Colombia’s leading presidential candidates Noemi Sanin, Juan Manuel Santos, German Vargas Lleras, Antanas Mockus, Rafael Pardo and Gustavo Petro took part in a live debate broadcast Sunday on TV channel Caracol. The politicians answered questions posed by journalists, audience members and by one another.
A battle of accusations broke out when Caracol journalist Dario Fernando Patiño asked Conservative Party candidate Noemi Sanin about rumors that members of her party were being propositioned to support other candidates.
Sanin took the opportunity to accuse Santos of offering “handouts” to members of the Conservative Party, specifically the director of private education institute SENA, Dario Montoya, to join his Partido de la U.
“What shocks me is … the handouts being offered to people, the way that the party is being coaxed, using all kinds of tricks,” said Sanin, indicating Partido de la U candidate Juan Manuel Santos.
Santos denied the accusation, saying “If I have offered any kind of coax and you can prove it … I assure you I will renounce my public life.”
“You’ll need to,” responded Sanin, before the discussion was interrupted by mediators.
Santos refused to answer, saying that the accusations dated from a long time ago and that he had been officially cleared of the charges.
Green party candidate Antanas Mockus was also interrogated by the other parties’ representatives.
Asked by Cambio Radical’s Vargas Lleras how he would tackle guerrilla activity, especially drug-trafficking, on the border with Venezuela, Mockus replied that a “pedagogical process” was needed and that action should “always be respectful.”
A question posed to all candidates was whether they would permit a repeat of the Colombian army’s attack of FARC guerrillas on Ecuadorian soil two years ago, which resulted in the death of the group’s second-in-command Raul Reyes. Sanin and Santos replied that they would consider similar action.
The remaining candidates said that they would not authorize such a bombardment, which killed 25 people and sparked a diplomatic row with Ecuador.
According to Mockus, who is a self-proclaimed pacifist, the action was “unacceptable” and “the results [of the attack] did not justify the means.”
“At the time I said that the actions had damaged international rights,” said Petro on the raid, while Vargas Lleras admitted that he had supported the operation at the time but would not authorize any such attack on Venezuelan territory.
Closing the debate, Mockus – who was voted the debate’s winner by readers of El Espectador – spoke of his education policies as a means to national prosperity, whilst Pardo confirmed that, despite encouragement by his party, he would not be forming a union to enter the first round of elections.
Sanin spoke of her focus on women’s rights and roles in society, where Vargas Lleras insisted that he would have no part electoral corruption.
The first round of Colombia’s national elections will take place on May 30, when voters will decide on which candidate to take office as president on August 7, 2010.