely one of the figures of that party, former minister Luis Felipe Henao, close to Germán Vargas Lleras, an old acquaintance of national politics. Fico has the support that in the past was enough to secure the road to the presidency, but today it is not enough.

Alejo Vargas, political scientist and professor of Social Sciences at the National University of Colombia, believes that these elections will be the definitive pulse to know how far the power of the political machines goes and if Uribism manages to survive through Federico Gutiérrez. The unexpected rise of Rodolfo Hernandez in the polls has posed a threat to the continuity they seek. “If Rodolfo beats Fico, it will be a humiliating defeat for Uribism,” says Vargas, who claims that as of Sunday a new campaign will begin in which Uribe will not have much say. ” That day will be the beginning of a very strong polarization, we will enter a scenario similar to that of four years ago, but without Uribe there”.

Having been the architect of Iván Duque’s victory in 2018 is remembered today as a mistake rather than a success. “Álvaro Uribe has had to pay the cost of Duque’s mediocre government, a man with no experience beyond having been a senator on one occasion,” Vargas adds. The Teflon effect, which allowed Uribe to remain popular despite the scandals that have surrounded his name, has also frayed due to his trial before the Supreme Court for the case of alleged witness tampering. “Uribe is starting to become a Pastrana, an ex-president who is there, but without much influence, after having been the protagonist of electoral politics for nearly 20 years,” he says.

Four years ago, Álvaro Uribe became the most voted senator in history. More than 800,000 people endorsed him at the polls, and Duque’s triumph confirmed Uribe’s ability to make his candidates president. This time he has against him that the government that represents his party has failed in the attempt to maintain the old banner focusing on security in a context in which the FARC no longer exists as an enemy of the State.

Violence has skyrocketed in the last four years, but not for the same reasons or with the same actors as in the country Uribe governed. The presidency, which he won by a landslide in the first round, as no other candidate had, was greeted with a FARC attack on the very day he took office. The explosions, which were directed at the presidential palace and the Congress, left more than ten dead and several wounded. The fight against “terrorism” became his cause, and he managed, at whatever cost, to make his Democratic Security policy have an effect in reducing violence rates: kidnappings decreased and it became safer to travel by road.

“When I took office in 2002, I saw that the growth of the terrorist forces had not disintegrated the nation, but it had indeed abrogated the State. So I entered with the determination to confront the guerrilla groups impartially and severely”, Uribe recalled the beginning of his first term in office in an interview some years ago with Caracol television. The country that premiered the reelection with him, and that continued voting for whoever he said, this time does not seem to respond to his discourse. Professor Alejo Vargas, expert on security and peace issues, says that these elections will “bury”, at least provisionally, the political project of Uribism. “We can expect to see them in opposition, that is what democracy is all about, it is a pendulum that this time went in a different direction than the one we have always been in,” he adds.

The most influential politician in the history of Colombia is not part of the main cast of this campaign, and the candidate he supports, Fico Gutiérrez, has a competitor at the end of the race who reminds us of Uribe himself in his 2002 campaign. Rodolfo Hernandez is shown as a figure far from the traditional political circles and resembles the former president in a style marked by confrontation. He is seen as a right-wing populist. Analysts do not hesitate to assure that if the ex-mayor of Bucaramanga is the one who moves on to the second round, Fico’s supporters, including those of Uribism, will go after him.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.