An electoral liability for Uribe?
bit more than a year before the Colombian presidential elections,
President Uribe is doing so well in the polls that his likely
opponents are either hoping that the Constitutional Court blocks
his re-election, or they simply have their gaze truly fixed
today it seems as though Uribe can get re-elected by a wide
majority, the coming election year could bring some surprises
that might strongly benefit his opponents. And the Constitutional
Court isn't even on the list of potential challenges.
fact, the major risk to Uribe's re-election comes from something
that, until now, has been his chief strength: the country's
security situation. What would happen if, before May 2006, the
improvements in security indicators (massacres, killings, kidnappings,
attacks on populations, etc.) lose their momentum, or - worse
still - begin to move in the other direction? There are several
reasons to be concerned that the coming year may bring some
The end of the FARC's supposed "retreat." If what
the guerrillas say is true, and they really are increasing the
intensity of their attacks on vulnerable targets throughout
the national territory, this could bring an increase in several
violence indicators, a drop in investors' confidence, and a
greater perception of generalized insecurity. These could result
even without a significant change in the actual balance on the
The possibility that the dialogues with the AUC might fail.
Uribe and his advisors surely are conscious of the risk that
Ralito could become another Caguán. If the "paras"
leave the negotiating table and call off the cease-fire they
are partially observing, the result could be a strong wave of
violence throughout the country. But there is another possibility:
if the dialogues stay alight but the Colombian Congress passes
a "justice and peace" law that fails to do enough
to dismantle the paramilitary phenomenon, the "mafia plus
death squad" model that the paramilitaries are adopting
in several parts of northern Colombia could multiply throughout
the country, leaving the population feeling even less secure.
The possibility that "Plan Patriota" could fail due
to a lack of social investment. Colombia already has a long
history of military offensives that recover territory from armed
groups. The problem has always been that the soldiers' action
is never coordinated with the entry of the state's non-military
institutions (courts, social services, infrastructure-building,
etc.). When the military leaves the "recovered" zone
- and the bulk of their forces must eventually leave when Colombia
has only 360,000 military and police to cover the entire country,
including those at desk jobs - it leaves a vacuum that illegal
armed groups easily fill. If the lack of social investment continues
in the vast Plan Patriota zone, there is a great danger that
this ambitious offensive will have the same result as its forebears.
If this model also fails, it could have important electoral
The lack of money. The state of government finances threatens
President Uribe's security programs. With a central-government
deficit projected to reach a frightening 6.6 percent of GDP
in 2005, it is very possible that there may be neither social
investment in recovered zones nor more military resources for
the "Democratic Security" policy. Meanwhile, the U.S.
government - which has its own credit cards maxed out as a result
of the Iraq war - does not appear willing to increase its own
contribution to Colombia. To the contrary.
of these challenges could do great damage to Uribe's re-election
plans. Of course, it is always possible that none of these surprises
may arise during the next thirteen months, or that even if they
do they fail to have a fundamental effect on Uribe's popularity.
No matter what, the possibility that Uribe may fall into one
of these traps is real, which means that, despite his current
popularity, he is assured of nothing next year.