The growing rift between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe is causing friction between members of Santos’ “coalition of national unity” in Congress, where Uribe’s power base has become increasingly marginalized.
The friction surfaced Tuesday and Wednesday when U Party representatives loyal to Uribe walked out of two consecutive plenary sessions of Colombia’s House of Representatives in protest against the House’s chairman, Liberal Party Representative Simon Gaviria.
Fellow-Liberal Hugo Orlando Velasquez told newspaper El Espectador that the U Party’s rebellion is being orchestrated by Uribe, who has seen his political power drain away since leaving office in August 2010.
“Uribe is indisputably manipulating the U [Party] Congress members … I know he has been sending messages telling to lawmakers loyal to him to retreat from the sessions. The ex-president is desperate and wants to make Colombians desperate,” Velasquez said.
Also in the Senate, Uribe loyalists are turning away from the coalition. U Party Senator Juan Carlos Velez openly withdrew his support for a government-backed judicial reform, saying “it is very difficult for me to support a reform … that President Uribe has been opposing.”
Uribe’s alleged instigation of the rebellion within Santos’ coalition follows the appointment of Uribe critic and Liberal Party president Rafael Pardo as labor minister.
Uribe went as far as to call Santos’ appointment of Pardo a “hostile act” against him, saying “the actions of the national government are hypocritical and lack popular support.”
But while he grows increasingly critical of the Santos administration, the former president’s own popular support is slowly falling apart.
Uribe’s approval rating has dropped significantly since losing office and the results of Sunday’s local were a serious blow against Uribe’s political power structure in Colombian cities and departments, where many Uribe-endorsed candidates were defeated.
Uribe’s support base is also being marginalized in Congress.
The Cambio Radical Party, which split from the Liberal Party to form part of Uribe’s coalition in 2002, is allegedly close to an agreement about its return to the Liberal bench.
Cambio Radical’s move is allegedly set to be followed by a number of Santos loyalists within the U Party, which would reduce the U Party to lawmakers loyal to Uribe, and make the party a small minority within the coalition.
According to U Party senator Armando Benedetti, the rift between Santos and Uribe loyalists within the party has become “quite uncomfortable.”
Santos, who was elected into office promising to continue Uribe’s popular policies, has categorically denied a rift between him and Uribe.
“It is possible that we do not share some of our opinions, but this will never be an obstacle for me to recognize what the labor of my predecessor meant for this country,” said Santos Wednesday, adding that he would be “the first to recognize and defend” Uribe.