Friday, June 22, 2018

Uribe, Perpetual Kingmaker

Ivan Duque, president elect
and Uribe creation.
If last Sunday's presidential vote proved one thing, it's that Alvaro Uribe continues ruling Colombian politics. No matter that his own presidency was marred by severe human rights violations including paramilitary massacres with evident government collusion and the horrific False Positives murders, or that his brother is in prison and Uribe himself is the object of multiple investigations for paramilitary links.

No, none of that seems to matter in Colombian politics. Eight years ago, Uribe selected his minister of defense, Juan Manuel Santos, to succeed him. Santos won the presidency, altho he proceeded to defy Uribe by negotiating peace with the FARC guerrillas. Uribe was the leading opponent of the peace talks.

Four years ago, Uribe chose Oscar Ivan Zuliaga, who came close but failed in his attempt to unseat Santos.

But now, with Ivan Duque, a fresh face in Colombian politics, Uribe has shown again his ability to be
Uribe, right, and Zuluaga, his previous political product.
kingmaker. Duque, a senator who is only 41 years old and has been just a few years in politics, was little known until Uribe annoited him as his succesor. On Sunday, he handily defeated Bogotá's leftist ex-mayor Gustavo Petro for the presidency.

While Pres. Santos surprised many by breaking with Uribe, it looks much less likely that Duque will do so. Duque is young and has little political experience. He lacks Santos' long family political heritage. And Uribe will be the most powerful man in Congress, making his collaboration fundamental to the president.

Another winner Sunday were the evangelical churches, most of which threw their support behind Duque. Colombia historically was a strongly Catholic nation. The 1991 Constitution converted it into a secular nation, but Catholicism continued holding great cultural and political influence. In recent decades, however, evangelicals have made great inroads among poor people, while the Catholic Church lost battles on issues including abortion and gay rights and euthenasia. The Conservative Party, which often represented the Catholic church and was one of only two parties which mattered, has lost relevance, while MIRA and other purely evangelical political parties have surged.

The MIRA evangelical party endorsed Duque.
Duque will be indebted to the evangelicals. And, while he has said that he will respect LGBT rights, and "not rip apart" the FARC peace accord, which the evangelicals also opposed, political reality may dictate other plans.

Colombia's environment will be another great loser from this election, although it was already in full retreat. Deforestation has accelerated at a terrifying pace in recent years, and Duque's plans to pursue an economy based on resource extraction will only worsen that trend.

Many suspect that Duque, an academic and diplomat, who is only 41 and has only a few years of political experience, will be controlled by Uribe. Uribe, after all, put Duque where he is and also heads the largest power bloc in Congress.

Duque, however, will have trouble sabotaging the peace deal, which both he and Uribe opposed, because it is a ... law and because many of his likely political coalition partners supported it.

But Duque will pursue prohibitionist drug policies and an aggressive coca leaf erradication effort, even tho both have been shown to be failures. Duque will also deepen Colombia's fossil fuel-dependent economy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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