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Colombia: The Truth behind the Poll Figures

category venezuela / colombia | miscellaneous | non-anarchist press author Saturday July 16, 2011 06:54author by Justice for Colombia Report this post to the editors

Colombian media have greeted the latest polls showing President Santos’ approval rating and the country’s economic growth with great fanfare. According to a recent poll, Santos’ approval ratings stand at 75%. Other figures show economic growth in the last trimester hit 5.3%. However, the economic growth figures say nothing about the distribution of that growth, and the approval ratings are open to question.

Opinion polls in Colombia, as elsewhere, are conducted in calls to household telephones. Colombian telecommunications networks mainly cover the larger towns and cities. Just three cities account for half of the country’s phone lines – Bogota, Cali and Medellin. Overall, Colombia has an average telephone line density of 17%, but in many rural areas this drops to less than 10%.[1] Therefore polls are heavily skewed towards the populations of the three main cities. Moreover, since they are conducted by fixed-line telephones, they cannot reach the more than 7 million Colombians who live on less than a dollar a day, and who cannot afford telephone lines.

Therefore the polls are really only an accurate indicator of the opinions of the population of Colombia’s three biggest cities with access to a fixed line telephone. They largely exclude the rural population and those too poor to have a fixed telephone line. According to ECLAC 39.7% of the urban population lives in poverty.

Some critics also point out that in a country with a high level of targeted violence against voices critical of the government, where there is a large network of paid informants, and where the intelligence services are known to have tapped telephones and pass information to paramilitary death squads, many people are unlikely to want to give their true opinions about political matters. Furthermore, threats against journalists mean that the media is largely uncritical of the substance of government policy reducing how much people know about the truth of the economic and political situation in the country.

The figures for economic growth hide a series of unpleasant facts. Several workers died in work accidents in the last five months. Millions of Colombians work themselves into an early grave in the informal sector, with no security or guaranteed income. Colombia spends more on the never-ending war than it does on education. 2.5 million Colombians live in absolute poverty, excluded from the benefits of economic growth. The economic violence is mirrored by physical violence. 17 trade unionists have been assassinated so far this year, as have at least 22 human rights defenders. Over 5 million Colombians are internally displaced, usually by violence from paramilitary groups still operating across the country. Forced disappearances still occur on a massive scale. This year, in the department of Antioquia alone, 407 people have been disappeared. There is almost total impunity for these crimes.

This is the sad reality behind the approval ratings, the growth statistics and the media fanfare.

[1] Colombia Country Profile, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, February 2007.

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