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  • President Ivan Duque at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, Colombia, August 5, 2019.

    President Ivan Duque at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, Colombia, August 5, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 August 2019

The Colombian right-wing president faces growing social unrest due to his inability to consolidate peace in his country.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque reaches his first year in office on Wednesday with less than 30 percent of citizen acceptance and with blunt goals to strengthen peace and democracy in his country.

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After 365 days, the Duque administration still exhibits "a kind of strategic vacuum," Oscar Palma, a professor at the Universidad del Rosario said, adding that "there seems to be an absence of a guideline capable of telling us what this government wants."

In 2018, Duque came to the Presidency sponsored by Alvaro Uribe, a far-right politician who ruled Colombia between 2002 and 2010. Unlike what happened in prior conservative administrations, however, the current Colombian president has not managed to make the population believe that economic growth works for all.

In their daily lives, Colombians feel the loss of their well-being caused by the national currency' strong devaluation with respect to the U.S. dollar, which enhances systemic risks for an economy dependent on imports.

Peace in Colombia is fragile

Another great uncertainty that the Duque administration has failed to dispel is how the peace agreements will be implemented.

Initiated during the administration of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), the Colombian peace process was called into question when the current right-wing president proposed modifications to the terms of the agreement reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which left the armed struggle and became a political party, the People's Alternative Revolutionary Force of Colombia (FARC).

“Duque is asked to guarantee the reinstatement of FARC commanders and combatants [to civil life] and to comply with the Territorial Development Programs which have great expectations in the regions,” Ariel Avila, the Ideas for Peace Foundation director, said.

Indigenous people and peasants remain unattended

Over the last year, the Duque administration has kept a belligerent attitude towards social organizations that mobilized to defend peace and democracy in Colombia.

During March and April, farmers and indigenous peoples maintained a massive strike which lasted more than 27 days and blocked the Pan-American Highway. Its purpose was to make visible the lack of attention given to the population living in the Cauca Valley, an area that remains besieged by violence generated by Colombian paramilitary groups linked to drug trafficking and far-right landlords.

Despite the forcefulness of this protest, to which urban students and workers also joined, the Duque government did not open a process of real and lasting dialogue.

Among other demands, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) requested the recognition of the peasantry as a subject of rights, compliance with peace agreements and respect for their ancestral territories.

"This government has failed to 'make peace shreds' because democratic instances have not allowed it" and thanks to the fact that the international community, far from internal grudges, keeps its eyes on Colombia." The meme reads, "Ivan Duque, the president who refuses to grow. This August 7, Ivan Duque celebrates one year in the presidency of Colombia. What for him was a gift, for Colombia has been 365 days of waiting. When are you going to start developing your leadership?"

Murders of social leaders continue

One of the most controversial aspects of Duque's first year of government is the increase in the number of unpunished killings of social leaders.

Although there are no consolidated figures for the past 12 months, the Institute for Peace and Development Studies holds that more than 700 social leaders and 135 former FARC combatants have been killed since 2016.

According to investigations by the Colombian Prosecutor's Office, the Gulf Clan and other armed criminal groups are responsible for most cases of murders of human right defenders, social activists, and former guerrilla fighters.

"The proliferation of drug-related groups and the re-edition of paramilitary threat are the main causes of a humanitarian crisis and the Government shows no signs of seeking effective ways out," Contagio Radio reported and recalled that "the threat is not reported, but the effective, territorial and joint protection of the [peace] processes is put at risk."

While all this is happening, a situation that has been verified by multilateral organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Duque government seems to be mainly focused on the use of the Mobile Riot Squadron (ESMAD) to suppress citizens' protests.

Education lacks sustainable financing

Between September and November 2018, thousands of teachers, students and workers held at least seven demonstrations in different Colombian cities demanding an additional budget of US$1.42 billion for education in the country, a demand that culminated in a nationwide strike on November 28.

“The Government must listen to the needs of the students to be able to correct the historical debt that the country has with higher education,” Sergio Arboleda, professor at Sergio Arboleda University, said.

To solve fiscal problems, Duque hastened the approval of the “Financing Law” in Congress, a proposal that would allow him to obtain greater income through tax modifications, among other things.

Until the first half of this year, however, Colombian Courts had received 223 lawsuits against such law. Among other reasons, the plaintiffs allege that the Duque’s proposal generated more tax injustice because it reduces corporate taxes.

An interventionist foreign policy

Regarding the management of the foreign relations of the Colombian state, President Duque has displayed positions clearly aligned with U.S. interests in the region, which include interfering in the political processes of Venezuela and destabilizing the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

On August 6, for instance, the Colombian president called President Donald Trump's decision to block the assets of the Venezuelan government "coherent and consistent."

"This is a decision that had been raised by the United States government for more than a year and a half," Duque said and added that "a pattern of an international diplomatic siege has been set that has put pressure on him never before in view of that regime ... we are going to make that transition begin quickly. "

In response to these statements, Jorge Arreaza, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister said that "the coherent thing would be for the International Community to deal with the Colombian tragedy: a narco paramilitary state, cradle of violent groups, scene of wars and murders of social leaders, failed peace processes and growing drug production."

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