Thursday, September 5, 2013

Poll Points to a ‘Left Turn’ in Colombia

A new Gallup poll shows that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ approval rating has been hit hard by the recent wave of rural protests in the country. It also suggests that the Colombian left has made significant advances in public opinion, a development which may provide a more inviting political climate for rebels looking to enter democratic politics.

The survey shows that Santos has seen the biggest drop in popularity since he took office in August 2010, with only 21 percent of Colombians expressing support for the president, compared to 48 percent in June. Some 72 percent currently disapprove of Santos’ performance, up from 44 percent two months ago. 

Analysts consulted by Caracol Radio, including Gallup Colombia director Jorge Londoño, say the main factor behind Santos’ plummeting approval rating appears to be dissatisfaction with his handling of the recent mass demonstrations that took place in rural areas around the country. Semana argues that the deeper reason behind his decline in the polls is Santos’ weak image, citing a growing perception that the president lacks the ability to effectively manage. According to the magazine his critics accuse him of “permanently dancing the tango,” constantly reacting to the moves of other actors, from the negotiating table in Havana to the rural campesino associations in the interior. No doubt addressing this criticism was part of the reasoning behind the recent mass resignation of 16 cabinet officials, but two days after the announcement he has yet to announce their replacements.

In contrast to Santos’ fall from grace, some in Colombia’s political arena benefited from the protests. According to La Silla Vacia, the Gallup poll suggests the real winner in all of this is Colombia’s democratic left. While former President Alvaro Uribe remains popular (with 63 percent approval), the news site points out that surveys show neither he nor his political allies effectively  capitalized on the farmers’ strike.

Center-left figures, however, are seeing more favorable conditions emerge. The politician who saw the biggest jump in the polls as a result of the recent protests was Antonio Navarro Wolff, a leader of the center-left Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party who has been one of the biggest public supporters of the strike. His approval rating jumped from 36 percent in June to 50 percent, a figure which La Silla Vacia notes is higher than any of the leading Uribista politicians. Additionally, the poll showed that for the first time in recent history a majority (61 percent) of Colombians are against signing free trade agreements with other countries. The poll also found growing disapproval of foreign investment and multinational corporations, factors which directly favor the policy narrative of the PDA.

On the other hand, La Silla points out that Wolff is the only PDA leader who saw a significant jump in the polls. Other party figures, like PDA presidential candidate Clara Lopez, continue to have relatively low approval ratings.

Regardless, this is good news for supporters of the peace process in Colombia. After the negotiating teams of both sides reached an agreement on land reform in May, they have moved on to political participation, the second issue on the agenda. With the recent rural protests, as well as the emergence of the left-wing Marcha Patriotica movement and the reauthorization of the Union Patriotica (UP) party, the FARC could hardly ask for a more favorable political climate in which to abandon the armed struggle for democratic participation.

News Briefs
  • The PDA is not the only political actor in Colombia that has benefited from the recent demonstrations. In an op-ed for El Espectador, sociologist and founding member of the Bogota-based Dejusticia legal studies center Cesar Rodriguez Garavito argues that the campesino protests have heralded a “social movement spring” in the country. According to Rodriguez, the protests were among the most successful in the past three decades, and underline a growing link between rural and urban Colombians which is made possible through social media. Ultimately, he claims these protests are a sign of the both the country’s democratic maturity as well as the weakening hold that armed actors have over rural movements, and will likely be continued in a post-conflict era.
  • Of course, another consequence of Santos’ drop in the polls is an increase in pressure on his administration to speed up the talks, or at least demonstrate progress to the public. The Gallup polls shows that Colombians are growing impatient with the pace of negotiations. While a majority continues to believe the peace process is the best solution for the country, this figure has fallen from 66 to 57 percent in the last two months. On Tuesday Colombian negotiator Sergio Jaramillo told Congress that the talks had entered a “critical” stage, adding that “in the next months we will know if this is going to work or not.”
  • The Washington Post reports that the Mexican Senate passed a controversial bill yesterday which submits teachers to regular evaluations, a move which has been strongly opposed by dissident teachers’ unions in the country. But while the Post calls the bill a “crucial victory” for President Enrique Peña Nieto in his struggle for education reform, the New York Times has a different take. Experts consulted by the paper claim that the version of the bill which passed Congress contains important concessions which could undermine Peña Nieto’s reform drive. Sergio Cardenas, an education expert at the CIDE research center and university in Mexico City, told the NYT that the bill “diluted key aspects” of the original plan. Among its weaknesses, according to Cardenas, is a provision which would make the results of evaluations confidential.
  • Meanwhile, Animal Politico reports that the CNTE teachers’ union is launching a last-ditch attempt to get Peña Nieto to veto the law, and is set to meet with administration officials today.
  • On Saturday, Brazil’s O Globo published an editorial in which the media group apologized for supporting the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, a fact that the paper’s editorial board called a “hard truth.” The L.A. Times notes that the apology came after recent protests have targeted the media group for its perceived closeness to the conservative political elite in the country.  
  • A new poll in Uruguay shows that support for the proposed law to regulate marijuana, which is awaiting debate in the Senate, has increased slightly in recent months. According to a Cifra poll released on Monday, 28 percent of the country supports it and 61 percent is against it, a modest improvement over 26/63 in July. Backing for the bill saw an especially notable jump among supporters of the ruling Frente Amplio coalition, 47 percent of whom believe it is a good idea, compared to just 33 percent in April.
  • In other Uruguay news, on Tuesday lawmakers in the lower house passed a bill which imposes hefty taxes and environmental standards on large-scale mining projects. Reuters notes that the bill would require mining companies to pay a yearly fee, a 25 percent tax on corporate profits and another tax of up to 38 percent on profits. It also lays down new environmental standards. El Pais reports that the government hopes Uruguay will become an iron-exporting country next year as a result of the law. As IPS noted in an in-depth piece last week, the measure has been criticized by rural organizations and environmental groups.
  • In the wake of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s controversial decision to authorize oil drilling in the Yasuni Amazon reserve, most of the media attention has focused on criticism of the measure from environmental and indigenous groups, which have plans to organize a referendum on the issue. The Guardian’s Kelly Swing, however, looks at Correa’s promise to authorize only the most ecologically sound drilling strategies, questioning the country’s technological capacity and political will to back this up.
  • Writing for Medium, freelance journalist Josh Froust offers a critical take on the responses of the Mexican and Brazilian governments to revelations that their leaders were spied upon by the NSA. Fourst describes the outrage of officials in these countries as “two-faced” and “bizarre,” arguing that spying is a natural part of international relations, and nothing to be surprised about.
  • As noted in yesterday’s brief, on Monday the Brazilian lower house of Congress voted unanimously to end the practice of casting secret votes on bills. The BBC reports that the vote was an attempt by lawmakers to regain credibility after passing a resolution by secret vote which allowed Congressman Natan Donadon, sentenced to 13 years in jail for corruption, to keep his seat.
  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog has the latest on an emerging conflict between two divisions of El Salvador’s Supreme Court, which was sparked when the court’s Constitutional Chamber decided to hear a petition challenging the election of Chief Justice Salomon Padilla last year. The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, has made statements indicating that the conflict could have repercussions for U.S. aid to the country. 

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