Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the presidential candidate for former President Alvaro Uribe’s political movement, wants to return Colombia from a “failed state” to a country of “optimism, confidence, and happiness.”
PROFILE: Oscar Ivan Zuluaga
“The main challenge for this campaign is to restore confidence in Colombians,” Zuluaga told Colombia Reports.
“When [Uribe entered office], Colombia was suffering a lot–it was considered a failed state,” said the former President’s candidate in the 2014 elections. He added that at the end of Uribe’s presidency eight years later, “everything was totally different: optimism, confidence, happiness. Things were running with some problems, but in general everything was running OK.”
According to Zuluaga, the country has gone backwards since then.
“[Now, the country] is completely different. We have levels of pessimism compared to 1998 and 1999, we are losing in terms of economic growth…we are involved in peace talks in Havana [Cuba] with the FARC, the guerrillas. Things are totally different now. Colombia needs…a way to build confidence with the citizens. That is the main challenge,” according to the presidential hopeful.
Zuluaga, former Finance Minister, Senator, and businessman, asserted that his biggest goal moving forward is to boost the Colombian people’s confidence in their government by targeting the youth of the country, canceling ongoing peace talks with rebel group FARC as soon as possible , and drawing attention away from past internal party problems by “worrying only about Colombia’s problems.”
Zuluaga emphasized the importance of reforming education policy pointing to the prevalence of young people in Colombia today.
“I repeat, the average age in Colombia right now is 26 years old!” the former minister said emphatically.
“That’s compared to 35 in the United States, 40 in China, 45 in Europe, and 50 in Japan. The main issue for us is young people. This is why our main priority is public education policy.”
Zuluaga explained that the 9 million people who are in the public education system currently suffer because of the quality of education and bad conditions in terms of infrastructure within the school. One proposal he put forth would include extending the hours of public schools to at least eight hours a day, and providing meals as part of the school system.
“[Students] only study 3-6 hours a day…they need to be studying eight hours a day…We need to provide breakfast and lunch for all of these Colombian [students],” said the candidate.
He also added that he wants to increase the quality of teachers, as well as the quantity of sports, cultural issues, and technical education programs.
Zuluaga claimed that many of Colombia’s problems can be solved by improving the public education system, noting the potential to revive a near non-existent middle class and to reform the country’s justice system.
“One of the main issues for Colombia is how to increase the middle class, and the only way to do that is with very high quality education…[furthermore] the only way that we can have a justice [system] that provides good results for citizens is to have a very good education system [that produces] high quality judges,” said the presidential hopeful.
“If you transform the youth, the young population, you can [make the country] think differently and build social inclusion in the country.”
Peace Talks with the FARC
Zuluaga and the Uribe Centro Democratico party have spoken out against peace talks currently occurring in Havana, Cuba between the FARC and the Colombian government from the start, primarily because during their previously controlled administration, the policy was war against the guerrilla group.
“I don’t agree with peace talks in Havana. Why? In my point of view, a legal state cannot be involved in one to one peace talks with an organization that is attacking Colombians and their towns — they are killing soldiers and policemen, they are threatening farmers, they are recruiting minors,” said the candidate defiantly.
This statement came on the heels of the FARC speaking out against Zuluaga for being an enemy of the peace talks.
The Uribe-loyal maintained that the FARC is a terrorist group and the biggest drug trafficking organization in the world and should not be negotiated with by any means.
“I don’t understand it…If the FARC continues to act as a terrorist group, if it continues to act as a drug cartel, there is no way to have peace talks.”
Moving Past Internal Problems
The Uribe Centro Democratico Party and many associated with the former President have been suffering from problems concerning rumors and accusations of internal voter fraud, scandal, and links to illegal paramilitary groups. One of the original five candidates vying for Zuluaga’s nomination dropped out due to his arrest on charges of paramilitary links and two others including the former Finance Minister himself were under investigation at the end of the summer for the same suspicions. Furthermore, there were rumors of voter fraud during the convention that sealed the doctor’s nomination.
“I don’t see any problems at all,” Zuluaga said when asked about these internal issues facing the recently formed party.
“We had a very successful convention…which was very good for democracy in Colombia… and now we are active and working very seriously and hard achieve our primary target: to win the presidency, to win the election, to become the main political party in the country.”
“Our main worry is Colombia’s problems now,” he emphasized, “We’re thinking only in terms of the citizens and how we can solve the main issues of poverty, education, public health and the economy.”
The presidential candidate concluded with his consistent message of confidence for his political party.
“[The Uribe Centro Democratico party is] focusing on…succeeding, so that we can show Colombia that we are the best alternative.”
Uribe Centro Democratico
Former President Alvaro Uribe held office from 2002 to 2010 after pushing legislation through Colombia’s Congress to extend presidential term limits from one to two. Uribe was dismayed that he couldn’t serve a third term in the Casa de Nariño, Colombia’s presidential palace, but earlier this year created his own political party, the Uribe Centro Democratico to try to keep his ideas alive. Close friend and once presidential adviser, Zuluaga was chosen on October 27 to represent the new conservative party in the fight for Colombia’s highest office.
Zuluaga has presented a five-pillared list of priorities he would intend to tackle as president. The five topics are: Security with Justice, Education Reform, Local Development, Healthcare, and State Transparency.
- Interview with Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Colombia Reports)