Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Vote for Petro is a Vote for...Duque?

That's the thesis of Daniel Coronell, veteran columnist of Semana magazine, executive of Univision and perpetual critic of ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe, who happens to be the political patron of right-wing presidential candidate Ivan Duque.

Daniel Coronell and Gustavo Petro (inset).
As Coronell sees things, many politically moderate and conservative Colombians are terrified that if leftist Gustavo Petro is elected president he'll turn Colombia into another Venezuela. Their fears might not be completely unfounded. Altho Petro was a respected congressman and as Bogotá mayor he did nothing more radical than causing a crisis by foolishly handing over the city's garbage service to the water company, during the 1980s he was a leader of the M-19 guerrilla group. His guerrilla past might be excused as youthful idealism if not for the fact that Petro has repeatedly refused to criticize the government of Venezuela, which has run that nation's economy into the ground, trampled civil liberties, become increasingly authoritarian and generally transformed what should be the region's wealthiest nation into a disaster area.

More than a million Venezuelan refugees have fled into Colombia, so Petro can hardly plead ignorance about the scale of the humanitarian disaster there. Petro's silence about Venezuela probably isn't due to political interests, since Colombians' rejection of the Venezuelan government seems to be overwhelming. So that makes one wonder whether Petro, if he's elected, hopes to make deals with the Venezuelan regime - and that is a scary thought.

All of which might make more and more centrist Colombians support Duque just to stop Petro. (On the other hand, of course, a vote for Duque could also be called a vote for Petro.)

Coronell's comments didn't sit well with either the left or the right. Uribe warned him to watch out, as president Duque would review media licenses. Uribe's comments were immediately condemned as a threat to freedom of the media, which Uribe denied.

Duque also scares many people, who see him as the political puppet of Uribe, who selected him to be the Centro Democratico party's standard bearer. As president from 2002 to 2010, Uribe beat back the FARC guerrillas, but at a tremendous cost in human rights. And Uribe displayed a paranoia about the media, human rights defenders and his political opponents, whom he often saw as guerrilla sympathizers.

If recent polls are any guide, Duque has a lock on making into the second round of presidential
Ivan Duque, Colombia's next president?
voting, where he'll be the overwhelming favorite to defeat petro or any other candidate who runs against him. The best prospect to stop Duque might be for the centrist presidential candidates to ally themselves and attract some voters from both extremes - but that looks like a longshot.

But, even in the case of a Duque victory, Colombia's many Uribe haters can hold on to hope. After all, years before Uribe selected Duque to carry on his policies, he selected his defense minister Juan Manuel Santos to do the same thing. Santos was elected president, and still holds the office. But in addition to fighting the FARC guerrillas, Santos entered into peace negotiations with them, infuriating Uribe, who became Santos' political enemy. A similar things happened in Ecuador.

The same might yet happen with Duque. God bless term limits!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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