As Colombia’s President Ivan Duque is facing growing calls to resign, his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales’ decision to do exactly that is further weakening Duque’s position.
A wave of anti-government protests that have swept through South America have forced governments in Ecuador and Chile to commit to far-reaching compromises, but no president has resigned. Until Sunday.
Duque has good reasons to be worried
Duque’s turn to face the music is Thursday next week when labor unions will hold a national strike. The president is evidently nervous and for good reasons.
Labor strikes are nothing extraordinary in Colombia, but never before were they joined by students and ethnic minorities, two groups that are able to mobilize huge crowds.
The protests couldn’t have come at a worse moment.
Duque’s defense minister was forced to resign on Wednesday after news broke that the president had ordered a military operation in which at least eight children were killed.
Even before this incident, Duque had no majority support in Congress and could count on the disapproval of 69% of the people, according to Gallup.
To make things worse, Duque’s far-right Democratic Center party received an beating in local elections last month and is in crisis. The president’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, may even go to jail soon.
In short, Colombia hasn’t had a weaker president since Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), under whose frivolous leadership the country was nearly declared a failed state.
How did it get this far?
Duque has consistently refused to talk to indigenous organizations, whose peoples have been victim of what many consider a genocide.
The president has also refused to negotiate with students, who have been demanding an end to corruption in education and police repression for more than a month.
These organizations and dozens of others have now joined the labor union strike.
The government’s failure to attend the individual concerns of the indigenous and student have consequently morphed into a general call for Duque’s resignation.
Like other right-wing governments in South America, the president and his party have implied that The Sao Paulo Forum has been trying to “destabilize Latin American democracies.”
The political party of Bolivia’s former president is a member of this organization of Latin American leftist parties. Morales’ resignation destroyed that conspiracy theory.
Duque has withdrawn the reported pension reform plans that triggered the labor unions’ call for a general strike, but it may be too little too late.
The president has 10 days to prevent what appear to be the biggest anti-government protests in recent memory. After 15 months of virtual inaction, he is unlikely to succeed.