Social activists and leftist politicians announced Thursday the formation of the “Broad Front for Peace” in support of President Juan Manuel Santos’s ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebel group, Colombia’s largest.
|Colombia’s 2014 elections|
The alliance was formed to encourage the Colombian left to vote for Santos in upcoming second-round presidential run-off elections, which are expected to hinge on the issue of the peace talks.
“We feel it is necessary to make this call for all Colombians to vote for peace in the [June 15] elections,” said longtime opposition Congressman and current Senator-elect Ivan Cepeda, in an interview with Colombia Reports.
By way of explaining his support for a president he has often vocally criticized, Cepeda said, “This is a conscious and calculated decision. The fact is that Santos has done more than any president in the history of the armed conflict to bring peace to Colombia.”
“We are going to vote Santos next week without any hesitation or doubt, because we know it is the best hope we have to realize an end to this conflict,” said Cepeda.
Gathering around peace
The Broad Front for Peace is comprised of over 3,000 people from a number of social organizations and political parties, according to Caracol Radio.
|“This is a conscious and calculated decision.”|
Its formative assembly, held in the Colombian capital of Bogota, featured representatives of such left-leaning political movements as the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriotica), Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico), Green Alliance (Alianza Verde), Progressives (Progresistas),National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (ONIC), and Women for Peace, and was led by prominent leftist leaders, including Cepeda and former Senator Piedad Cordoba.
According to W Radio, a “Rountable of Victims” also participated in the meeting, with the aim of devising a strategy to ensure that victims’ concerns have a presence in the negotiations.
The talks, which began in November 2012, currently revolve around the subject of armed conflict victims, the fourth of six agenda items. Thus far, no group appointed to represent victims has been allowed to participate directly in the dialogues.
Peace and the elections
Speaking with Colombia Reports, Cepeda expressed the view, held by many in Colombia, that the peace talks are the only significant issue distinguishing the two candidates heading into the last week of what has been a tightly contested presidential contest.
Santos has made the peace process the center point of his campaign, running on the U Party’s (Partido de la U) “United for Peace” platform. Meanwhile, right-wing Democratic Center (Centro Democratico) candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has only recently reversed his position away from a hardline stance that would have seen the candidate immediately suspend talks upon entering office.
“If you look at the candidates,” said Cepeda, “most of what they represent is the same. The difference is in peace. Santos, for all his faults, has handled talks with the FARC in a responsible manner, while Zuluaga is the spokesman and representative for the dangerous militarism in the heart of ‘Uribismo’,” he said, referring to the political ideology of former President, Senator-elect, and Democratic Center leader Alvaro Uribe, the peace talks’ most adamant opponent.
Asked whether he trusts Zuluaga’s recent shift in stance regarding his previous promises to suspend dialogues, Cepeda said, “No. No I do not trust it.
“But moreover, it does not matter whether he suspends [the talks], because his position is impossible to reconcile with peace. He wants the FARC to put down their arms before a settlement is reached. He wants the FARC to be left out of politics permanently. He wants the FARC to unilaterally accept punishments. Basically, he wants the FARC to give up before he permits them to dialogue [with the government], and that is simply not realistic.”
Other liberal leaders apparently agree with Cepeda. The creation of the Broad Front marks the latest step in the steady consolidation of leftist support Santos has managed to attract following a second place finish in first round elections on May 25.
|“If you look at the candidates, most of what they represent is the same. The difference is in peace.”|
Earlier this week, former Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico) candidate Clara Lopez — who came in close fourth in first round elections, with 15.2% of the vote — joined Cepeda, Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica) leader and former running mate Aida Avella, and other important leftist figures in announcing her official support for Santos’ reelection.
Together, Lopez and the other left-leaning candidate in the first round field, the Green Alliance’s Enrique Peñalosa, drew over 23% of the vote, enough to swing what is expected to be a tight race.
Though members of his party participated in the Broad Front assembly, Peñalosa has yet to endorse either of the remaining candidates. The Green Alliance, as a whole, has elected to remain officially neutral with regards to the election.
“A vote for peace, not Santos”
Considered more of a centrist and technocrat than a genuinely progressive figure, Juan Manuel Santos has not been popular with the Colombian left during his first presidency.
Indeed, the president has faced entrenched opposition — on issues such as free trade, agrarian and labor policy, and health, judicial, and education reform — from many of the same figures now endorsing his candidacy.
Former Minister of Labor Rafael Pardo adressed this apparent discrepancy at the meeting, reported W Radio, encouraging the assembled activists and political organizers to unite around the issue of peace.
Cepeda echoed Pardo’s sentiments when he told Colombia Reports that he hopes disillusioned followers from the Colombian left will not fall into the “trap” of abstention or the blank protest vote, which represented 60 and 6% of the vote in first round elections, respectively.
“Look, we have not forgotten who Santos is,” he said. “We are well aware of his neoliberal policies and their destructive effects on Colombia, as our record demonstrates. But this is more important than that opposition. June 15 is a vote for peace, not Santos.”