Forced displacement and taxation were the focus of one of the final debates between Colombian presidential candidates before the nation goes to the polls on Sunday May 30.
In the debate, candidates were asked their views on how to pay reparations to victims of forced displacement, what their policies were on taxation, and cultural policy.
Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus said that massacres were a major cause of forced displacement, and that “it will not be possible to combat displacement without eradicating that word [massacre] from the national repertoire.” Mockus proposed the implementation of an alert system, in order to prevent future massacres.
Conservative Party candidate Noemi Sanin said that it was the state’s duty to reparate forced displacement victims. Sanin said this should be achieved by providing them with education and opportunities to rebuild their lives.
Polo Democratico candidate Gustavo Petro said that returning land to those who had been forcibly displaced was a priority, and proposed the creation of a general law to make those responsible for forced displacement criminally culpable, especially drug traffickers, and not just those they employ to carry out the forced displacement.
Sanin countered that not all displaced persons wanted to return to their land, and that reparation processes should be respectful of that.
Liberal Party candidate Rafael Pardo said that with 160 paramilitary groups operating in zones of forced displacement, it was impractical to ask displaced families to return to their land. “There needs to be a guarantee of [alternate] land and reparation,” Pardo said.
Cambio Radical candidate German Vargas Lleras said that the process of returning land to those forcibly displaced needed to be accelerated, so that victims were not subject to lengthy waits.
Election front-runners Mockus and Santos clashed in their views on taxation.
Mockus reiterated his previous promise to raise taxes, stating “Taxes are needed or two reasons; firstly, the constitution. We cannot continue to slowly implement the charter’s laws; and secondly, if Colombia wants to build a future it needs to invest more in science and technology and not in scraps like at the moment.”
The former Bogota mayor said the state must be “hard” on the rich, but also “seduce” them into investing more in the private sector.
Santos said that raising income and property taxes would spell the death for the middle class and would stunt economic growth and employment.
The former defense minister said if elected he planned to pull seven million Colombians out of poverty, create 2.5 million jobs and formalize another half million jobs which are currently in the informal sector.
Sanin said that increasing taxation was unnecessary, and all that was required was better financial management and increased control over corruption. She proposed a simplification of the taxation system.
Petro said that the taxation system needs to be reformed, both for employees and employers, and that fiscal policy should build justice and social equality
Pardo also proposed reform of the taxation system, because “the current system does not generate growth.” He suggested lowering taxation on corporate income, raising taxation on dividends and reducing the value of gas from COP1,800 per liter to COP1,500.
Vargas Lleras suggested a uniform tariff of 15% because “the system of collection and allocation expenditure has not had the desired affect.”
Sanin said much needed to be done in terms of literature, culture and the arts because the “expression of the soul” and artists had been abandoned. The Conservative Party candidate proclaimed herself “the fairy godmother of culture” and said the state needed to implement policy to promote cultural works.
Pardo commented that a culture of pacificism, freedom and action needed to replace the culture of violence inherent throughout Colombia.
Mockus said that patriotic symbolism unites people and that the industry of culture is important because it unites people. He criticized “narco-novelas,” soap operas that glorify narco-traffickers, and said that soap opera themes should be more constructive.
Colombians go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president.
As of midnight last Sunday, candidates for the 2010-2014 presidency were required by law to stop canvassing. The latest polls are too close to predict who will win the most contested elections in the country’s modern history.