With the end of official campaigning, and only a few days left before the June 15 run-off election, Colombia’s presidential candidates have done all they can to distinguish themselves in the eyes of the country.
But while their respective stances toward the government’s ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest, has received the bulk of the media attention, not as much space has been devoted to what the candidates have to offer in terms of broader policy.
In preparation for Sunday’s elections, Colombia Reports has compared the stances of candidates Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Democratic Center — Centro Democratico) — the current frontrunner, according to recent polling and the results of last month’s first round elections — and incumbent President Juan Manuel (U Party — Partido de la U) on the topics voters say are most important to them: health care, education, urban security, and labor.
Alliances have been set, scandals thrown back and forth, here is what the candidates stand for:
Zuluaga claims that the Santos administration has failed to devote the necessary attention to education reform, citing the country’s next-to-last international PISA ranking and low relative scores on bilingualism. Carried out every three by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), PISA rankings, it should be noted, purport to measure educational performance of the previous decade.
Zuluaga’s proposals aim to improve educational performance largely by amplifying existing infrastructure.
- Universal coverage for pre-schoolers, recognizing studies that show it is best suited for society to invest in development within the first five years of a child’s life. This includes schooling for parents, professional titles, and minimum wage for “community mothers,” and better attention to preschoolers for 2.8 million under-privileged children. During his time as minister of finance, Zuluaga opposed raising wages for community mothers, public service employees tasked with childcare.
- An eight-hour school day to replace the four-hour day in public schools. This change will be implemented with the goal of closing the gap between private and public schools, achieving bilingualism, reducing teen pregnancy by 15% every year (Zuluaga provides no statistics or studies to show how this will be achieved), with an emphasis on sports and culture.
- Bettering the quality of education, through improvements in teachers. This will be achieved through salary increases for teachers, and stricter evaluations of teachers — a proposal the teachers themselves have come out strongly against — as well as more teacher training and a more rigorous hiring process.
- Creation of infrastructure for learning, including more efficient schools with classrooms, kitchens, spaces for art and sports, laboratories, and libraries.
- Bilingualism (Spanish and English) as a goal. Emphasized in its promotion from the onset of education.
- Technical education through the improvement and enlargement of the National Apprenticeship Service (SENA) to complement schooling with professional training. Students can graduate with both a technical and schooling degree.
- Re-training of hundreds of thousands of students from 14 to 20 who are not currently enrolled in school through the SENA.
- Free secondary schooling for the poorest sectors of society.
- Deepen the connections between education and entrepreneurship.
- Loans and scholarships for the best students, enlargement of the ICETEX loan program, and a cap on tuition responsibilities at no more than 10% of a student’s income.
In keeping with his campaign slogan — “We’ve done a lot, there’s a lot more to do” — Santos’ education proposal focuses on what he has achieved so far and what remains to be completed.
His proposals consist primarily of broadening the programs he claims have been successful during his four years as president. Looking forward, the president has set a goal of making Colombia the most educated country in Latin American by 2025, though he has not said how that would be measured or achieved, aside from improving on existing infrastructure.
Santos has defended the slide in 2012 PISA scores often cited by Zuluaga, stating that they are measured over a ten year period, which would include the entire administration of ex-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010).
- Expand funding for programs already in place, including “From Zero to Always,” which aims to develop early childhood education for at-risk populations.
- Form a culture that values education, honesty and work ethic, starting with parents.
- Change curriculums to encourage the talent and creativity of individuals.
- Professionalize teaching staff and reward their work with higher pay.
- Strengthen the SENA, so students can receive a technical education and a job in a addition to a diploma.
- Require every high school graduate to be fluent in English by 2018, through the addition of 30,000 new teachers of the subject, 5,000 of whom would be native speakers of English
- Build and improve on 4,000 schools in rural areas. Ensure that facilities have running water and internet
- Colombia will have the highest PISA scores in Latin America (currently the second lowest), and at least one university in the top 100 of the world by 2025. Colombia’s universities are currently ranked the third best in Latin America, according to QS.
Health reform is perhaps among the most contentious issue of the elections, save the peace process with the FARC, as the Colombian health care system has been marred in corruption, declining coverage, and high costs.
