Colombia’s relations with Venezuela, Ecuador and the U.S. was the hot topic in the three hour live debate held Tuesday night between the Andean nation’s aspiring presidential candidates.
To kick off the debate, organized by Citytv, El Tiempo and W Radio, candidates were asked, if elected as president would they renegotiate Colombia’s controversial military bases agreement with the U.S., in order to resolve tensions with Venezuela.
Partido de la U’s candidate Juan Manuel Santos replied “of course I wouldn’t renegotiate it, since it was I who negotiated it in the first place. As I said in a recent interview: this is a storm in a teacup. Anyone who reads the agreement will realize that the pact is a continuation of what was being done with Plan Colombia, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that could lead a country to think that it [the agreement] could be used to attack them.”
Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus said, “It is not all prudent that potential presidents of Colombia comment on the matter at this time. Venezuela has not yet asked us [Colombia] to renegotiate the agreement with the U.S., President Uribe already made the agreement… There are many reasons to favor our relations with the U.S., but we shouldn’t take out to dance an issue that is already resolved.”
Mockus also stressed that Colombia’s relationship with one nation should not influence its relations with another because “they are two separate relations.”
Conservative Party candidate Noemi Sanin said that she thought signing the agreement was unnecessary and lacked diplomacy, but was important in the sense that it enabled Colombian access to the latest technology. Sanin said as president should would prioritize the normalization of Colombia’s relations with Ecuador and Venezuela.
Liberal Party candidate Rafael Pardo said that although he did not approve of the agreement, as president, he would not change a pact that had already been signed because to do so could be damaging to international relations.
Cambio Radical’s candidate German Vargas Lleras said he would not revise the agreement because it acts as an instrument to deter Venezuela from attacking Colombia.
Polo Democratico’s Gustavo Petro said he would renegotiate the agreement, because as it stands it “is not valid.” According to Petro, the Colombian constitution requires the treaty to be approved by Colombia congress (which it was not), in order to be effective.
Colombia’s signing of the agreement, which grants the U.S. to seven military bases around Colombia, created discord in the region. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been particularly critical of the pact, saying that it threatens Venezuelan and regional soverignty. Colombia-Venezuela relations are currently frozen as a result..
The fall out of the Colombian military’s 2008 cross-border attack on a FARC camp on Ecuadorean soil was another hot topic of the debate. . An Ecuadorean court on Monday issued arrest warrants for Santos and Armed Forces Commander General Freddy Padilla, for their involvement in the attack. Mockus later commented in an interview that if the Supreme Court were hypothetically to order Uribe’s extradition for his responsibility in the incident, as president Mockus would approve the extradition.
Santos took Mockus to task over his extradition comment in the debate, saying “It seems very serious to me that [Mockus] has not rejected the possibility of an extradition order [for Uribe] for an action [committed] by the Colombian state.”
Mockus responded by admitting that he had not properly understood the matter, because he thought the court was in charge of extradition orders (the Colombian president is the one who has the final say on extraditions). The Green Party candidate clarified that as president he would not extradite Uribe, for what was “an act by the State, for which President Uribe apologized for and promised would not happen again.”
Interference in Colombia’s presidential race by Ecuadorean and Venezuelan politicians was another hot topic, with all candidates criticizing outside meddling. Colombia’s crumbling healthcare system, high unemployment rates and addressing corruption also featured on the debate’s agenda.
Petro commented that the war on drugs could only be combatted with an effective justice system.
“Narco traffickers’ power is not in the coca leaf, Narco traffickers’ power is that they have political power… To take away the mafia’s power requires an empowered justice system,” said Petro, who Terra named the debate winner.
This was Colombia’s third 2010 presidential elections televised debate. Colombians will head to the polls on May 30 to elect their next president. With less than five weeks until the elections, the latest voter survey places Santos and Mockus neck-and-neck in the race for the presidency.