Kevin Howlett argues Colombia is ruled by an elite with a monarchical grip on power. That they’ve made a hash of things. And that it’s about time someone else had a go. Read more…
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will be re-elected in 2014 according to nationwide poll released tomorrow.
Despite an approval rate as low as 29 per cent, Santos` candidature appears unstoppable as Colombians show even less faith in his likely opponents, right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and leftie Clara Lopez. Read more…
Colombia`s Presidential election race is wide open say nationwide polls.
President Santos`chances of holding on to power next May appear to be dwindling as confidence in his administration falls to a record low and fewer than 1 in 5 Colombians promise to vote for his re-election. Read more…
Colombia risks being seen as a police state if new government proposals to criminalize protests are given the go ahead by Congress.
Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon today tabled a series of legislative amendments to punish those involved in civil unrest with lengthy jail sentences and hefty fines. Read more…
Guest piece by Miguel M. Benito
El gobierno Santos ha decidido aislarse de la sociedad colombiana, creando una separación con los ciudadanos que explica la torpe reacción oficial ante preocupaciones cotidianas del país. El caso del paro agrario es sólo un ejemplo. Algunos dicen que la razón hay que buscarla en el elitismo del gobierno -ajeno a las dificultades “del común”- o en un origen “demasiado bogotano” -que ignora al campo y los demás departamentos-, sin embargo, la verdadera causa pienso que no es otra que el ‘unanimismo’. Un fenómeno con efectos que pueden ser demoledores para la calidad de la democracia colombiana.
El ‘unanimismo’ o el ‘gobiernismo’ que, para el caso es lo mismo, permiten a la administración Santos controlar el Congreso y los medios de comunicación. En el Congreso la construcción de la coalición de “unidad nacional”, en la que se inserta más del 90% de los parlamentarios -las excepciones vienen de algunos uribistas y del Polo Democrático Alternativo-, ha neutralizado la que debería ser una de las principales funciones del legislativo: la acción de control al ejecutivo. Los representantes se comportan más como ministros sin cartera -de hecho, como aspirantes a cartera- que como verdaderos representantes de los ciudadanos. En este sentido, la clase política sigue empeñada en perder toda la confianza de aquellos a los que dice representar.
Mientras los medios de comunicación de mayor difusión están haciendo dejación de sus funciones. Los ejemplos de periodismo son escasos. La mayoría de las noticias no dejan de ser la reproducción de los comunicados o declaraciones emitidos por presidencia de la República. No hay constatación, ni verificación, ni cuestionamiento al gobierno. Sin embargo, las críticas contra cualquiera que se desvíe de la ortodoxia oficialista son demoledoras y despiadadas. El descontento de la Casa de Nariño tiene su correa de transmisión en los medios de comunicación afines al presidente.
Y, si no fuese suficiente, el propio gobierno, sintiéndose blindado, es incapaz de gestionar lo que en cualquier democracia es normal: la crítica y la oposición. Sus reacciones son pueriles y asustadizas cuando señala con el dedo -a Robledo-, acusa sin pruebas -todas las protestas están infiltradas por agentes oscuros- , marginaliza -cualquier desavenencia sobre el proceso de diálogo mantenido en La Habana con las FARC, independientemente de su contenido, es calificado de guerrerista- o simplemente niega la existencia del descontento -el tal paro agrario-. Todo ello -normalmente sin presentar una sola prueba que lo respalde- destinado a estigmatizar, deslegitimar y apartar del espacio público a las voces disonantes.
Así, la administración Santos, convencida de su infalibilidad no considere necesario tener interlocución con los ciudadanos, que deben ser sujetos pasivos y aceptar lo que el gobierno decide y ejecuta de manera inconsulta.
Sin voz en las Cámaras y con una prensa empeñada en transmitir la imagen de un país sin problemas, al ciudadano -enfadado porque le han robado el celular, porque los servicios públicos son malos y/o caros, porque…- sólo le queda la protesta -aunque eso suponga exponerse al estigma-. En ese sentido, mientras la democracia colombiana no asimile que la democracia se construye incorporando la queja, el descontento y el ejercicio de la legítima oposición, los paros que hemos visto en los últimos meses pueden ser sólo los primeros de muchos.
Las implicaciones de este asunto son profundas si, de verdad, se quiere avanzar hacia una democracia inclusiva en la que nadie reclame la violencia como una opción. Una democracia en la que todos puedan sentirse oídos y representados.
Para el gobierno Santos, al final, el riesgo es tenerlo todo a favor.
Miguel M. Benito – Analista Político – Internacionalista. Máster en Diplomacia y Relaciones Internacionales. Candidato a Doctor en Seguridad y Paz. Docente de la Universidad Externado de Colombia en áreas de Relaciones Internacionales. @mbenlaz
This article was also published in Revista Posición.
Colombia’s farmers’ strikes are into their 10th day as roads remained closed across the countryside. The crisis shows no sign of abating, as rice farmers and oil workers joined the protest, and food shortages hit the capital Bogota.
Serious questions are being asked about the Santos government´s ability to govern a country now in open revolt. Last night pots and pans were noisily bashed by thousands across the nation´s main cities as people took to the streets in solidarity with farmers and against a government they see as negligent and out of touch.
