Why Colombia’s elections are dominated by fear

Ivan Duque (L) and Gustavo Petro (Images: Twitter)

Many in Colombia fear the election of a former guerrilla could ruin the country, while others fear the election of an oligarch could reignite mass human rights violations.

While both candidates have claimed to represent hope for the country, it has been mainly concerns about the opponent that have dominated the campaign.

The conservative Ivan Duque, who has the support of hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe and all traditional parties, has threatened to “restructure” an ongoing peace process and renegotiate terms for ongoing peace talks with the ELN.

His opponent, the leftist Gustavo Petro, has said he wants to push Colombia beyond war and tackle the corruption and human rights violations that have battered the legitimacy of the state.

The highly emotional campaigns have polarized the population and removed the moderates from the race in the first round of elections last week.

Will Petro convert Colombia into another Venezuela?

The unprecedented crisis in Venezuela, which has suffered a similar political polarization for decades, has alarmed almost everyone in Colombia.

Particularly conservatives have seen in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro the confirmation of fears that leaders who pretend to be social democrats can easily fall back to autocratic rule.

Colombia’s weak state system has never offered the checks and balances to prevent abuse of power.

Petro has consistently called to make Colombia more democratic, but that’s what Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez said too before putting the country on the road to crisis.

Far-right politicians that support Duque have been adamant in rejecting any move to the left and have even accused President Juan Manuel Santos, one of the most elitist of all politicians, of trying to convert Colombia into a second Venezuela.

For the radicals, the political inclusion of the Marxist FARC guerrilla group is a potential threat to democracy rather than a concession to allow an end to more than 50 years of armed conflict.

Decades of anti-communist war propaganda continue to have an effect on the country’s conservative population; many associate all leftist thought with the guerrilla violence that has traumatized society.

Furthermore, Petro’s tenure as mayor of the capital Bogota between 2012 and 2015 was not exactly a success. His four years were marked by clashes between the smug politician and the elite members of the city council.

Will Duque make Colombia return to war?

The candidacy of Duque is alarming the opposite side of the political spectrum that vividly remembers how Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, was president between 2002 and 2010 when the military to murder thousands of civilians to inflate success rates.

According to the candidate, Uribe is “the eternal president” in spite a Supreme Court investigation into the former president’s alleged role in the formation of anti-communist paramilitary groups that murdered and displaced even more civilians than all guerrilla groups combined.

The hard-right conservatives have refused to accept the peace process that includes a transitional justice court that could end the political career of many that were in government during the armed conflict.

Many liberals and socialists fear that the “uribistas” will not just escalate violence with the guerrillas and generate even more civilian victims, but use the state system to persecute democratic opposition to the oligarchy that has long controlled the state.

Duque’s proposal to submit the country’s troubled justice system to a far-reaching reform has spurred fears that the conservatives are trying to intervene in the many criminal investigations that have been haunting former government officials and their allies in the private sector.

Both Duque and Petro have tried to calm nerves after securing a position in the second round. However, Colombia hasn’t been at war with itself over nothing; the deep divisions in society have often resulted in political violence.

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