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Colombia: Narco, Hacking Scandals Overshadow Presidential Platforms

By: María Gabriela Díaz - May 20, 2014, 2:46 pm

Español Colombia’s final countdown has begun. With barely five days before Colombians elect their new president, their final decision remains uncertain. In the midst of hacking and narco scandals, corruption accusations, and peace negotiations with the country’s almost 50-year-old guerrilla, the South American country’s political future could go in one of many directions.

While the latest scandals may have overshadowed the candidates’ platforms, a few have sought to avoid the spectacle and maintain their proposals as centers of their campaigns.

Juan Manuel Santos

President Santos has held office since 2010, and is now seeking reelection. Before he became president, he held cabinet roles in Álvaro Uribe’s administration as minister of defense, finance, and foreign trade. Alongside Uribe, Santos co-founded his current party, the Social Party of National Unity, better known as the Partido de ‘la U,’ which took former president Uribe to his second term.

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President Juan Manuel Santos, candidate for Partido de la U (May, 2014). Source: Juan Manuel Santos press.

During his tenure as minister of defense, he managed to take out some prominent leaders of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). Once Uribe’s second term in office ended, he endorsed Santos as a candidate and successor.

However, it didn’t take too long before Santos forged his own path. Unlike Uribe’s confrontational approach with former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Santos called the neighboring president his “new best friend.” He also started peace negotiations with the FARC, and made it the center of his administration, taking a very different direction to the one of his predecessor.

Now Santos is running for reelection under the slogan, “we have done so much, but there’s still so much to do.” Even though a narco scandal that involved both of his political advisers burst a few weeks ago, his leverage in the presidential race has remained intact.

Óscar Iván Zuluaga

Former Senator Óscar Iván Zuluaga is Uribe’s endorsed candidate for the Democratic Center Party. He was a councilman, mayor, and finance minister in Uribe’s second administration. After two years in the post, the International Monetary Fund awarded him as the best finance minister in Latin America.

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Óscar Iván Zuluaga, candidate for the Democratic Center (2011). Source: Marco Antonio Melo.

Zuluaga has been a close ally of Uribe, and alongside Santos, he also co-founded the Partido de la U. However, after several concerns with Santos’s political approach, Uribe and Zuluaga founded their own party in 2013, the Democratic Center, as a political organization completely aligned with Uribismo.

“I won’t deny or hide former president Uribe; I feel proud to be the candidate for the Uribismo … but the country knows my disposition and my character,” he has stated.

Zuluaga’s political platform has focused on five points: social cohesion, an austere and decentralized state, democratic security, investor’s trust, and inclusive dialogue.

Nonetheless, during the last few days the controversial hacking scandal and ongoing criminal investigation against him have distracted from his proposals. Even though these incidents have made headlines around the nation, they haven’t stopped his presidential aspirations nor made him quit the race.

Enrique Peñalosa

Peñalosa was born in the United States and graduated with an economics degree from Duke University. He’s the presidential aspirant for the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde). He renounced his US citizenship to run for Bogota’s mayoral elections, which he won in 1997. He completed his term and left office with levels of approval of up to 70 percent, according to Gallup.

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Enrique Peñalosa, candidate for Green Alliance (2014). Source: Enrique Peñalosa press.

His performance as an international consultant for urban matters, and his passion for ecology earned him the 2009 Gothemburg Award for sustainable development. Peñalosa is running on the ticket of a party founded by very successful former mayors of Colombia, such as Antanas Mockus, Sergio Fajardo, and Luis Eduardo Garzón.

During his campaign, the Green Alliance aspirant has stood apart from all the scandals, and has centered his campaign in the fight against corruption, bureaucracy, and “marmalade.” For Peñalosa, the FARC negotiations should be kept out of the electoral campaign, since it distracts constituents from other critical problems. Instead, he wants to the focus on achieving efficiency in areas such as health care, urban security, and the peasants’ demands.

Clara López Obregón

Clara López Obregón, who comes from a family of former presidents, graduated summa cum laude in economics from Harvard and is the candidate for two parties, the Polo Democrático (Democratic Wing) and the Patriotic Union.

Colombia elections Clara Lopez
Clara López, candidate for the Polo Democrático. Source: Clara López press.

Even though she has support from progressive parties, she denies proposing a “left-wing” platform: “It’s not a left-wing government, it’s about a government that gives a new pace to Colombia.”

For López Obregón, the agrarian protests are completely justified.

“There haven’t been fair prices for peasants, and this is generating the loss of their land to the hands of the banks,” she says. “The peasants are demanding the presence of the state.”

In this regard, her political platform aims to rescue the countryside, re-industrialize the country, revise the mining sector, reform the judiciary, and promote free education. Among her proposals, López Obregón also supports for marijuana liberalization and decriminalization.

Marta Lucía Ramírez

Colombia elections Marta Lucia
Marta Lucía Ramírez, candidate for the Conservative Party. Source: Marta Lucía Ramírez press.

Ramírez is a lawyer and the candidate for the Conservative Party. She was the head of the Institute of Foreign Trade during Cesar Gaviria’s administration, and in 1991 she pushed forward the creation of a ministry of foreign trade, but she was not appointed as the head of the new body, Santos was. It was not until 1998, under Andres Pastrana’s administration, that she became minister of foreign trade.

President Álvaro Uribe then asked Ramírez to be minister of defense, but her actions generated tension with the military, and after a year she was dismissed. Ramírez continued to work her way toward the presidency, and became a senator. As a Catholic, and an opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, she soon joined the Conservative Party.

Polling Colombians

According to the polling firm Datexco, there is a near tie between Santos (27.7 percent) and Zuluaga (25.6 percent). However, the study was made in the midst of both scandals, so the sentiment may have changed. Clara López and Enrique Peñalosa both have the same level of support (9.7 percent), followed by Marta Lucía Ramírez (9.4 percent).

Nevertheless, the polling results suggest an almost inevitable second round on June 15 between the top two candidates, in the case that neither one reaches the simple majority (50 percent plus one) of the votes.

Surprisingly, the peace negotiations with the FARC are no longer a priority for Colombians, while unemployment, insecurity, and health care remain stated problems among voters.

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.