Colombia’s new president: New generation here to govern for everyone

Iván Duque was elected in the second round Sunday

Published in 18/06/2018 - 18:27 By Monica Yanakiew - Buenos Aires

Right-wing Iván Duque, 41, is to take office as president of Colombia on August 7. His is a country struggling to emerge from five decades of civil war and striving to deal with the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela, as thousands of people have crossed the border to escape hyperinflation and supply shortages. He was elected in the second round of elections this Sunday (Jun. 17), with 53.9% of the vote—12 percentage points above his rival, leftist Gustavo Petro.

“A new generation is here to govern—with and for everybody,” Duque declared, after learning the result. He will be the youngest president in the country’s 132 years of history, accompanied by Marta Ramírez, the first woman to serve as vice-president of Colombia.

Gustavo Petro, backed by 41.8% of the electorate, was also seen to celebrate. In a country historically governed by a conservative elite, the former M-19 guerrilla fighter garnered a remarkable amount of the ballot for the left. “Eight million Colombians—free and up on their feet. There’s no defeat. We’re not government—for now,” Petro wrote on Twitter. He pledged to oppose any attempts by Duque that may lead the country back to war.

Peace treaty

The polarized campaign reflected the division in Colombian society regarding the 2016 peace treaty between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc)—the country’s biggest guerrilla movement. Seven thousand rebels accepted giving up their guns in exchange for amnesty and the right to form a political party, with eight seats guaranteed in the new Parliament. Petro argues for the implementation of the measures: before serving as mayor in the capital Bogotá, he was an M-19 guerrilla himself. The group surrendered their weapons in 1990 and founded a political party.

Duque, in turn, promised to “reconsider the deal,” negotiated by current President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end decades-long violence. Duque’s political mentor—former President Álvaro Uribe—was among the biggest critics of the document, as he regarded it was exceedingly generous with the former guerrillas.

Farc leader Rodrigo Londoño (known as Timochenko from guerilla days) also wrote a message on his Twitter page. He said that the presidential elections this year were “the most peaceful in the last decades,” thanks to the peace deal. “It’s a moment of grandeur and reconciliation,” he said. “We respect the decision of the majority and congratulate the new president.”

Uribe and uribismo

In the view of many Colombians, Duque’s victory represents the return to uribismo. During the eight years he served as president (2002–2010), Álvaro Uribe, after whom the term was coined, fought the Farc and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s second biggest guerrilla movement. A large number of Colombians believed his hard-line approach undermined leftist guerrilla groups—which is why the Uribe administration is associated with a number of human rights violations, committed by security forces and para-military groups.

Santos was defense minister under Uribe before becoming president in 2010. Uribe, however, was the harshest critic of the peace agreement Santos negotiated with the Farc. The current president is also trying to strike another deal with ELN before leaving his post. In the last two years, however, he lost much of his popularity.

Most victims of the war between the Farc and Colombia’s security forces are civilians—many of them peasants who were forced our of their land to escape violence, and saw their children recruited by the guerrillas by force. They believe the government rewarded guerrillas to regain peace, instead of punishing those accountable for the crimes and compensating the innocent.

Challenges

Duque takes office amid the challenge of reuniting Colombia and fight drug trafficking, which is spreading to areas formerly controlled by guerrillas. Even after the agreement, violence is still present—ELN is still active, and Farc dissidents joined the drug lords.

The president-elect promised to cut taxes and public spending to draw investment from the private enterprise and stimulate production. He plans to make the Colombian economy once again grow 4.5% a year, after two years with an average 1.9% expansion. Duque’s political career started just four years ago, when he served as senator, backed by Uribe. Nonetheless, he had worked for ten years at the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank, and his election is welcomed by the market.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto / José Romildo

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