Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Will Colombia’s New President Deliver on His Promises?

Duque Campaign File Photo: Duque Campaign.

Iván Duque, a conservative former senator, on Sunday won Colombia’s presidential runoff election, defeating former leftist guerrilla and Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro. To what can Duque, who is to take office in August, attribute his victory? What does his election mean for the peace accord between Colombia’s government and the FARC and for future peace in the country? How much influence will Duque’s mentor, former President Álvaro Uribe, have in Duque’s government? How will Colombia’s economy and businesses fare under Duque? How well will Duque be able to work with Colombia’s Congress?

Oscar Ardila, senior associate at Avenida Capital in Bogotá:  “Iván Duque’s victory was not a surprise. His win was a result of the support of former President Álvaro Uribe, the generalized fear among Colombia’s middle and upper classes of the country becoming Venezuela under a leftist president and the political coalitions under his umbrella. As he promised during the campaign, there will be reforms to the peace accords. However, due to the legal standing of the current accord, and Duque’s proposals on the topic, it is hard to envision major changes. Nevertheless, a revision of the peace accords could achieve consensus in the country, as there was a large portion of the population that agreed with Uribe’s view of the peace deal. Finally, any amendment to the deal with the FARC must also be seen through the lenses of current negotiations with the ELN and serve as a road map for that negotiation. Duque was without a doubt the candidate of choice for most of the Colombian business community as he is seen as the continuation of the market-friendly policies the country has put in place over the past three administrations. On the economic front, as long as Duque can contain the country’s fiscal deficit, most indicators should benefit from his proposed policies. Also, he will have a definitive majority in both chambers of Congress, according to our estimates. Finally, it is hard to predict how much influence Uribe will have on Duque’s presidency. Duque would not have won without Uribe—Uribe hand picked him, and Duque has consistently shown his admiration for Uribe, so it is likely that Uribe will be a major driving force of Duque’s agenda.”

Peter DeShazo, visiting professor of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College and former deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs:  “Iván Duque’s ample margin of victory on Sunday came as no surprise. Colombian voters saw him as the candidate more likely to promote security and grow the economy. His association with former President Uribe was a net plus that contrasted with concerns on the part of many voters that Petro and the left represented a threat to stability. The specter of Colombia’s imploded neighbor, Venezuela, weighed heavily on the election. In the end, Colombia’s conservative political tradition prevailed once more. Duque will assume office with the advantage of what should be solid majority support in Congress. He will need to make good use of it—the challenges facing his government are large. A central objective should be to establish effective state presence throughout the country, especially in areas where coca cultivation is exploding and where civil conflict was in the past most acute. That means quality policing, effective rule of law, access to justice, roads, schools, health clinics and a commitment to reduce the yawning rural/urban divide. Anti-corruption efforts must be more than a slogan. Economic policy should take aim at reducing income and wealth inequality. Scrapping the controversial peace deal with the FARC would be a mistake—and Duque appears to be walking back that idea. On this issue and more generally, if Duque is serious about building national consensus, his vision needs to transcend the constraints of uribismo.”

Beatrice Rangel, member of the Advisor board and director of AMLA Consulting in Miami Beach:  “Iván Duque’s victory rides on the tailwinds of Colombia’s political estrangement from traditional political parties that have failed to understand 21st century realities. Duque was able to capitalize on this disaffection because he has a bottom-up approach to development and a global vision. This allowed him to break the frozen image that the people of Colombia had of its leadership as being distant from the people’s problems and aspirations. Duque’s campaign style was that of a citizen, not of a plantation master, as most Colombia political leaders have positioned themselves, except for Álvaro Uribe who broke the pattern. Uribe’s endorsement was key, as he has become the conscience of modern Colombia. Then, of course, there was Venezuela whose collapse is severely affecting Colombia in every dimension. Venezuela has become a sort of regional Pandora’s box firing to Colombia among other things modernized organized crime, uncontainable migration, economic havoc and social unrest. This ugly picture of a state collapsing under the grip of organized crime which in turn is linked to one of the parties supporting Gustavo Petro was the last nail in the coffin of Petro’s aspirations to become Colombia’s president.”

Maria Velez de Berliner, managing director of RTG-Red Team Group, Inc:  “Duque’s victory is due to a majority of Colombians clamoring for an end to political polarization, lawlessness, compromised justice, violence and insecurity. The peace accord with the FARC is collapsing under the weight of opposition to it, dissidences and sundry criminal groups that filled the vacuum created when the FARC’s Central Command was allowed to enter Colombia’s politics despite country-wide opposition. The central question is not what Duque will do, but whether Uribe and his ultra-loyal supporters will leave Duque alone to govern a country very different from the one Uribe governed. If Duque is to succeed, he cannot be seen as delivering Uribe’s ‘third term,’ which Uribe did not have. In four years, Duque cannot possibly return Colombia to a normality it has not had since 1948, but he can make serious and much-needed inroads in this direction. Duque has four difficult years ahead to keep his varied and overreaching promises, and maintain the confidence of the business establishment that he has today, along with the international goodwill he enjoys, particularly in the United States and Europe. With Gustavo Petro in the Senate, representing over eight million voters, and his statement that he will begin a constant and determined opposition to Duque, Duque has a formidable opponent in Congress to any legislation he proposes, particularly regarding energy, judicial reform, employment and ‘tweaks’ to the FARC agreement. Petro’s eight million voters will not remain quiet, particularly if they perceive Duque to be Uribe’s puppet, which Duque is not.”

Sergio Guzmán, analyst for global risk analysis at Control Risks in Bogotá: “Duque has promised a business-friendly agenda and economic reforms, such as the simplification of tax policy and a tightening of fiscal spending. He plans to promote infrastructure development through the existing investment framework, and has said that the country needs to take advantage of its extractive resources and attract foreign direct investment in oil, gas and mining. Duque has been a vocal critic of the controversial peace agreement with the FARC. Duque has pledged to amend key portions of the agreement. However, Duque won’t be able to reform the agreement as aggressively as he would have his supporters believe. His modifications to it are likely to be contentious, and he will face significant legal hurdles, particularly from the Constitutional Court. While Duque’s election is unlikely to prompt an immediate return to conflict, there are significant risks for violence and insurgency. The existence of profitable illegal economies, high levels of youth unemployment in rural areas, the state’s inability to meet citizens’ basic needs and vacuums of power left in the wake of the FARC’s withdrawal are just a few. The ongoing peace process with the ELN guerrilla group will depend on its willingness for a unilateral cease-fire, but this is unlikely. Under a Duque presidency, a negotiation with the ELN will be more difficult, not only because the government will increase its demands of the group, but also because the ELN has a closer relationship to neighboring Venezuela.”

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