Álvaro Uribe Vélez, former president of Colombia, in an image from last April 8.

Álvaro Uribe Vélez, former president of Colombia, in an image from last April 8.
Álvaro Uribe Vélez, former president of Colombia, in an image from last April 8.Jon Cherry/Getty Images (Getty Images for Concordia)

The country that Álvaro Uribe found when he became president for the first time, in 2002, is not the same as today. Colombia is no longer that place besieged by the guerrillas, where you couldn’t travel by road without running the risk of falling into a miraculous fishing, as the FARC kidnappings on the roads were known. His “iron hand” speech sounds worn out and the fall in his image, which at its peak popularity reached 85% and last year was barely 20%, have been felt in these elections. The Democratic Center, his party, has no candidate and Fico Gutiérrez, the only one who comes close to the right, has not even publicly acknowledged his support. In March he had already suffered the first of his defeats when the left-wing coalition led by Gustavo Petro outvoted his community in the legislative elections. Uribismo, which had always been very strong in the regions, began to collapse.

The analyst and former Vice Minister of the Interior, Héctor Riveros, says that the little weight that Uribismo has had in this campaign is explained by the need for change that the country demands. “Uribe has tried to stay on the sidelines as a strategy so that some pieces of the tableware survive and not end up breaking all the dishes. He trusts that the rest of the establishment has done the task, although -for now- they are not convinced that they will go to the second round, ”says Riveros. Before the confrontational speech of the Democratic Center, there is Gustavo Petro, who leads a social movement that he managed to group in the Historical Pact and that with Francia Márquez as his vice-presidential formula has aroused sympathy in minorities and in a large part of society that never he has felt represented by the rulers.

After the March elections, Gutiérrez emerged as the viable candidate of the right, winning the third vote in the inter-party consultations, and he quickly received the support of the traditional parties. The resignation of the candidacy of Óscar Iván Zuluaga for the Democratic Center made the former mayor of Medellín the bet of former President Uribe’s movement. “My political bosses are the people,” Gutiérrez usually says, but if there are votes that he is guaranteed in this first round, they are precisely those that move the big political parties that support him. In addition to Uribismo, he has the support of the Liberals of former President César Gaviria, the Conservatives and others with great electoral capital such as Cambio Radical. His head of debate is precisely one of the figures of that party, former minister Luis Felipe Henao, close to Germán Vargas Lleras, an old acquaintance of national politics. Fico has the support that in the past was enough to ensure the path to the presidency, but today it is not enough.

Alejo Vargas, political scientist and professor of Social Sciences at the National University of Colombia, believes that these elections will be the definitive pulse to know how far the power of political machines reaches and if Uribismo manages to survive through Federico Gutiérrez. The unexpected rise of Rodolfo Hernández in the polls has been a threat to the continuity they seek. “If Rodolfo beats Fico it will be a humiliating defeat for Uribe,” says Vargas, who assures that as of Sunday a new campaign will begin in which Uribe will not have much of a game. “This day will be the beginning of a very strong polarization, we will enter a scenario similar to that of four years ago, but without Uribe present.”

Having been the architect of Iván Duque’s victory in 2018 is remembered today as a mistake rather than a success. “Álvaro Uribe has had to pay the cost of the regular government of Duque, a man without experience, beyond having been a senator on one occasion,” adds Vargas. The teflon effect, which allowed him to remain popular despite the scandals that have surrounded his name, has also worn out due to his trial before the Supreme Court in the case of alleged witness tampering. “Uribe is beginning to become a Pastrana, a former president who is there, but without much influence, after having been the protagonist of electoral politics for nearly 20 years,” he says.

Four years ago, Álvaro Uribe became the most voted senator in history. More than 800,000 people ratified his support at the polls, and Duque’s victory confirmed his ability to make his candidates president. This time he has against him that the government that his party represents has failed in the attempt to maintain the old flag that revolves around security in a context in which the FARC no longer exists as an enemy of the state.

Violence has skyrocketed in the last four years, but not for the same reasons or with the same actors in the country that Uribe governed. The presidency to which he came after winning comfortably in the first round, as no other candidate had achieved, was greeted with an attack by the FARC the same day he took office. The explosions that were directed towards the presidential palace and the Congress left more than ten dead and several wounded. The fight against “terrorism” became his cause, and he managed, at whatever cost, that his Democratic Security policy had an effect in reducing the rates of violence: kidnappings decreased and it became safer to travel by highway.

“When I started the Government in 2002, I saw that the growth of terrorist forces had not disintegrated the nation, but it had abolished the State. So I entered with the determination to impartially and severely confront the guerrilla groups”, Uribe recalled the beginning of his first term in an interview with Caracol television a few years ago. The country that premiered the figure of re-election with him and that continued to vote for whoever he said, this time does not seem to respond to his speech. Professor Alejo Vargas, an expert on security and peace issues, says that these elections will “bury”, at least temporarily, the political project of Uribism. “We can expect to see them making opposition, that is what democracy is, it is a pendulum that this time was in a different direction than we have always been”, he adds.

The most influential politician in the history of Colombia is not part of the main cast of this campaign and the candidate he supports, Fico Gutiérrez, had a competition at the end of the race with a character who has reminded Uribe himself in his 2002 campaign Rodolfo Hernández is shown as a figure far removed from the circles of traditional politics and resembles the former president in a style marked by confrontation. He is seen as a right-wing populist. Analysts do not hesitate to assure that if the former mayor of Bucaramanga is the one who goes to the second round, Fico’s support, including that of Uribismo, will go after him.

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