Why Has Colombia’s President Become So Unpopular?

Inter-American Dialogue 

Latin America Advisor

This month, Colombian President Iván Duque began his second year in office with an approval rating of less than 40 percent. In recent weeks, Duque has faced economic challenges, including the peso’s slide to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar, as well as political demands, such as protests and calls for action amid the killings of hundreds of social activists over the past few years. How effective has Duque been in his first year in office? How well is he working with the country’s Congress and international partners? What should be Duque’s top priorities moving ahead?

Stephen Johnson, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Republican Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs: “President Duque inherited a tough hand coming into office. Colombia was still polarized over the peace accord with the FARC guerrillas that his predecessor husbanded and then guided into a rocky implementation. Slightly more than half the country opposed it when President Santos’ plebiscite was defeated in October 2016. Not much had changed when Duque won the presidency, which could have worked in his favor. However, the same sense of urgency that earlier helped President Uribe push through a war tax to confront a dire internal conflict evaporated over time. Duque’s reformist agenda is now meeting resistance in Congress. These days, few Colombians are in the mood for sacrifices, and fewer still in big cities are aware of the tensions that remain in post-conflict zones and on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. They understand there is a refugee crisis, but they don’t see that Venezuela’s mess could lead to another internal conflict. It would be nice if it stopped there. Venezuela is experiencing state collapse, leaving vast territories in the southern Orinoco mining belt in the hands of its own corrupt army officers, and Colombia’s ELN guerrillas are now involved in illegal gold extraction. Not only is the ELN getting rich, but it is recruiting militants among young Venezuelan migrants fleeing famine and disease. A state failure next door, rising migration pressures and a rebounding guerrilla operating in two countries make for a regional conflict. A year from now, Duque’s headaches could be much worse if he doesn’t convince Colombians to confront these challenges now.”

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