The current system uses semi-private intermediaries (EPSes) to distribute public funds for health care and manage patient coverage. Over a billion dollars have been embezzled by the EPSes, which are incentivized to decline care for their clients, as they receive the same funding from the government regardless of the quality or extent of services.
EPS officials often have overlapping business ties to care providers, leading them to direct their clients to certain clinics and health centers, irrespective of care or logistical concerns.
Zuluaga focuses his proposal on the expansion of health coverage, infant care, quality of life among doctors, as well as the quality of assistance received at hospitals.
- Eliminate medical exclusion – Colombians will have the ability to go to a hospital regardless of income, with an obligatory basic health plan.
- Focus on prevention: Promotion of community involvement and awareness, healthy activities, sport, and hygiene. Intermediary sem-private health providers EPSes should cover at least one regular annual check-up.
- Elimination of acute hunger from Colombia, giving priority to rural and indigenous communities.
- The disabled will have support from the government to receive treatment, especially from the lower socioeconomic classes.
- More and better-trained medical professionals: Promote the study of medicine through education, in addition to increasing salaries of those already in the profession.
- Allow more flexibility for payment methods among health care providers.
- Alliances between the public and private sectors for the construction, establishment and administration of health infrastructure, with the goal of seeking an equilibrium between financiers, operators and supervisors of the health system.
- Creation of a number accessible by cell phone to resolve issues. Call centers will allow for this to occur.
- The various EPS plans will be rigorously reviewed, preventing the infiltration of corruption.
- Sexual and reproductive education with the support of the private sector, civil society and local governments. This plan will also identify and confront socio-cultural causes of teen pregnancy .
Santos was responsible for creating the Ministry of Health, with a specific mandate to tackle many of the structural concerns regarding health care.
The president says coverage has gone from 87% to 97% under his presidency, a claim Colombia Reports has been unable to verify, and that Colombia has the largest vaccination program in Latin America, with 92% of children covered, as verified by the national La Silla Vacia political blog.
Santos has proposed a health reform bill, but has since seen the legislation stall in Congress, amid widespread criticisms that it failed to adress the deep structural problems in the system.
- Control prices of medicine. La Silla Vacia confirms the Santos administration has been successful in limiting price increases, and previous Colombia Reports investigations showed that the EPS model is also effective in this regard.
- Repatriation of Colombian doctors abroad, thus allowing better access to medicinal specialists.
- Assure that hospitals have the necessary resources to transport patients and medical professionals. Santos does not specify how this would be achieved, though the president has been a strong proponent of broader infrastructure improvements.
- Work with municipalities and states to invest in public hospitals, bettering technology, infrastructure and offer better service for Colombians.
- Better working conditions, including pay, for medical professionals.
- Strengthen the intersectional coordination to combat the high levels of teen pregnancy. He claims that a program like this is already underway, with the Presidential High Council for the Equality of Women (ACPEM) and the Ministry of Health.
All official indicators show that urban homicide and kidnappings are down, especially as compared to the astronomical rates that plagued the country at the turn of the century. Robbery statistics have not been disseminated as widely.
Still, the matter of urban security has taken on central importance in the campaign, with Zuluaga attacking the president over the alleged feeling of insecurity that Colombians hold.
Zuluaga claims that 69% of the population feels insecure in public places, and that 52% of robberies are committed violently. Colombia Reports has not been able to confirm either statistic.
The hardline candidate says it is the responsibility of the state and of local governments to guarantee the security of Colombian citizens, and that Santos will endanger the public by extending impunity to the FARC in peace talks, something the president has repeatedly claimed he does not intend to do.
- Better identification, information systems, analysis of criminality and geographic tagging of the location of crimes.
- Increase citizen cooperation, through increased rewards for contributing information about crimes.
- Greater police presence in cities, permitting a greater sense of security and quicker reaction by part of the police.
- Developing a plan to disarm Colombia, offering monetary rewards in exchange for surrendering arms.
- Work with governments to discourage alcohol abuse and drug consumption.
- Develop a culture based in tolerance, respect, inclusion of all social groups and the rejection of violence.
