Colombia Tilts Toward Trouble – WSJ

Colombian left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro of the Historic Pact coalition speaks on stage May 29 in Bogota, Colombia.



Not so many years ago, Colombia had defeated the narco-left guerrillas and appeared to be heading for steady prosperity. But after Sunday’s first round of presidential elections, the country of 51 million is tilting toward the left-wing populism that has ravaged so many Latin American nations.

Former M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro came first with 40% of the vote, falling short of the majority needed to avoid a June 19 runoff. His opponent will be Rodolfo Hernández, a successful businessman and former mayor of Bucaramanga (2016-2019), who came second with 28%. Mr. Hernández, an eccentric 77-year-old with little established ideology, stormed late in the race through skillful use of TikTok while battling corrupt elites as an underdog.

The election marked the collapse of the centre-right party, whose candidate Federico Gutiérrez won less than 24%. When President Álvaro Uribe resigned from office in 2010 after defeating the terrorists FARC, he was a national hero. Twelve years later, his incumbent Democratic Center party – led by the unpopular President Iván Duque – has not fielded a candidate, and there is no free market party.

Mr. Petro runs on an anti-establishment platform that emphasizes social justice, income equality and radical environmental protection. But he refuses to distance himself from his past ties to terrorism. As recently as last year, in an interview on Colombian television, he refused to express regret over the 1985 M-19 attack on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Petro admires Cuba, which has spent decades training armed groups in Colombia. He was a confidant of the late Hugo Chávez, who turned Venezuela into a military dictatorship. He has pledged not to expropriate private property, but favors confiscatory tax rates and redistributive land reform. He wants to renegotiate the successful free trade agreement between the USA and Colombia.

Mr Hernández is also running as an outsider and hit a nerve by promising to break up the clubby status quo in Colombian politics. He has still not been acquitted of the charge that he assisted his son’s client in a public commission as mayor, although he maintains his innocence. He was once suspended as mayor for hitting a city councilman, and he was forced to resign early for allegedly violating a ban on political interference by city officials.

Mr. Hernández’s economy is a mix of subsidies and protectionism, although he is not as hostile to private business as Mr. Petro. He had the joke of hiring a social media expert for his campaign. He proposes canceling and financing student debt by selling Colombian embassy properties around the world and he wants to cut privileges for politicians in Bogotá.

Mr. Hernández’s father was once abducted by the FARC and his daughter was abducted by the National Liberation Army (ELN) and never seen again. This experience may make him skeptical about doing business with terrorist groups,

Colombians seem to have made their choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, but Mr Petro’s ties to Cuba and the Latin American left make him a much bigger risk.

Review and Outlook: Strategic ambiguity over Taiwan’s defense has long been US policy, but President Biden has now – four times – declared his willingness to engage militarily in the country’s defense. Images: AFP/Getty Images/Shutterstock Composite: Mark Kelly

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