With only four days left until Colombia goes to the polls to elect the nation’s next president, candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus went head-to-head to tackle the big issues in a live televised debate.
Both candidates agreed that military rescues of FARC hostages, such as Sunday’s “Operation Chameleon,” should continue, and both candidates reiterated their previous statements that they would not negotiate a humanitarian exchange of FARC hostages for incarcerated guerrillas, if elected president.
Green Party candidate Mockus said present conditions are not suitable to engage in a dialogue with the FARC, but added that if the guerrilla organization were to cease its practice of kidnapping, he may be disposed to attempt talks.
“If [the FARC] stops speaking the language of kidnapping and abides by the constitution, we will begin thinking about talks the very next day,” Mockus said.
Santos said a humanitarian agreement was “unthinkable” because “all the FARC have done is manipulate the pain of the families [of the hostages].”
“Raul Reyes” and Ecuador
Both Santos and Mockus said that as president they would provide Ecuador with information from FARC leader Raul Reyes’ computer, which was seized following a 2008 Colombian army raid on a rebel camp on the Ecuadorean side of the border. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has said numerous times that diplomatic relations with Colombia – which were frozen after the raid – will not be restored until the information is supplied.
“I would have no problem in disclosing [the information]. If that is the condition that the Ecuadorean president requires to re-establish relations, I would give him the computer without any problem,” Santos said.
Mockus agreed, saying there would need to be strong judicial reasons not to hand over the requested information.
An Ecuadorean court is attempting to try Santos, who was Colombia’s defense minister at the time, for his responsibility in the 2008 raid, in which Ecuadorean citizens were killed. Ecuador accuses the Colombian army of undermining its national sovereignty.
The judiciary vs. the executive
Santos and Mockus addressed the controversial issue of the “train crash” between the presidency and the Colombian justice system, which saw sparks fly between the two candidates in a previous debate.
Government candidate Santos said that harmony must be restored between the judicial and executive branches, but when asked to comment on President Alvaro Uribe’s clashes with the Supreme Court, he said the head of state should not be criticized.
Mockus disapproved of Santos’ stance, saying that the self-declared heir of Uribe takes advantage of the outgoing president’s successes but distances himself from any failures or criticisms of the Colombian leader.
Military justice and crimes against humanity
Santos and Mockus disagreed over how members of Colombia’s armed forces should be tried, with the Partido de la U candidate saying that Colombian soldiers deserve a “just justice” and should not be judged by people who do not have experience in the armed forces.
“Today’s military justice does not have credibility and when I was defense minister I began to strengthen it, to bring back its credibility so that its jurisdiction could be strengthened. We can make a big effort without going against international legislation,” Santos said. He recognized that soldiers who are accused of crimes against humanity should face civilian justice.
Mockus said that Santos’ argument was unbelievable, and by the “Uribista’s” logic, if the armed forces should be judged by the armed forces, then journalists should be judged by journalists and so on. He argued that civilian justice should be sufficient, and if not, the next resort should be international justice.
The issue of military justice became a hot topic after retired army Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to 30 years in jail for his role in the forced disappearance of eleven civilians during the 1985 siege of the Palace of Justice.
Truth, Lies and Colombian Politics
In the debate the candidates were asked their positions on whether they believe politicians should always tell the truth.
Mockus answered that “on principle people should not tell lies, and if they do, it can be seen in their face.”
Santos said that in some cases it is necessary for the state to tell half-truths in order to protect the people. “There are situations when it is obligatory,” he said, citing the case of government downplaying economic hardship as an example.
The former defense minister commented that Mockus had changed since Colombia’s first round election on May 30.
“I have seen professor Mockus go through a kind of transformation. Version number one, the one we saw before May 30, was a very tolerant person, who held out his pencil and his sunflower, who was a philosopher and a candidate. Since May 30 we have seen version number two, who changed from a mathematician to a sophist, a person who has a lot of aggression,” Santos said.
“To call me a sophist is very offensive. If I have seemed different, you can thank J.J Rendon, that man is an expert at spreading rumors,” Mockus countered, referring to Santos’ controversial Venezuelan campaign manager.
In Colombia’s first round presidential election Santos came first with 46.57% of the vote, followed by Mockus with 21.47%. Because no candidate gained the majority vote required to win the election outright, Santos and Mockus will face-off in a second round election on June 20.
The latest voter poll indicates that Santos will win the second round run-off with with 65%, while Mockus will win 28% of the votes.