These episodes of vandalism provide Mr. Uribe and his colleagues with fodder for the us-versus-them narrative, separating those they call “the good people” (gente de bien) from the leftist rabble. It’s a narrative they will leverage as elections approach and one that had eluded them after the historic 2016 peace accord, negotiated by President Juan Manuel Santos, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, which is today a political party.
The Democratic Center appears to be on war footing, with Mr. Uribe attributing the vandalism at the protests to “politicians of the extreme left who provoke violence.” He worries that “this country has let its armed forces become weak” and adds that “there is an international incentive, especially from Venezuela, to install a regime here similar to the one in Venezuela in next year’s elections.”
This is the language of “Castro-Chavismo,” a term for describing socialism in Venezuela and Cuba as a common enemy. This view holds that the left has forgone guerrilla warfare in favor of a more pernicious strategy — Mr. Uribe calls it “dissipated molecular revolution” — that uses even peaceful dissent as a form of “hybrid warfare” to undermine the political system.
The narrative of a struggle against Castro-Chavistas is attractive to the ultraconservative Colombians who want the protests quashed. It also reverberates in the security forces.
There is an element of racism here, too. The epicenter of the protests has shifted to Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, where thousands of unarmed people from Indigenous communities traveled from the countryside to join demonstrations. The country’s vice president, Marta Lucía Ramírez, suggested that the Indigenous groups are financing themselves through illegal means. Ómar Yepes, president of the Conservative Party, which is aligned with the Democratic Center, railed against these protesters, saying that the Indigenous organizations “come out of their natural habitat to disrupt the life of citizens.”
The narratives pushed by the Democratic Center are dangerous, but they are a comfort for some citizens whose struggles have worsened during the pandemic. Four in 10 Colombians are estimated to be living below the poverty line, and millions are in danger of joining them. More than 400 people a day have been dying of Covid in recent weeks, while just 8 percent of a population of 50 million has received a dose of the vaccine.
What the United States says and does — or fails to say and do — has always carried a lot of weight in Colombia. The Biden administration must distance the United States from such leaders through both words and actions.