Cabinet Reshuffle Amidst Santos’s Declining Approval Ratings

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos’s approval rating has sunk to 24 percent, with an urban approval rating dipping to just 13 percent according to a March 2016 YanHaas poll. Santos, who began his first term with a 75 percent approval rating in August 2010, faces growing opposition during a time of low oil prices, high inflation, and a controversial peace agreement in the works.

Given the fact Santos is already halfway through his term, it is certainly an odd time for a president to be making any major changes to his Cabinet. Despite this, Santos is on the cusp of having enough time to turn around opinion polls before the FARC referendum is signed at the end of 2016. In recognizing this, Santos spent the last few months taking his last shot at upping his approval ratings by adding fresh new faces to the Cabinet.

Since the beginning of 2016, Santos has been slowly making new appointments, replacing a few Ministers, though mostly stalling on filling several openings (i.e. the Mining Minister opening—four candidates rejected the position before German Arce was appointed). However, this gradual approach was shaken when Cabinet Chief Maria Lorena Gutierrez, Santos’s right hand woman, abruptly left her post during the week of 18 April 2016. This did not look good for Santos. People interpreted her departure as a representation of the instability within the Santos administration and a sign that the president was losing the backing of his close political circle. While Santos is making moves to turn around opinion polls, Maria Lorena’s surprise resignation does not help.

As a result of Gutierrez’s departure, Santos accelerated his efforts to reshuffle the Cabinet. He called on every minister to resign, and announced he would be making several new Cabinet appointments fit for the “post-conflict era,” referring to the FARC peace process. Santos planned to reorganize the Cabinet around a “transitional peace government focus,” in essence saying the new appointees must back the peace process. He also indicated his intention to bring new players from outside the coalition into his administration, as long as they supported Santos and his peace-building efforts.

Many praise Santos for his new Cabinet appointments. The ministers now come from a more diverse background, with new faces from rural and coastal areas that usually do not have much representation in the federal administration. For example, the new Housing Minister is from Barranquilla and the new Environment Minister is from Chocó, while former Montería Mayor Carlos Correa was appointed to the newly elevated Regions Advisory (formerly the Regions Directorate). Santos also reshuffled the Cabinet in such a way that not one political party was favored; La U Party, the Conservative Party, and the Cambio Radical Party now have more or less equal representation.

However, one of the key reasons Santos desired a Cabinet reshuffle was to turn around his opinion polls. He wanted to use the new appointments to boost his approval ratings before the FARC referendum gets signed in late 2016. While there is no question the new Cabinet is an improvement in the representation of rural areas and the top political parties, it falls short of creating equal representation for rural areas and it still remains to be seen if the Cabinet changes will achieve the original goal of boosting Santos’s poll ratings.

Seven New Posts

  1. Ministry of Environment goes from the U Party to Cambio Radical - Gabriel Vallejo to Luis Gilberto Murillo (former Governor of Colombia's poorest department Chocó)
  2. Ministry of Housing remains in the hands of Cambio Radical - Luis Felipe Henao to Elsa Noguera (former mayor of Caribbean coastal town Barranquilla).
  3. Ministry of Mines remains in the hands of the Conservative Party - Tomas Gonzalez to German Arce.
  4. Ministry of Transport goes from Cambio Radical to the U Party - Natalia Abello to Jorge Eduardo Rojas.
  5. Ministry of Justice goes from Liberal Party to Green Party - Yesid Reyes to Jorge Eduardo Londoño.
  6. Ministry of Labor goes from Independent to Polo Democrático - Luis Eduardo Garzón to Clara López.
  7. Ministry of Commerce remains in the hands of the U Party - Cecilia Alvarez to María Claudia Lacouture.

Nine Existing Posts

  1. Finance Ministry - Conservative Party - Mauricio Cárdenas
  2. Information & Technology Ministry - Liberal Party - David Luna Sánchez
  3. Health Ministry - Liberal party - Alejandro Gaviria
  4. Interior Ministry - Liberal party - Juan Fernando Cristo
  5. Foreign Ministry - Liberal party - María Angela Holguín
  6. Defense Ministry - Liberal party - Luis Carlos Villegas
  7. Ministry of Culture - Conservative Party - Mariana Garcés
  8. Ministry of Education - U Party - Gina Parody
  9. Ministry of Agriculture - U Party - Aurelio Iragorri Valencia