For months farmers have warned the Casa de Nariño of their strike plans, but the government has refused to take steps to prevent a crisis it now looks incapable of resolving.
How can the government have lost control of a situation they knew about so far in advance?
Anyone with a passing knowledge of crisis management understands the following:
- Don’t belittle the problem
- Don´t lie
- Get your opponents on side, don’t antagonize them
- Don’t fuel the fire
- Act swiftly and decisively.
President Santos, commander-in-chief of a nation of 47 million, appears oblivious to this.
Last Monday, Santos boasted the “country is under control”, on Tuesday the protests had not “been of the scale (farmers) had hoped”, and on Saturday, despite over 40 road closures across nine departments, deaths, imprisonments, and rocketing food prices, the President bizarrely claimed “this national strike does not exist”. Sure, he backtracked a few hours later in a hastily arranged and unprofessional looking press conference, but the damage was already done – Santos sounded not only insensitive but mendacious.
Nearly 20 thousand police have been deployed since the start of the protests, but the president´s words have only made their job harder as crowds have swelled and the sense of injustice hardened.
The government is pitting itself against the nation. The authorities have hardly helped themselves by their heavy-handed policing. Amateur footage has emerged of policemen smashing into houses, stealing food, and brutally attacking – what look like on television at least – defenseless citizens.
No police general has taken the blame, no sword has been fallen upon.
While the battle rages, a uninterested calm hangs over the presidential palace.
How is possible that the government has so far failed to produce a single solution to the problem?
How is possible that the first time Santos sat down with protesting farmers was yesterday evening, eight days into the strike?
How is it possible that the government has failed to deliver on the promises it made months ago to the farmers of Boyacá?
How is it possible that the agriculture minister is still in his job?
Santos is in danger of appearing like the captain of the Titanic unwilling even to reassemble the deckchairs.
All this should worry Santos a lot more. If, as is expected, he decides to run for re-election next May he would do well not to alienate Colombia´s entire rural population.
The problem for Santos, though, goes beyond just what has happened this week. There is a narrative forming around him – that he is disinterested and disconnected from the real Colombia. I have heard analysts begin to call Santos the Alice in Wonderland president.
To his critics Juan Manuel Santos lives in a world of fancy cocktail events, of gentlemen´s clubs and posh country retreats; coming face to face with the poor and uncultured campesino (peasant farmer) is rather beneath him.
Whether this perception is fair or not is largely irrelevant. If Santos wants to avoid a deeply embarrassing defeat next year, he must change – and fast. Colombians might be able to live with a posh president, but not one who looks like he is incapable of making decisions and keeping crises in check.
Monday night, as the protests grew on the streets of Bogota, Cali, and Medellin and elsewhere, I was struck by how joyous and even relieved people looked. It was almost as if Colombians were coming together in defiant and peaceful rebellion. We haven´t reached a tipping point yet, this is not the same as the “indignados” of Spain, or the mass movement in Brazil just two months ago, but something, just something might be happening. Lord knows, it´s about time Colombians started to demand more from their governors.
This article was written by the Editor for Colombia Reports
Colombia´s President, Juan Manuel Santos celebrates his third anniversary in the Casa de Nariño amid increasing scepticism of his government´s flagship peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, plummeting popularity, and growing pessimism on the economy.
Just a third of Colombians support the idea of Santos´possible re-election next year, while 60 per cent oppose it outright. Support for the talks in Havana is also trending downwards; nearly 70% were behind the negotiations as recently as March, while polls this week show the figure dropping to 59%. Worse still, the influential IPSOS “Colombia Opina” (quarterly national navel-gazer) shows 62% of Colombians believe the country is on the “wrong path”.
All this is a far cry from the halcyon days of Santos´ first twelve months in power when he basked in the glory of approval ratings in the 80s, the economy was booming, and the president was the darling of the international community; Time Magazine even devoted its front cover to “The Colombian Comeback” under Santos´ stewardship.
So what has gone wrong? Is this to be expected three years into a government?
Things are not as bad as Santos´opponents would seek to paint. Although the majority don´t back his re-election, 49% of Colombians still have a positive view of the president. Sure, he´s far less popular than Uribe who left office with support in the 70s, but in a country where the executive has such bureaucratic clout (and capacity to mobilize troops), 50% broad acceptance from voters is a strong base from which to win elections.
So if there is reason to take solace in the current figures, there should be no reason for complacency. There is much to applaud in Santos´time in office, but there is much to improve on, and much left undone.
Despite rough economic winds internationally, growth has remained strong (plus 4%) and inflation has kept low. Foreign investment has been down in recent months, but Colombia is recording year on year record-breaking levels of FDI. How this translates into the pockets of ordinary Colombians is another thing, of course.
Colombia´s place on the world stage continues to improve. Free-trade agreements with the US and the EU have been signed sealed and delivered, and new economic blocs like the Pacific Alliance (with Chile, Peru, and Mexico) have begun. Colombia remains the US´top ally in the region but without alienating itself from his radically left-wing neighbours. Even the OECD has come knocking at Colombia´s door.
