Led by Ingrid Betancourt, the center enhances its chances in Colombian politics
The Latin American electoral calendar now has the focus on Colombia, where Gustavo Petro, with an advantage in the polls and in his second consecutive attempt, has a chance of accessing the House of Nariño and leading the left to the presidency of the country for the first time.
The management of the conservative president Ivan Duke, quite discredited for a majority of voters, will begin to be left behind as of May 29, in the first electoral round, although it is likely that the story will be resolved once and for all in the June 19 ballottage.
Other right-wing and center-right currents with a good electoral base aspire to take over from the dwindling ruling party. The ruling Democratic Center, for the moment deflated in public opinion, nevertheless dreams of a difficult comeback for its candidate, Oscar Zuluaga.
But so many months after that key date, Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, internationally known for her six-year odyssey in the Amazon jungle as a guerrilla hostage, kicked the board this week by announcing his candidacy and breathing new life into the political center.
Betancourt, 60, aspired to the same position two decades ago, when she was kidnapped by the FARC during the 2002 presidential campaign, and held captive in their rustic camps in the remote wilderness until the successful rescue operation that freed her six years later. .
The candidates from the right and left are suddenly faced with another weighty rival, who starts from behind but has the confidence to hit the ground running. But will his name, his prestige and his ideas be enough to strengthen the Colombian political center and compete for the presidency?
After his presentation, Betancourt maintained that the rival to beat was not Gustavo Petro, as his distant leadership in the polls would imply, but “the extremes, which are the same.” Because, he insisted, “the reality is that we are all cannon fodder when we are in the center and we are ordinary Colombians.”
Betancourt is a member of the Centro Esperanza Coalition, which would have about a third of the electoral preferences. This group has yet to define its candidate, which will be resolved in the primaries on March 13, where Ingrid will seek to stamp her name on the presidential ticket.
Petro himself, comfortably ahead in the run-up to the first round, will have to pay close attention to this new contender, who after having survived hell comes back on her own, defies polarization and can add votes from everywhere.
It is true that the polarizations have been varied and tragic in Colombia. One of the cracks, perhaps the largest and deepest, it has been the one that marked the conflict with the FARC guerrillas, which for decades divided leaders and voters between a strong hand and negotiation, and that still hasn’t finished closing.
There are also, as Betancourt said, the polarizations of “Colombians who have nothing and who have everything” and the “fracture of poverty, racial, cultural and gender.” All these issues are proposed to be addressed by the candidate and, more broadly, whoever finally obtains the blessing of her coalition, like Sergio Fajardo, for example, who came third in the 2018 presidential elections.
“Transforming the recognition that Betancourt has and his capacity for public leadership in politics, into votes, is very difficult. However, I think she has that potential to do just that by not being a polarizing leader. If she decides to go in terms of building a reconciling position, that can become very important,” Jorge Restrepo, director of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC), told LA NACION.
When making its formal presentation in December, the Centro Esperanza Coalition established a decalogue that became the political pact between its different forces. “We are convinced that Colombia must leave behind the extremisms of the left and right that prevent us from finding the path of the reforms that the country needs,” said the text where they also declared themselves opponents of the Duque government.
This decalogue raises slogans such as the fight against corruption, security as a pillar of a society without fear and the implementation of the Peace Agreement signed with the FARC. It also fights for a State that combats inequality and poverty and that, at the same time, respects free enterprise, gender equality and quality public education.
It is a demanding agenda that coincides with the statements that Betancourt has been making these days, since the announcement of his candidacy.
“Ingrid is a viable candidate. You have a real chance of winning the consultation [internas] from the center. I think she has the big advantage that she can actually be a different and refreshing option for that group.”, political analyst Pedro Medellín told LA NACION.
Even if the internal election wins, things will be difficult, with so many and such strong rivals, Medellín said, from Petro to whoever is the candidate of the center-right coalition Team for Colombia, a powerful combination of leaders seasoned in mayors and governors.
But, according to this analyst, although today the numbers may not close, in these remaining months it could finish positioning itself. “I think that Ingrid may have a real choice; if you have good proposals you can get there without any problem; can achieve it, it is not unreasonable,” he said.
The mere presence of Betancourt in the Hope Center Coalition then gives him the necessary push that this formation needs to genuinely aspire to fight for the presidency in the May 29 election.
“Ingrid creates an opportunity to attract votes to a center that is what many people are looking for. It depends on what the speech is, how the performance is in the debates, how it goes on the lists for Congress and the political campaign.Jorge Restrepo said of the many variables that will come into play.