Colombia’s President Ivan Duque ended his first two years in office with a country in a crisis he never caused, but somehow needs to solve.
Even if Duque’s first two years had been a success — which they weren’t — the COVID-19 pandemic and the house arrest of his political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, would’ve ended this.
The president couldn’t possibly be facing a more uncertain period, especially because the US elections could result in increased pressure from Washington DC to implement the 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas.
But first, Duque will have to secure governability as the impending departure of Uribe, who was placed under house arrest last week for fraud and bribery charges, which could cause major instability in his government and political party.
Colombia’s Supreme Court is set to request the formal removal from Duque’s political patron and the leader of his far-right Democratic Center party.
Uribe may also resign from his seat before the court order. In both cases the party may replace its leader until the possible conviction of the former president after which the party must vacate his seat.
While no longer in the senate, the former president is likely to continue to wield his power over both the government and his congressional allies from his Uberrimo estate in the northern Cordoba province, which would prevent infighting.
Duque is set to replace the last two independent watchdogs, Inspector General Fernando Carrillo, and Ombudsman Carlos Negret.
Once these two are out of the way, the president will have all watchdogs in his pocket and will be able to govern without anyone obliging him not to abuse his powers or to respect human rights.
Prevent social unrest over poverty
No matter what the government comes up with, the central bank projects Colombia’s unemployment to rise to between 16.5% and 19%, according to the Central Bank.
Economic think tanks believe poverty could rise to between 26.9% and 38% with between 7.4% and 11.3% of Colombians living off less than $1.25 a day.
Predicting the social consequences of this are almost impossible although a surge in crime seems almost unavoidable, and social unrest could fuel armed conflict, especially in the countryside.
Post COVID-19 recovery
Usually, these budget proposals pass without much debate. Congress home-commuting has been chaotic at best, which would make it easier for Duque to push through his budget.
Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla may run into the congressional majority to implement a Emergency Basic Income, which the government rejects and would try to leave out of the budget.
Trade Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo told newspaper El Tiempo that the government seeks to provide financial aid for the millions of Colombians who lost their job and may be evicted on September 1.
The minister is also working on priority reactivation projects for the countryside, and small and medium-sized export businesses, but appears to still be developing his plans.
Duque has found a relatively loyal partner in US President Donald Trump, but polls indicate that the erratic US leader may lose the November elections to his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
If Trump’s Republican Party is unlucky, they may also lose control of the Senate, which is “looking increasingly possible,” according to the Washington Post.
The Democrats have been increasingly adamant they expect Duque to execute peace policies and improve his human rights record, to which Trump has given no priority and is loathed by Colombia’s ruling party.
This would give Duque little time to pursue his far-right party’s “anti-peace” policy that has focused mainly on the consolidation of land stolen during the armed conflict.
After the November elections, Duque will have to reevaluate the bilateral priorities with a politically more liberal, but also more stable, ally in Washington.