The armed forces have delivered a series of historic strikes against the FARC guerrillas during the past three years, taking out the military chief Mono Jojoy and the supreme leader Alfonso Cano under Santos´watch.
Santos´social policy (at least on paper) looks to be moving the gap between rich and poor in the right direction. Colombia is one of the most unequal nations on earth, but official figures at least show positive news in this area. Unemployment has fallen and hovers around 10%, two million jobs have been created, and 1,700,000 Colombians have been lifted out of poverty. The government is also handing over 100,000 new houses for the poorest. We are far from Santos`slogan “Prosperity for all” becoming a reality, but steps are being made.
Yet Santos´crowning achievement – even if it all ends in tears – must be his bold move to enter into peace talks with the FARC. Effectively he is betting his presidency, his place in history on securing an end to the 50 years of conflict that has ravished Colombia. He faces interests on both sides, but has brought together an international coalition and established a rigorous process and agenda for reaching an accord with the nation´s largest terrorist organization to demobilize. He must be applauded for this.
Where to start? It is the nature of government that there is more to criticize than to applaud. There will always be promises unmet, or broken, crises unanticipated and moments of total incompetence. But there are certain features of Santos`administration that do require castigation.
Security – perception or otherwise, Colombians complain that their cities are less safe than three years ago. Despite being in peace talks, the FARC’s attacks haven´t relented, and the neo-paramilitary BACRIM groups and others have made this year the worst for murders of human rights workers. In the cities, the paseo millionario is on the up, with Bogota alone seeing 200 victims in the last two and a half years.
Infrastructure – 40 billion has been promised for major infrastructure works. A new vetting office has been set up with a bureaucratic budget and the order to start handing out contracts has been received. But despite Santos’ fine words about building a modern and connected Colombia, despite throwing heaps of cash at the problem, all we have to show for the hard work so far is an extra layer of bureaucracy. NOT A SINGLE project has started.
Corruption – Santos has created new government positions, corruption czars have come and gone, and he has talked big on cleaning the country up. What has changed? Has Colombia started to kick out corruption? No. Transparancy International´s 2013 Corruption Index was damning:
“The new institutional reforms promoted by the government of President Santos—the new Anti-corruption Act of 2011, and the creation of a new Anti-corruption office in the Presidency—have not contributed to curbing corruption. To the contrary, in Transparency International´s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, the country received the worse score in ten years, going from 57 in 2002 to 94 in 2012.”
Bureaucracy, centralization and elitism
Colombians accuse their president of promising the world and delivering precious little.
Santos heralded the first two years of his government as the most reforming on record. Perhaps they were, and God knows, Colombia needs real institutional change so we should welcome this, yes?
Absolutely, but there is a difference between making a law and making that law work. Colombia is a country of “mucha norma poco contenido”. There´s a law for everything but there is a real disconnect between the law makers in the capitolio and those in the regions and localities that have to implement these paper reforms.
Roy Barreras, outgoing Senate President spoke glowingly in July of 2012-2013 as the Congress`most succesful year ever. What was his justification? That it had passed a record number of new laws. Frankly Roy, that is not something to be proud of. More laws means more centralization less flexibility and greater bureaucracy. Exactly the reverse of what Colombia needs.
President Juan Manuel Santos was born into one of the richest families in Colombia, a silver spoon in his mouth and media empire to inherit. The presidency was his before he was out of short trousers. The first ever election Santos faced was that to become president. It was handed to him on a plate.
This elitism shows and in a strongly regionalized nation, this just doesn´t work.
The Santos administration feels too Bogotano, too posh, too out of touch and too restricted to the traditional political class.
Santos has floundered when he has ventured outside the confines of the capital (unless he is on a diplomatic mission to another country where he feels instantly at home). The coffee protests earlier this year were handled so poorly that the whole agriculture industry is threatening to go on strike next week. And peasant farmer protests in Catatumbo lasted nearly two months before Santos could put out the flames.
We also saw this lack of comprehension from those at the top in the reaction to the decision by the international court of justice to hand over to Nicaragua, Colombia`s San Andres maritime territory. We are waiting a year and the foreign ministry is yet to make a decision on what to do. All the while the livelihoods of the fishermen on the archipelago are being compromised. Bogota appears to have forgotten about the islands its politicians visit only on holiday.
So, what of Santos` overall performance?
Colombia Politics finds the Santos regime frustrating. The past three years have, contrary to detractors, not been an unmitigated failure. There is much to cheer in the way Colombia is emerging on the world stage, and Santos himself has proven a shrewd diplomat when dealing with his noisy neighbours. If the peace talks end well, Santos`place in history is secured, and rightly so.
But away from the headlines, away from the eye-catching announcements, there is a real sense that more could and should be done. How much is this Santos` fault and how much is it the result of less than stellar ministers and bureaucrats?
What´s clear is the Colombian state remains inefficient, corrupted and often incompetent. Santos cannot take all the blame for this.
Our view is that with a good team surrounding him, with competent and public facing ministers, the Santos administration would score highly for its first three years in power. Without that team Santos will continue to flatter to deceive over the next year and into a possible second term.