A Tale of Two Speeches: How inauguration day revealed the ideological rift within Centro Democrático

By Arjun Harindranath August 8, 2018

Senator Uribe and President Duque embrace following the latters inauguration. Image still courtesy of Radio Caracol/Youtube

For all the wind that inauguration day in Bogotá produced, it was the bluster on stage that had everyone talking the day after. Senator Ernesto Macías’ fiery speech on the perceived failings of former President Juan Manuel Santos drew criticism from many corners for its inappropriate tone amongst the jubilation.

Macías, who is also Congress President, listed what he saw as Santos’ greatest mistakes in front of a crowd of dignitaries, many of whom still hold much affection for the former President.

“Today President Duque you receive a country that has seen an exponential increase in criminal groups like ELN, EPL, the many dissident groups of the FARC as well as groups that are financed by narcotrafficking.” Macias said, before characterising the Santos years as corrupt, ineffective against criminal groups, overly bureaucratic and economically weak. In a throwback to the years of former President Álvaro Uribe, Macias also termed the armed conflict with the FARC as “a terrorist threat”.

In a speech lasting just over 20 minutes, Senator Macías railed against the worsening security situation that has led to the murders of hundreds of social leaders, the increase in narcotrafficking, the rise in criminal gangs and the mounting public debt that Colombia now holds. Although not speaking himself, Uribe himself confirmed later that the speech was “absolutely necessary”.  

The rhetoric drew sharp criticism from the media and many took to social media after to register their displeasure over Senator Macias’ remarks. Senator Roy Barreras of Partido de la U delivered the most withering response to the speech: “Who wrote that shameful speech of Macías? With that speech are they calling for us to unite or divide? Do they hope to build and not destroy? They’re damaging Duque’s government.”

Others chose to leave the inauguration on hearing Macias’ diatribe rather than stay and hear President Duque’s speech. Renowned writer Hector Abad referred to the speech as “ridiculous, deceitful, ill-timed and much too long” whereas Journalist Claudia Gurisatti tweeted that Macias’ words were “neither convenient nor good for the country.”.


In contrast, President Duque’s speech struck a more conciliatory tone that was more in line with his motto “the future is for everyone” than with Macias’ thesis of “we’ll never forget the past”. The two speeches suggest a conflict that is currently taking place for the moral direction of the party.

In his speech, Duque said: “When we unite as a people nothing can stop us . When we all contribute, we are capable of realizing our own capability that not even magical realism can imagine.”

Whether Duque will turn away from the influence of Uribe was a question that dominated his campaign for president, a campaign that he easily won over rival Gustavo Petro.

In a recent profile recounting personal experiences with Duque, memoirist and editor of Americas Quarterly Brian Winter wrote that the term “puppet” was an ill-fitting description of “policy wonk” Iván. “[H]e had found a way to merge uribismo with his old wonkiness – holding forth on education, the creative “orange” economy, and health care – in a way that had expanded the party’s appeal,” Winter wrote.

Whether any such merging takes place depends firstly on persuading his own party members to move away from the the extremities of Uribismo. Members of Centro Democrático closed ranks behind their Congress President following his speech.

Senator Maria del Rosario Guerra for one came to Macías’ assistance saying that the Senator’s words deserve applause not criticism. “Juan Manuel Santos left a country that is increasingly dangerous, indebted in economic matters, flooded with coca and with rampant corruption. The president of the Congress spoke yesterday about our realities,” Senator Guerra tweeted yesterday, suggesting that the ideological divide within the Centro Democrático Party – about whether it looks to the future or the recent past – is an early initial exercise for Duque to undertake as president.