Former minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, considered the frontrunner to oppose President Juan Manuel Santos in the 2014 elections, spoke on his potential candidacy and the problems facing Colombia under the current administration in an interview with newspaper El Tiempo.
Zuluaga, who served as finance minister during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe between 2007 and 2010, said he is “working to earn the trust of citizens” as well as Uribe’s, who announced the formation of a new political movement Thursday called the “Democratic Center Coalition” aimed at providing an opposition candidate to Santos in two years.
Zuluaga took the opportunity to reveal his laundry list of complaints against the current administration, positioning himself as a Uribe loyalist ready to reclaim the country.
“I think things aren’t going well now, when you look at what just happened with the justice reform,” he said, referring to the June passing of a controversial bill aimed at overhauling the country’s judiciary, which was promptly scrapped after last-minute changes spurred widespread criticism. “The economy is weakening. This is a centralized government that has lost touch with certain regions. All this is what my proposal would recover politically,” he added.
He highlighted public spending as the source of Colombia’s economic concerns, claiming current Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry “missed the path of a more austere government.” The former senator revealed he was working on “a structural change in the design of tax law” that he hopes to unveil shortly.
On the issue of terrorism, Zuluaga felt Santos had failed by blaming a “black hand” for the May 15 bombing in Bogota that targeted former minister Fernando Londoño, “when it was clear” that those resposible for the terrorist attack “were the FARC.”
Colombia’s prosecutor general said in June there was “serious evidence” linking the FARC to the attack, with the arrest of several alleged memebers, despite government officials initial reluctance to point fingers at the guerrilla group. “There has been a change in the strategy against terrorism that is undermining democratic security. Are we not less secure than we thought compared to the country President Uribe gave us?” he added.
The minister was also vocal on the subject of Colombia’s Legal Framework for Peace, approved in mid-June, that would give demobilized members of illegal armed groups legal benefits, causing some to accuse Santos of providing impunity to human rights violators. Zuluaga feels that since Santos’ 2010 election, the government has had “an obsession with a negotiated peace,” causing soldiers charged with crimes to “plead guilty on the basis of receiving a shorter sentence, rather than submit to a judgment that can lead to 30 or 50 years” in prison. “It sends a difficult message for an institution that requires enormous political support,” he said.
Finally, Zuluaga stressed the importance of providing a good education for young Colombians, claiming it as “the only way to transform a society.”
“I am excited to begin the process of earning the trust of Colombians to be Uribe’s candidate for 2014,” he said.
A June poll revealed that President Santos’ approval ratings have plummeted to 55%, a ten-point slide since April.