Posted by Kirsten Begg on Jun 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sparks fly in live presidential debate

santos mockus clash

Colombian Presidential candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus clashed on the topics of corruption and justice, during a live televised presidential debate Thursday evening.


Aspiring Green Party candidate Mockus accused some of the politicians aligned with Santos, and many of those involved in his campaign of being corrupt, to which the Partido de la U candidate replied that Mockus is not “the only owner of honesty, while the rest of Colombians are crooks.”

Mockus said that if Santos is to continue with the policies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, he should confront scandals such as that of “Yidispolitica,” which refers to the bribery of former Congresswoman Yidis Medina to vote in favour of the 2006 referendum for the re-election of Uribe.

“What is you opinion on Yidis?” Mockus asked.

“She incriminated herself,” Santos replied.

Mockus countered that Santos enjoys popularity bestowed on him by Uribe but asked the “Uribista” if he thinks the outgoing government is corrupt. Santos said it is honest, and asked Mockus if he were too. Mockus said he was offended by the question. Ridding Colombia of corruption and establishing a government based on the principle that “the end does not justify the means, are some  of Mockus’ key political objectives.

Justice and the Armed Forces

Mockus and Santos also clashed over Uribe’s criticism of the sentencing of retired army Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega to 30 years in jail, for his role in the forced disappearance of eleven Colombian citizens during the 1985 Palace of Justice siege.

Mockus expressed concern over Uribe’s intervention in the Colombian justice and said the system must be protected. The former Bogota mayor said that people investigated for crimes against humanity should be tried by civilian justice, and while Plazas Vega was defending Colombian democracy in the 1985 siege, he “stepped over the line” and “deserves 30 years in jail.” Mockus reiterated his mantra that “the end doesn’t justify the means.”

Santos defended Uribe’s criticism and supported the idea of restoring immunity to members of the armed forces and making them accountable to a military tribunal.

Mockus expressed concern that military justice can be ineffective, referring to the case of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and suggested the intervention of international justice in cases where necessary.

Santos asked Mockus not to compare the Colombian armed forces to Pinochet and said they should enjoy immunity from “being violated.” The former defense minister called for a revision of the military judicial system.

“Train crash” between the executive and judicial branches

The candidates also discussed the “train crash’ between the presidency and the Colombian justice system.

Mockus said that if Santos wins, the continuity of Uribe’s policies will mean that the executive will continue to clash with the courts, as the outgoing administration has done.

The Green candidate cited Santos’ support of Pedro Carmona’s 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as evidence that the Uribista believes the executive is above the legislature. He called Santos “a lesser Uribe.”

Santos said he knew Carmona but had not supported the coup and told Mockus not to use “arguments of sophism” and to get his facts straight. Santos expressed concern that the “train crash” would affect Colombia’s judicial stability.

Santos and Mockus will go head-to-head in a second round presidential election run-off on June 20. The latest voter poll indicates that Sanyos will win the election, with 66.5% of people surveyed saying they would vote for him. Mockus received 27.4% of the interviewees’ support.