President Ivan Duque needed only 15 months to drive Colombia’s government into the ground. A quick recovery is unlikely as the president seems to live in a fantasy world.
The leaders of the national strike that triggered the biggest anti-government protests in more than four decades are not just demanding a radical change in Duque’s economic and peace policies; they want an end to ineptitude.
Whether Duque is able to manage the negotiations any better is unlikely, considering he has mismanaged pretty much everything until now and appears clueless about what is going on.
Duque’s biggest handicap has been that he and his cabinet are completely alienated from mainstream Colombian society. Colombia’s pseudo-nobility has no clue what goes on outside their social circle.
The president, for example, has never been to a job interview. Duque’s “book”, in which he outlined his economic proposals, is the print version of a PowerPoint presentation based on almost child-like fantasies.
There is nothing more difficult for a poor person than to be without a plan on a Saturday and a Sunday. There is nowhere to go. Many of us have the opportunity to go to our clubs.
Former first lady Nohra Puyana de Pastrana
To make matters worse, the president seems to have no access to accurate intelligence that would allow him to comprehend reality.
While middle class youth were painting banners and practicing dance moves ahead of the strike they hoped would be an artistic expression of their discontent, a presidential aide told weekly Semana that Duque and the military command were preparing for an attempt to overthrow the government.
The military counterinsurgency response to the social protests backfired because it enraged the kids’ parents and grandparents, who joined the protests.
Even after nearly having destroyed his own government and being forced to negotiate, Duque seemed absolutely clueless that he is expected to come up with substantial concessions or further dig his own grave.
For example, the students want the ultra-violent ESMAD dismantled because the controversial anti-riot police unit maims and kills protesting Colombians as if it were a hobby. The murder of a high-school student by the ESMAD made this demand even more urgent.
Notwithstanding, the president told Canal Uno on Monday that “weakening the security forces is not the way to build a democracy.”
Substance vs form
Duque’s chronic mismanagement, persistent denial of reality and slew of unpopular policy proposals have been fueling discontent ever since the president took office.
Despite his low approval rating, his party’s devastating defeat in local elections in October and the biggest anti-government protests in more than four decades, the president appears to be believe this is due to PR issues, not a matter of substance.
For example, the tax reform that sunk Duque’s approval rating in November last year and which the strike leaders want off the table was reintroduced to Congress on Monday with a new name, but no substantial changes.
The biggest change was that the “Finance Law,” was renamed “Growth and Employment Law” after the court deemed it unconstitutional.
Why is it called Growth and Employment Law? First, because it keeps the virtues, the benefits and the characteristics that have shown results in economic growth… The second, why? Because effectively we are worried about the tendency of unemployment between 2015 and 2019.
National Planning Department Director Luis Alberto Rodríguez
Unemployment has been accelerating since Duque took office and went up 0.7 points in October compared to the same month last year.
Notwithstanding, National Planning Director Luis Alberto Rodriguez told Blu Radio on Monday that urban unemployment dropped for the first time in the third quarter of this year. It didn’t. Urban unemployment in the third quarter went up 1.1 point compared to the same period last year.
Rodriguez insistence in denying reality provided little hope that protests and strikes will be called off any time soon.