Above is who I presume to be an ex-soldier leading a crowd of demonstrators in the Colombian national anthem earlier this afternoon at Bogota’s central Plaza Bolivar. It was the end point of the so-called “March of Dignity”, a demonstration organized by supporters of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his right-wing Democratic Center party to voice their strong opposition to the ongoing peace negotiations between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.
According to info distributed via Democratic Center’s social media channels, the event was a show of “respect for life, liberty and dignity of soldiers and policemen”, with marches and rallies taking place simultaneously in several Colombian cities.
Many signs carried by the marchers were of the “support the troops” variety, but most clearly indicated a disdain for Santos and the peace negotiations. Since he left office in 2010, Uribe has been Santos’ biggest critic, accusing his former defense minister of surrendering the country to the rebels who’ve been fighting successive Colombian governments for 51 years in what is Latin America’s longest civil conflict.
Unemployment, crime and general dissatisfaction over the lack of progress to bring an end to the half-century old conflict have forced Santos’ approval ratings to plummet to a record low of 22% in late April. They’ve improved slightly since but still hover at just about 30%.
Polls also indicate that few have faith that the peace process will lead to a signed agreement between the government and the FARC. According to a Datexco survey in early July, 75% of Colombians “were convinced there is no chance that a peace deal will eventually be signed”. That was the peace process’s lowest level of confidence since the talks began in late 2012.
Uribe, meanwhile, who rode approval ratings pushing 80% at the peak of his popularity in the waning years of the last decade, has watched his Teflon lose its luster. With links to right wing paramilitaries, relatives who’ve been implicated in drug trafficking and his name increasingly tied to old or newly-emerging scandals, Uribe has seen his approval numbers dip to just over 40%. He’s hardly the beacon of trust Colombians imagined half a decade ago.
Which is probably why the crowd here in Bogota today wasn’t particularly large; I estimated it to number no more than two thousand. The three police officers I asked agreed.
“Less than two thousand,” one said.
“One thousand, six hundred and twenty,” another guessed, smiling. That forced a third to chime in.
“No, no,” he said. “One thousand five hundred and sixty-six.”
“I hope you’re not counting the llamas,” I told estimator No. 2. With that, all three burst into laughter, insisted on shaking my hand and wished me a pleasant stay.
And for the record, the lead photo at top serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the blog’s 581st (!!) straight.