By Michael Spak
WASHINGTON — Colombian presidential candidate Iván Duque vowed to hold criminals accountable, crack down on corruption, and push through sweeping reforms at an event Thursday at the Inter-American Dialogue. Duque, a current senator, said the policies of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration amount to “impunity” and set a dangerous precedent for Colombian society. Duque blasted the 2016 peace deal that Santos’ government negotiated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels. He said the Santos government must enforce mandatory coca crop substitution policies and ensure that armed groups compensate victims before being allowed to participate in politics.
“The kingpins of the organization have to pay for their crimes,” Duque said. Duque also said that if elected he would end negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) until the group ceases military activity.
Polls released Thursday by Invamer and Centro Nacional Consultoria showed Duque with a widening lead in Colombia’s presidential race, with 45.9 and 42 percent support respectively, El Tiempo reported. In the polls, Leftist former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro trailed with 26.7 and 26 percent, respectively. On Thursday, Duque called himself an “extreme centrist.” He is allied politically with conservative former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center party. On Thursday, Duque also said corruption is a major source of frustration
among Colombians. He proposed lengthening sentences for corruption, strengthening the government’s capacity to seize assets and improving transparency in government contracts.
Duque criticized Santos for failing to denounce Venezuela at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and promised to do so if elected and create “international pressure that accelerates the
process of a democratic transition in Venezuela.” Duque advocated for the creation of a humanitarian fund to aid Venezuelans who have poured into Colombia fleeing hunger and political turmoil. Duque also proposed energy-sector reforms, calling for two billion barrels of new oil reserves in the next 36 months. He also said Colombia must diversify by expanding renewables.
Duque resigned from the Senate earlier this week in order to devote more time to his campaign ahead of the first-round presidential vote on May 27. If no candidate receives an outright majority in the first round, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff. On Thursday, Duque and his running mate, former Defense Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss issues including drug trafficking, trade and cooperation with the United States.