Colombia’s next president faces daunting challenges

WASHINGTON, DC — Colombians head to the polls on Sunday for the first round of voting in their presidential election. Voters in this election are under more economic stress than they have been in years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted how they view their lives. and further fueled their discontent with their country’s rulers.

Quick summary: The Colombian election is an opportunity for change, as current President Ivan Duque cannot legally stand for re-election. Duque, who has been in office since 2018, presented himself as a reformist but then struggled to implement change. He has been criticized for the way he implemented the peace deal with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which had been fighting the Colombian government for decades.

The election offers Colombian voters six candidates to choose from, but two have emerged as clear favorites: Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutierrez. Petro, the leading left-wing candidate and former guerrilla, is running on a platform of economic, environmental and social reform. Gutierrez, the leading conversational candidate, emphasizes law and order, promising to fight crime and encourage economic growth.

Whoever wins will lead a country plagued by multiple crises, including a deteriorating security situation and rising income inequality and poverty. Colombia’s economy has taken a beating during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 3.6 million Colombians falling into poverty since it began. It is now estimated that nearly 40% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

The lives of Colombians are going in the wrong direction: After years of stable ratings averaging around 40%, the percentage of Colombians considered prosperous began to drop after 2019. In 2021, prosperity fell to a new high of 28%. This decline is at least partly related to the effects of COVID-19 on Colombians. In 2020, 65% of Colombians who were working at the time of the pandemic said they earned less money than usual due to the coronavirus situation.

In addition, before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the political crisis in Venezuela arrived in Colombia, which put additional pressure on the country’s economy, resources and social services.

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Gallup classifies individuals as “thriving”, “struggling” or “suffering” based on how they rate their current and future life on a scale with steps numbered from zero to 10, based on the Effort Scale of Cantril self-anchoring. Those who rate their current life and expected life in five years as 4 or less are classified as suffering.

The majority of Colombians are in economic difficulty: A clear majority of Colombians (60%) said in 2021 that they found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to get by with their current household income, tying the 2020 record. Prior to this year, no more than 44 % of Colombians said they had the same difficulty coping.

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Additionally, a slim majority of Colombians (52%) said in 2021 that there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money for food. The percentage missing money for this basic necessity has generally increased since 2015, from 32% that year to 45% in 2019 and increasing significantly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The majority of Colombians lack trust in their national government: In 2021, 70% of Colombians said they did not trust their national government, an increase of eight percentage points from 2020 but still below the record high of 76% in 2017. This record came after the Colombian government signed a peace agreement. deal with the FARC.

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Consequences

Colombia has been rocked by economic difficulties and civil unrest in recent months. As millions of people fell into poverty, large numbers of Colombians took to the streets to protest against rising taxes, as well as food and fuel shortages. While these protests have largely died down, the security situation in the country has deteriorated in recent months with an outbreak of violence. Whoever wins the election will face daunting challenges in restoring security and reversing the economic downturn.

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Julio V. Miller