The vice-presidential candidates in Colombia’s upcoming May 30 elections faced each other in a nationally televised debate Thursday on the RCN channel to explain their campaign positions.
The pending free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States and human rights issues were the most heavily debated topics.
Free trade agreement
Anibal Gaviria Correa, VP candidate for the Liberal Party‘s Rafael Pardo, said that the U.S. will not implement the FTA until there is a new Colombian government, but denied that this meant the deal was dead. Correa also said that he would respect the controversial military base agreement with the U.S.
Elsa Noguera, VP candidate for Cambio Radical’s German Vargas Lleras, and Clara Lopez Obregon, VP candidate for Polo Democratico’s Gustavo Petro, agreed that the U.S. Congress has not passed the FTA yet due to the human rights situation in Colombia.
Angelino Garzon, VP candidate to Partido de la U’s Juan Manuel Santos, however, attributed the lack of action by the U.S. Congress as being the result of political pressure applied by American unions, who in general do not support free trade agreements. Clara Lopez Obregon, however, rejected Garzon’s explanation, saying that in the second half of this decade, 47 unionists were assassinated in Colombia.
Luis Ernesto Mejia, VP candidate to the Conservative Party‘s Noemi Sanin, was asked if he would allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the “false positives” scandal in Colombia, in which the army murdered civilians and reported them as guerrillas killed in battle, in order to determine culpability of government officials. Mejia said that to hand the investigation over to the ICC would be to admit that the Colombian state failed in its attempt to bring those responsible to justice, claiming that in his opinion, “Colombia is not a failed state.”
Anibal Gaviria Correa responded that if the Colombian justice system does not advance in the investigations, he would be in agreement with allowing the ICC to take over the investigation. In addition, Correa noted that there was a 64% rise in false positives cases since 2002 and even more once the defense minister “put a price on the heads of the guerillas.”
Sergio Fajardo, VP candidate to Antanas Mockus, in regards to the false positives scandal, explained that he would start by asking for forgiveness from the families of the victims, and then he would seek justice. Fajardo noted that he would remove Colombia from the international “blacklist” of human rights violators through educating Colombians, to which the journalist who posed the question responded that “it sounds nice” on paper, but is difficult to put into practice.
Angelino Garzon, VP candidate to Juan Manuel Santos, responded to the issues of false positives and illegal spying by Colombian government agencies by arguing that both of these scandals have been going on for twenty years, and that the current government should be commended for acknowledging the issues and the facts, apologizing, and calling for justice. Garzon also went on to explain that the United Nations has recognized the efforts and commitment on behalf of the Colombian government to eradicate human rights violations in its country.
Correa responded to Garzon’s statements by asking him to provide proof that the illegal spying has been going on for decades, to which Garzon replied that when he was a unionist, he was under surveillance from the government.
Closing the debate, the vice-presidential candidates were asked how they would pursue alliances if there were to be a second round in the elections, to which their answers were quite prudent and reserved.
Elsa Noguera, Luis Ernesto Mejia and Anibal Gaviria answered by saying that they would allign themselves with whoever accepted their programs.
Sergio Fajardo and Angelino Garzon, meanwhile, proclaimed that they expect to win in the first round.
Clara Lopez, however, explained the difficulties her Polo Democratico party would have in aligning with other parties who are predominately based on neo-liberal economic models, but hinted at giving support to Mockus and his Green Party.