Colombia Prepares for Primary Elections Next Month
May 2022 marks the date for Colombia’s next presidential elections. While there is still much at play, two clear candidates are getting the most attention. The latest release from the National Consulting Center (CNC) showed that a run-off between Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutiérrez is more than likely.
Currently, Petro is ahead with 34% of voting intent over Gutiérrez’s 23%. In a second round, however, the difference is expected to shrink to a very narrow 41% vs 39% battle that will be decided on June 19th.
And although not as favored according to recent polls, other candidates may form alliances with the two frontrunners thus tightening the race. Due to a 2015 legislation, Iván Duque Márquez, who took office in 2019, no previous president in Colombia will be allowed to run for reelection.
Who is leading the polls?
Gustavo Petro Urrego, 61, has had a long political career. He has run for presidency three times (2010, 2018 and 2022) and was elected for Congress in 2002, as the mayor of Bogotá in 2012 and is currently a member of the Senate.
He was born in Córdoba but later moved to the capital, where he graduated in Economics from the Externado University of Colombia. He also has a specialization in Public Administration from ESAP, a master’s degree in Economics from the Javeriana University and has done some graduate work in European universities.
A member of the Pacto Histórico Coalition, Petro is the leader of the progressive left in Colombia. His running mate for vice president is human-rights and environmental activist Francia Márquez. Since his earliest terms, Petro’s administrations have centered around social, ecological and public health issues.
Despite his former association with the now extinct, left-wing militant group M-19, which has been one of the causes of his opposition, his popularity among Colombians grew by 10% between last September and January.
For this 2022 election, Petro has clearly stated his intention to stop oil exploration in Colombia from his first day in office; he aims to lead the country towards a productive—instead of an extractive—economy. Furthermore, he plans to reinforce the agricultural industry by means of exportation of homegrown goods and more sophisticated farming technologies.
Regarding energy and resources, he believes in moving towards electric transportation and using water bodies as a basis for territorial organization. As a utility, he also believes that water should be free for access to a certain minimum.
Along the same lines, he intends to reduce taxes for small agricultural businesses that use clean energy sources, but to implement a new tax on “the wealthiest 4,000 people of Colombia” in order to invest in education and raise the country’s budget.
He wants to establish a universal health system and, focused on expanding public education, he expects to use government funds to train 10.000 students a year in doctoral degrees abroad.
47-year-old Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez is the second frontrunner. He studied Civil Engineering in the University of Medellín, where he also specialized in Senior Management. He also did another specialization in Political Science in the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.
Gutiérrez began his political work in his college years, when he was elected to participate in the Town Council for Youth and later for Planning. He also worked as a counselor of Urban Security in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Celaya, Mexico. He returned to Colombia in 2015, the year in which he was elected as mayor of Medellín.
Gutiérrez is the leader of the Creemos Colombia political party, and he has chosen former mayor of Neiva and surgeon Rodrigo Lara Sánchez as his running mate. Fico Gutiérrez represents the center-right movements in the country and, partly due to past ties with former president Álvaro Uribe, he seems to have the upper hand in traditionally conservative regions.
Those same ties, however, have been reason enough for some to question the authenticity of his party and ideas. Regardless, he has grown favorably and would trail Petro by only 3.1%, according to a March poll.
Since his term as mayor of Medellín, his focus has been on security, mobility and keeping close communication with the people. Some of his plans are to close down socio-economic divides, guaranteeing safety, creating jobs, relevant education for children and teenagers, and investing in agriculture.
He has emphasized the need for more security by reinforcing the public forces. Rural areas, which have been affected by illegal farming and criminal groups, will participate in substitution and commercialization programs under his government.
He also proposes a policy of creating jobs locally, especially in parts of the country where fertile lands could be made available. Housing deficits both in the cities and rural areas will be addressed and brought down by 10% and 30% respectively. Additionally, he also intends to reduce government spending and to use intelligence and technology in the fight against corruption.
Who else is there?
The CNC study revealed that Rodolfo Hernández (12 %), Sergio Fajardo (9 %), Íngrid Betancourt (2 %) were technically still in the fight.
Rodolfo Hernández, 76, was the mayor of Bucaramanga from 2016 to 2019. He is a Civil Engineer from Universidad Nacional de Bogotá and spent much of his career in the construction business. Unaligned with any of the current coalitions, Hernández has gained the reputation of being independent, and some of his proposals include solving students’ debt, rationing government workers salaries and having more women in government positions.
Sergio Fajardo, 65, has been the mayor of Medellín and Governor of Antioquia and ran for president in 2018, but fell behind Iván Duque and Gustavo Petro.
He is a member of the Movimiento Compromiso Ciudadano and is possibly the candidate with the highest academic achievements: he holds a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics form Universidad de Los Andes and both an M.A. and a PhD in the same discipline from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He has been an educator in the past and, in line with his experience, he wants to make education free for children between 3 to 5 and provide financial support to 1 million students in the program Jóvenes en Acción.
Íngrid Betancourt, 60, was born in Bogotá but went to France to pursue higher education. She graduated in Political Science from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (or Sciences Po), where she specialized in Foreign Trade and International Relations.
She was kidnapped by the FARC in 2002 during peace talks and was freed in 2006. She is the leader of the progressive Verde Oxígeno party, where she focuses on fighting corruption by establishing special justice systems, protecting natural resources and the environment and legalizing drugs in order to disencourage trafficking.
What is Colombia’s situation?
Colombia is recovering from the profound effects of the pandemic and is now facing its largest inflation rate in five years. 40% of the population lives in poverty, and the number of people who are not eating three meals a day has tripled since 2019.
Informal work and unemployment has risen in a weakened economy despite the efforts to reactivate it. On the other hand, violence has increased in many parts of the country, where social leaders and environmental activists have been killed. Inequality has also been an issue, which propelled many of last year’s protests.
In a survey, 84% of Colombians said the country was moving in the wrong direction, and was second on the list among 28 other countries. They have also shown unconformity with its current president. In fact, the most current information shows that Iván Duque’s approval rate is well below 30%.
His critics say that he has done little to improve the country’s security or economic well-being. Last year, he was also criticized for supporting a tax reform aimed to increase the collection of revenues to fund social programs and public spending, which were affected by the pandemic.
This situation might explain not only Colombia’s but Latin America’s widespread shift towards left-wing presidents, as the effects of the pandemic and discontent towards government are a common theme in the continent.
It could also be why Gustavo Petro, a blunt opposer of Duque’s government, is leading the polls. If elected, he could join Mexico, Peru, Panama, Bolivia, Honduras and Chile as the latest Latin American president—and Colombia’s first—on the left.
Read more about each candidate here.
My name is Javier Cataño García and I am pursuing a M.A. in Spanish, with focus on linguistics and literature, at the University of South Florida, Tampa, where I also teach undergraduate Spanish courses. I was born and raised in Colombia, but I have lived in the United States since August 2021. I have always had a special interest in foreign languages and geography, and I am looking to channel that interest through Latina Republic. I also have some training and experience in English-Spanish translation and interpretation. Although my professional career has been centered in teaching, I enjoy delving into other areas such as music, cooking and journalism. I hope to find new directions in my career through Latina Republic.