- Zuluaga has recently stated that he will not sign any more free trade agreements for four years
Santos once again highlights his achievements, including the lowest homicide and kidnapping rates in over 20 years. Under the Santos presidency, metropolitan police forces have expanded from 8 divisions to 17, and community vigilance groups have been created in 260 municipalities of the country’s 1,123.
Despite the verified improvement in lowering the homicide rate, his claim that kidnappings dropped was only true for 2013, as they rose 40% between 2010 and 2012.
A central element of Santos’ proposal is that a peace deal with the FARC will allow the country to devote more resources to civilian security, as opposed to fighting an “irregular” war against the guerrillas.
- Create search blocs for the seven most common crimes: cell phone robbery, small-scale extortion, small-scale drug trafficking, robbery after leaving banks, “paseo millonario” (where people are robbed in taxi cabs, a major issue in Bogota in particular), contraband and illegal mining.
- Focus on justice: not allowing those arrested for crimes to be released the next day.
- Citizen cooperation for tracking down criminal activity, and the increased use of technology to track down and document criminality.
- Reduce overcrowding in prisons by making public-private agreements to construct more space
- Creation of a Ministry of Citizen Security, tasked with keeping order in urban areas, while also strengthening rural security.
- More police on the streets that are better placed, and better prepared.
- Creation of a culture focused on prevention and reporting of crimes, in addition to drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs, and the improvement of the system dealing with denunciation of crime.
- Protection for women and children against domestic abuse. Child rapists and abusers will be punished more severely.
Zuluaga has come under fire from Santos during debates, who stated “[while Uribe’s minister of finance] you authored a law that took away hours from workers, and forced them to work more only to get paid less,” a statement which has been verified by Colombian political blog La Silla Vacia.
Also during his ministry, Zuluaga claimed there was not enough budget space to raise the salaries of various public sector employees.
- With the support of the private sector, local governments and academia, the development of productivity cluster that are capable of capitalizing on comparative advantages and the exporting potential of each region. This will allow for certain areas to focus on a particular economic activity.
- Economic growth and stability, achieved through investments, fiscal responsibility and care with spending.
- Labor inspections for greater dignity of employees. This will be achieved by assuring pensions, better workplace safety, unemployment coverage, vacation time, and bonuses.
- Prevent child labour through programs designed to combat the phenomenon, and through an eight-hour school day.
- Promotion of large industries that are labor-heavy, like construction, trade and the service industry.
- Promoting a balance between family and work, as well as greater flexibility in schedules for workers.
- “MIPYMES” (small and medium-scale businesses) should have access to credit, and sustained expansion through investment and the generation of employment with state support.
The Santos administration has overseen a 44-month straight decline in unemployment, which currently stands at 8.4%, the lowest levels since the Presidency of Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994). Youth unemployment, however, remains high at 16.5%, although this number has also improved according to DANE statistics.
Santos has passed tax reforms to encourage the formalization of Colombia’s massive informal labor sector.
Seven million Colombians have received employment and/or professional training through the SENA during Santos’ first term, according to the president. Santos also claimed that the 2.4 million jobs he promised to create during his first election campaign will be realized before August 7, when the winner of Sunday’s contest takes office.
Santos also emphasizes that the poverty rate has “fallen like never before,” especially with regards to extreme poverty, which fell from 12.3% in 2010 to 9.1% in 2013.
- Creation of more economic growth, protecting and supporting the entrepreneurial sector.
- Greater investment in MIPYMES to make them more sophisticated, efficient and international. Elimination of contraband and unfair competition are also goals of the second term.
- Tax laws will be strengthened, tax evasion avoided, while being friendly to the creation of employment.
- Use Ministry of Technology and Communication to make it easier to find employment online.
- Broaden and expand the SENA to bring more technology and high-quality, skilled employment.
- The best way to combat poverty is with quality employment, says Santos, by doubling the allocation of funds to support MIPYMES.
- Programa de Gobierno: 2014-2018 (Óscar Iván Zuluaga Official Website)
- Plan de Gobierno (Juan Manuel Santos Official Website)
- Chequeado a Santos y Zuluaga: segundo round en segunda vuelta (La Silla Vacía)
- Diferencias y similitudes entre las propuestas de Santos y Zuluaga (La Silla Vacía)