Uribe turns Colombia’s political cold war caliente

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Alvaro Uribe parked his tanks on President Juan Manuel Santos’ lawn this Thursday.

At a special gathering of loyal followers in an exclusive club in the north of Bogota, Uribe announced the formation of the Puro Centro Democratico political movement – the platform from which he will fight to return Uribism to the presidential palace in 2014.

For months Uribe has attacked Santos from the bunker of his Twitter account, but over night the cold war turned hot; Uribism is now the official opposition in Colombia.

Over the next year Uribe will try to rip Santos’ coalition government apart. It is about to become very dirty; the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Neo-Uribismo?

Last month this website reported on the planned event to launch the ‘Front against Terrorism’ at El Nogal club. The event was billed as an homage to Fernando Londono who survived a FARC-led assassination attempt in May. It had been suggested that the ‘Front’ would work more as a pressure group – against the Santos government – than a political platform to fight congressional and presidential elections.

But the events of last two weeks presented Uribe with a golden opportunity, forcing him to change tack. In his worst moment in office Santos has seen his relationship with congressional coalition partners deteriorate dramatically, and public support dip sharply. Pouncing on this vulnerability, Uribe ditched the single-issue ‘Front’ and instead launched the more inclusive and sober sounding Puro Centro Democratico (PCD) -effectively a new political party.

As his adoring followers packed into the hall, Uribe rose to his fee to deliver an hour long speech that the publication Semana called a ‘counter-attack’ against the current administration. The speech was electric with round after round fired at Santos. Uribe criticised the president for debasing the Democratic Security doctrine on which he was elected, for promoting drug legalisation, for appearing to negotiate peace with terrorists, for cosying up to dictatorial neighbours, Correa and Chavez, and for governing by clientilism.

As Uribe left the stage to rapturous applause, his crusade began in earnest. As Uribe cannot himself stand, the search for candidate to fight the presidential elections in 2014 must now begin.

The electoral force of Uribe

Two years have passed since Uribe left office and despite the scandals that have appeared to implicate members of his old administration, the ex-president still enjoys approval ratings in the 60s. Uribe is a powerful electoral figure. He is charismatic and polemical. Unsurprising then, that there are those who question whether Uribism can win without Uribe. The influential on-line publication, La Silla Vacia argues that ‘for Uribism, Uribe is irreplaceable’

So without Uribe as their candidate is the PCD doomed to failure? There are seven names in the frame – none would win an election were it held tomorrow.

Who are they? Juan Lozano, President of the U Party, Francisco Santos, vice-president in Uribe’s government, ex-ministers Marta Lucia Ramirez and Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, former peace commissioner Luis Carlo Restrepo, current vice-president Angelino Garzon, and Fernando Lodono, the subject a FARC-led assassination attempt in May.

Revista Posicion’s recent poll showed that Francisco Santos was the most likely to attract voters, with 16% support, closely followed by Juan Lozano on 12%. The voting intentions for the remaining 4 (Angelino Garzon was not included in the poll) registered 5% and below. Zuluaga is rumoured to be Uribe’s favoured choice, but a mere 3 per cent of those asked would vote for him.

Uribe may have difficulty selecting a candidate, but he has time to build the profile of the chosen one. And although it is true that the political dynamic is different from two years ago, it is of course the case that President Santos was elected on the back of Uribe’s support.

Uribe V Santos, it’s personal and it’s political

President Santos was elected by the highest number of votes in history, around 9 million. He was the heir to Uribe, but he has governed as his own man. To Uribe and Uribistas, Santos is a traitor.

For 18 months Uribe has been the most vocal and effective opposition to a Santos regime that controls over 90% of Congress. But despite this ill-feeling Santos himself has refused to criticise his old boss – ‘I won’t fight ex-President Alvaro Uribe’ is the mantra.

Santos knows that the time has now come in which this position is virtually untenable and he must begin to fight back. This week we saw the start of a new strategy – to cast Uribe’s tirades as unpatriotic, damaging to the nation. In an interview with Caracol Television, Santos revealed that analysis of the news output in 2012 showed that Alvaro Uribe himself was the source of 40% of the negative stories about Colombia. Colombians are acutely sensitive about how they are perceived by the world. Santos was telling his compatriots that Uribe is second only to the FARC in threatening this image. In a similar move, Santos, hours before the Uribistas met in El Nogal, delivered a speech in which he warned against the folly of those who ‘play politics with terrorism’ and the ‘blood of our soldiers’.

Although Santos’ tactics to oppose Uribe are likely to be subtle, their effectiveness is unlikely to be in doubt. Santos is a calm statesman, a polar opposite to the polemicist Uribe – he must continue to play this card.

Uribe can afford to play a dirtier game than Santos.

Uribe’s next move is to start to lobby to steel away from Santos’ coalition those Congressman still loyal to the ex-president. Many in the U Party and Conservative the Uribista than Santista, but is is unclear how many will want to give up the trappings of power. Should relations with Congress continue to deteriorate, however, and were coalition to start to would be doubly president – not only would he find his re-election under threat, but his ability to govern in what remains of his first term would also reduced.

Santos has repeatedly said that he will next year until wait he will run for re-election whether he will run for re-election.

This website believes that it is virtually certain that he will. The coalition of is ready for war, and will
Uribistas throw everything they have at him.

Kevin Howlett of Colombia-Politics.com

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