Last week football fans around the world watched a resurgent Colombian football team progress to the next stage of the World Cup. They face a tough challenge in a young English squad keen on winning this year’s tournament.
Their string of victories come after a terrible first game performance, which saw them lose 2-1 to Japan, and after a challenging period for the country. Beyond its footballing success, the country is still battling former grievances. This was perhaps best encapsulated by its most recent election.
On the 17th of June, Colombia elected its latest President. A Conservative, Ivan Duque secured a decisive victory over his nearest opponent, Gustavo Petro. The final vote count saw Duque receive 53.9% of all votes compared to Petro who managed only 41.8%.
What was interesting about both candidates was that neither were considered moderates. The recent rise of polarisation in politics seems to have now entered Latin America. I refer of course to the elections in Italy, Greece, Austria and Hungary, where virtually all moderates were completely squashed by both sides.
Gustavo Petro, the left-wing candidate, performed incredibly well in a typically conservative country.
The campaign itself seemed less focused on actual policy, however. A lot of energy was spent on fear mongering and ad hominem attacks. Duque, for instance, focused his efforts on discrediting Petro by referring to his past as a left-wing militant. According to Duque, if given the chance to lead, Petro would take Colombia down the same path as Venezuela.
Of course, finding itself in a similar situation to Venezuela is something any country would like to avoid. Yet, there was more to this election than just personal attacks between candidates.
In 2016 the Colombian Government, under then-President Juan Manuel Santos, signed a peace treaty with its longtime enemy the FARC. FARC, translated from Spanish as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was a leftist paramilitary organisation that had staged insurgents against the Colombian state since the mid-‘60s.
The peace treaty proposed an end to a civil war that produced upwards to 220,000 casualties, as well as a displacement of seven million people.
By the international community, this treaty received high praise. President Santos, for instance, received a Noble Peace in 2016 for his efforts in concluding the treaty. Unfortunately, many of his fellow countrymen did not see it that way.
To many Colombians, the deal is too lenient. Many victims of the conflict whose family’s suffered at the hands of the FARC see the deal as a total ignorance to the damage the rebels have inflicted. For example, the deal guarantees seats for former rebel leaders in the national Congress. As a result, of public outrage, Duquez capitalised and promised to heavily revise the controversial deal.
Many Colombians however simply want to turn the pages on its violent past. So in a way, Duque’s promise to voters seems to stifle the path to Colombian reconciliation.
Additionally, Duque seems to represent a return to the past.
Dating back to the beginning of his political career, Duque has maintained strong links with former President Alvaro Uribe. Under Uribe, the FARC was severely crippled by state forces. However, his Presidency was not without critics. Uribe was caught spying on his political rivals, and on judicial members from Colombia’s supreme court.
Even after his Presidency, Uribe maintains a strong political following and influence. In actual fact, it was he that convinced Duque to enter Colombian politics in 2014. As if to reinforce this growing trend, Uribe’s presence has caused further division.
The outgoing President Santos hopes Duque stays true to the deal he painstakingly signed. What is clear, however, that regardless of what Duque decides, Colombia’s election still reflects a divided country.
What gives me hope is that although divided, Colombians do share a desire for an end to the violence and definitive peace. They just need to agree on how to go about achieving it.
For now, their only chance at unity is their team’s performance in Russia.
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