Ben Raderstorf / Inter-American Dialogue

On March 22, the Inter-American Dialogue was pleased to host the Colombian presidential candidate, Iván Duque Márquez, for an open conversation on the pressing issues surrounding the elections. At the event, the candidate for the Centro Democrático party discussed his plans to advance national unity, jump-start economic growth, tackle corruption and handle the implementation of the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Additionally, Duque reiterated his position in regard to the crisis in neighboring Venezuela and discussed his determination to preserve bipartisan US-Colombian relations. The event was held two months away from Colombia’s presidential elections, which will determine the fate of the country in times of momentous polarization and growing frustration with the government.

In his initial remarks, Duque called himself “an extreme centrist” as he invited Colombians to move past the left vs. right discourse and focus on national unity. He claimed that “the worst mistake of the last eight years has been destroying national unity,” and that his administration “would bring back Colombians’ trust in the government by focusing on legality, entrepreneurship, and equality.”

Duque highlighted that Colombia already had “one of the best legal codes in the world to deal with corruption” and that the growing corruption scandals in the country were due to the government’s inability to enforce its laws. Hence, Senator Duque offered four policies to make the government more efficient: empowering people so they denounce corrupt practices, strengthening and quickening the government’s capacity to seize assets, improving transparency of the government’s contracts and lengthening sentences in jail instead of house-arrests.

As for President Santos’ negotiations with FARC, Duque reaffirmed his disapproval of the impunity granted to the rebels under the peace deal. He stated that the “special justice given to FARC members did not make common sense,” and that not collecting FARC’s assets before allowing them to participate in politics could be considered money laundering. When asked if he would pursue a peace deal with the rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Duque sustained that the ELN had to cease all criminal activities and turn in their weapons before any negotiations could be considered by his administration.

Senator Duque also said that Colombia had to increase its oil production to two thousand million barrels over the next thirty-six months to cover the expenses of national programs. Even though he acknowledged oil’s high lifting and transportation costs, he stressed that ceasing oil productions would be even costlier for Colombia as the country would still have to purchase energy elsewhere. He also encouraged the expansion of Colombia’s renewables, proposing to increase their energy up to 200-300 megabytes during his term. Duque proceeded to propose a reform where 50% of the royalties from oil production go to production zones, instead of the current 20% granted under the Santos administration. In the discussion, Duque also emphasized his determination to “improve healthcare, education, and roads in production areas to regain the confidence of production-zone communities in the extractive industry of oil production.” He mentioned that in his first month as president he plans on imposing a law for environmental and social standards in production areas that fit the demands of these communities.

Moreover, Duque called for more transparency in the health system by encouraging online transactions for the payments realized to health insurance companies. He argued for a focus on prevention and that health care systems would be evaluated on their efficiency by customers and paid accordingly. Lastly, in his projections for domestic policy, Duque presented his five-point plan for improving education. This plan focuses on: enhancing children’s nutrition, expanding schools to rural and poorer areas, prolonging school-days from 5 hours to 8 hours, including professional training in the education of high school students and working to grant free education to college students. 

When discussing his plans for foreign policy, Senator Duque said that the Colombian government has not done enough in these last eight years to stop the crisis in Venezuela. Duque criticized Santos for his failure to denounce Maduro at the ICC and said that, if elected president, he would proceed to denounce Maduro’s regime at the organization and call for international pressure to advance a democratic transition in Venezuela. Accordingly, Duque also advocated for further international assistance in Colombia due to the growing influx of migrants that have come to Colombia in search of medical treatment, food, and security.

Finally, Senator Duque expressed his regret that the US-Colombia relationship had once again become a narcotized relationship instead of a bipartisan one. Thus, he emphasized the need for the government to continue its aerial fumigation program in accordance with Colombia’s health standards, and its mandatory eradication and substitution of coca-crops initiatives.

Press coverage: 

Chicago Tribune: Duque: relación EEUU-Colombia debería ser más que drogas

El Tiempo: ‘Hay que desnarcotizar agenda con EE. UU.’: Iván Duque

Noticias Caracol: Iván Duque pide en Washington desnarcotizar relaciones entre EE. UU. y Colombia

Canal 1: En Washington, Iván Duque anuncia que retomará fumigaciones aéreas

360 Radio: Iván Duque asegura que retomará las fumigaciones aéreas

Watch the full recording of this event here