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LATIN AMERICA

Leftists boost Santos re-election campaign in Colombia

Plans to reassess peace talks with the FARC tank support for Uribe’s party

Santos at a campaign event in Cali.
Santos at a campaign event in Cali. AFP

President Juan Manuel Santos is still campaigning to rally support 10 days before Colombia holds its second round of presidential elections. His rival and Uribe faithful, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, won the first round of voting in May. Santos, however, is gaining support among members of the opposition who – despite some differences – believe in the peace process he began with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

After losing in the first round by almost a million votes, Santos has focused his message on one single dilemma, “the end of the war or the war without end.” Zuluaga has rejected dialogue with the FARC. First, he said he would put an end to the talks if he became president. Now, he says he would continue with the peace process if certain conditions were met. Santos bet on a message of peace to lure leftist leaders and the Green Alliance party, which received three million votes in the primaries.

If there is one thing that ties Santos to those groups it is their mutual wish not to see Uribe’s party back in power. Yet, they were not easily won over. During the debates before the first round, both camps criticized Santos and Zuluaga. Although the parties support the peace process, they told their supporters to vote on June 15 for whomever they like.

Bit by bit, they are beginning to throw their support behind the president. This gesture does not mean they will stop confronting him on the issues. One of the best-known leaders of the leftist Polo Democrático party, Senator Iván Cepeda, said his backing is not “for the president or his policies in general.” “I support the Havana peace process and the peace process with the ELN [National Liberation Army]. The decisive factor was the fact that Santos began the peace process and reached three agreements [on agrarian reform, drug trafficking and political participation].”

If there is one thing that ties Santos to those groups it is their mutual wish not to see Uribe’s party back in power

On the other hand, Senator Jorge Robledo, who received the greatest number of leftist votes in the last legislative elections, told his supporters to cast a blank ballot. Some have regarded this move as an attempt to pave the way for Uribe’s camp.

The leftist leader and former vice-presidential candidate for the Unión Patriótica party, Aida Avella, was the first to endorse the president. She, however, made it clear that the only thing they had in common was their desire for peace. Supporters of the Progressive mayor, Gustavo Petro, keep reiterating their political differences with Santos even as they woo undecided voters on behalf of the president. And, on Wednesday, former presidential candidate Clara López also endorsed the president by saying “peace is what is at stake here.”

Green Party Senator Claudia López backed the president after criticizing him sharply. López said she supported Santos because “then we’ll be done with the FARC sooner.” The co-president of the Green Party, Luis Carlos Avellaneda, said if Zuluaga wins, Uribe is the one who will lead because of “the messianic character” of the party. “With an Uribe-style government – authoritarian and totalitarian – we would not only end up in a civil war, we would also end up fighting with our neighbors.”

All of this support for Santos will be confirmed when the alliance, Frente Amplio por la Paz, meets in Bogotá. Unión Patriótica, Marcha Patriótica, the Communist Party, most members of the Green Party and Progressives will join in to defend the peace process. “We’re not going to give him a blank check. There are deep differences between us when it comes to the economy and social issues. If the country votes for him with the expectation that he will bring peace, we will press for him to deliver,” Cepeda said.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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