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Polarized Colombia Elects a New President

Like the United States, Colombia has similarly become very polarized over the past few years. Simply put, this dichotomy involves (1) those who support the former two-term President, and now senator, Álvaro Uribe Vélez (“Uribe”) and his political polices, and (2) those who do not support him or his policies. Colombia’s newest President-elect, Iván Duque (“Duque”), falls in the Uribe camp.

By way of background, Uribe’s supporters are characterized as right wing conservatives and are primarily concentrated in the City of Medellin in the department of Antioquia. “Uribismo”, as the term has become known, refers to these supporters of Uribe, his administration and his policies, and is what led to the founding of the political party “Centro Democratico” in 2013. The Centro Democratico party, despite its newness, is now the strongest party in Colombian politics. It holds the majority of seats in the Senate and a high number of the seats in Congress. The non-supporters of Uribe includes people characterized as being on the hard left (liberals) or centrists that are supporters of former president Juan Manuel Santos (“Santos”). These individuals are primarily found in the Capital City of Bogotá, which is Colombia’s most liberal city, as well as in some of the poorest regions of the country.

Colombia’s polarization became most evident during Santos’ negotiation of the peace agreement and peaked when the peace agreement was put to a popular vote. Most were expecting a resounding “yes,” only to be taken back when the “no” vote prevailed. The “no” movement was led primarily by Uribe, who criticized the agreement as being too lenient and generous to the FARC. Although a slightly modified version of the peace agreement with the FARC guerilla group still went forward despite the popular vote, the criticism of the peace agreement and efforts to undo some parts of it, continued. One of person who advocated for rolling back some of the more lenient provisions of the agreement was Duque, who on Sunday, June 17, 2018 was elected Colombia’s new president with 54% of the vote.

Duque is a Senator and lawyer, who won the nomination of Uribe’s party, Centro Democratico over Martha Lucía Ramírez Blanco (“Martha Lucía”). At 41 years old, Duque has become Colombia’s youngest president. He has espoused a pro-business platform, and criticized President Santos’ economic policies, calling for less taxation and a reduction in bureaucracy. Duque is said to be Uribe’s protégé although it remains to be seen how much influence Uribe and his policy will have on Duque’s administration. Notably, Duque’s vice president Martha Lucía, has also made history by becoming the country’s first woman ever elected as vice president. Martha Lucia previously served as the Minister of Foreign Trade, Ambassador of Colombia in France, Minister of Defense, a private consultant, advisor to the World Trade Organization, and most recently, a Senator.

Significantly, left candidate Gustavo Petro (“Petro”) secured 42% of the presidential vote, which shows that the leftist movement is gaining strength in a country where conservatism generally rules. No hard left had come this close to the presidency in over 50 years. Gustavo Petro previously served as mayor of Bogotá. He initially got into politics after having participated in Colombia’s 19th of April Movement (most commonly referred to as “M-19”). M-19 is a left-wing guerilla organization turned political party. Petro’s term as Mayor had some controversy, including his removal and reinstatement to the position in 2014. In campaigning to serve as president, Petro “pledged to take on political elites, redistribute land to the poor and gradually eliminate the need for oil and coal. . .”[1] It was those promises of significant liberal change that had some investors and Colombian’s worried.

While the right wing will continue to govern for now, only time will tell if the left continues to gather political strength and support in Colombia. In this polarized country, President-Elect Duque has pledged to try to bring the Colombian people together.

[1] see here

© Copyright 2018 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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About this Author

Beatriz Jaramillo, Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm, Commercial Litigation Attorney
Associate

Beatriz Jaramillo’s practice focuses primarily on complex commercial litigation and products liability defense. She has experience litigating high-stakes products liability matters, as well as handling property and contract disputes. She also maintains an active appellate and pro bono practice.

Beatriz served as a judicial intern to The Honorable Judge Adalberto Jordan in the Southern District Court of Florida. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the Dade-County Bar Association and the Colombian American Bar Association....

305-577-2815
Stacy Swanson, Public Policy Specialist, Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm
Public Policy Specialist

Stacy Swanson helps sovereign governments successfully navigate Washington and understand United States Government policy. She regularly provides clients with strategies which effectively leverage existing relationships to advocate policy objectives before the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government. 

202-457-5627