One of the central questions in Colombian politics this year: how independent is the new president, Iván Duque—a 42-year-old technocrat with a light political resume—from his political party’s 500-watt boss, the incendiary far-right former president Álvaro Uribe?
The word “puppet” gets tossed around a lot. But Duque is in fact showing some genuine flashes of independence.
We saw a very bright one yesterday, when Duque showed up at the polls to vote in an anti-corruption referendum, the result of a citizen signature-gathering initiative, that Uribe bitterly opposed. In angry tweets, the ex-president attacked the anti-corruption measure’s promoters personally, accusing them of wasting US$100 million to hold yesterday’s vote. [No idea if that figure is accurate. In the end, the anti-corruption consultation didn’t reach the voter-participation threshold needed to make its measures law. This was expected—but few expected 11.6 million Colombians, 32 percent of all registered voters, to show up on a Sunday in August.]
In a piece titled “Anticorruption Consultation: the first Duque-Uribe Disagreement,” Semana magazine notes the contrast between President Duque and his “patron”:
The ex-president became, in the hours before, the initiative’s fiercest opponent. “I will not vote in the deceptive consultation, and I have cared for the state’s resources throughout my public career with transparency and austerity,” Uribe tweeted.
…Uribe’s lashing out contrasted with the words that his candidate, now the president, Iván Duque, had said earlier. From San Jacinto, Bolivar, the head of state assured that “it is a citizen’s duty, in the conscience of each, to go to the polls and vote on the questions with which he feels identified.”
Duque’s words stand out both for their vague, lawyerly/academic language, but especially for their distinctly un-Uribe-like quality. He spoke similarly at an August 23 event in the Urabá region of northwest Colombia—hardcore Uribe territory—to launch a new policy to protect threatened social leaders:
In his speech [reports El Nuevo Siglo], Duque said that “if we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them.”
“What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights,” said the head of state [according to El Espectador].
Again, those are two sentences one could never imagine Álvaro Uribe uttering; the ex-president instead has a long record of calling his civil-society critics guerrilla supporters, terrorists, or even child molesters.
Duque’s sentences in defense of social leaders are good ones. Though a bit imprecise, their tone and content offer assurance that the “puppet” narrative may be overblown—and that the Duque government, though conservative and traditional, may not end up being a third Álvaro Uribe term after all.