With no establishment candidate left, Colombia's June 19 presidential runoff reflects voters' perception that "things [on] the ground are quite bleak" as the remaining candidates "promise significant degrees of change for Colombia and its relationship with the United States," says USIP’s Steve Hege.
U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.
Julie Mason: Steve Hege is regional deputy director for the United States Institute of Peace's Latin America program. Here to talk about the upcoming runoff elections in Colombia. Hi, Steve.
Steve Hege: Hi, Julie. Thanks for having me on.
Julie Mason: Good to have you. So, what is the situation in Colombia right now?
Steve Hege: So, Julie, we just had a first round of elections on May 29. And we have, as you said, upcoming runoff elections on June 19. The surprising outcome of the May 29 first round was that the traditional sort of establishment, conservative candidate Federico Gutierrez only mustered 23 percent of the vote and the rest went to candidates promising some sort of change. And now we have a runoff between the longtime opposition leader, current Senator Gustavo Petro, and then an outsider businessman, with more sort of populist right-wing politics, Rodolfo Hernandez. Both promising significant change to the country, but different degrees of change and different degrees of predictability.
Rodolfo led sort of a skeleton campaign with populace kind of slogans on anti-corruption. And Gustavo Petro led a little bit more of a of an intellectual grassroots campaign with more policy meat and a deeper staff. But there's a lot of unpredictability of what may transpire right now. Rodolfo is probably leading by a slight margin going into the runoff, but both promise significant degrees of change for Columbia and its long-standing relationship with the United States.
Julie Mason: It seems like Colombia has come a long way. But, as you describe, there's still a lot of trouble and conflict in that country.
Steve Hege: Yeah, unfortunately, I think all of us who have supported peace efforts in Colombia for a long time, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, you know, we had a lot of high hopes around the 2016 peace accord itself with the major insurgency group of the FARC. Unfortunately, that was just one of multiple tracks of negotiations that had been going on with other armed groups at the time, and we all sort of sort of rushed to celebrate what was really a monumental peace agreement with the FARC insurgency. But ultimately, unfortunately, that agreement led to, sort of, an ushering in of the current government under President Iván Duque who opposed that agreement and really attributed a lot of Colombia's insecurity, particularly in rural areas, to the agreement itself.
And so, under President Iván Duque, we have somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that by all objective and subjective measures, the armed conflict continues probably more intensely than then even in recent decades. We have armed groups that control roughly between one third and one quarter of the country. We have homicide rates in rural areas that, if you were to take the top 170 rural municipalities that were prioritized by that peace agreement in 2016, today, in 2022, they would have the highest homicide rate in the world as a country on its own. So, things are not looking so great. There are tremendous indications of ninefold upticks in massacres, confinement, displacement, child recruitment. Again, it's a little bit of a disconnect with how we see things often from Washington. I'm here in Bogotá, in our Columbia office, but things from the ground are quite bleak, and I think that is reflected by the voters’ preferences of the Sunday of May 29.