Colombia’s Runoff Election pits the past against the present and future.
It’s not a political statement nor decision to be made by the Colombian people whether they be Caleños, Paisas, Costeños, Rolos, Santandereanos, or other regional distinction within the nation. Different regional cultures, united as one country with a choice to make. It’s a simple choice for many, but it is a far tougher choice for others. It’s a decision that requires the understanding of the past in Colombia, the present of Venezuela and Colombia, and a future that could propel the nation into the dominant economic superpower of the continent. It’s a question that was asked in the United States back in 1980 by-then Presidential Candidate and Former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, when he challenged Jimmy Carter for the Presidency… “Are you better off?”
It’s Not About FARC Anymore, This Debate is Far More Broad
The Peace Agreement with FARC would have been the heart of the debate between Ivan Duque and Centrist Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo was narrowly defeated in Round 1 of the Presidential Elections by Gustavo Petro. Gustavo Petro’s politics and vision go far beyond the relationship with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Petro represents an alternative way of life for Colombians, a rebuke of the present order.
It is seen as a Presidential Election of extremes, which puts Colombians at a fork in the road, which is more of a straight path with a left-hand exit lane. Do Colombians want to continue down the path that they have been on in the past two decades?
It truly is a debate between Free Markets and Socialism/Communism. It will be hashed out in the next three weeks.
Colombia Cleaned Up in the Past Two Decades
Before the Presidencies of Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia was nowhere anyone would want to visit or live. Now, it is in a place where expats from all over have settled for a better life and to be a part of the new Colombian Dream. Each city’s resurgence is viewed as a miracle and foreign investment has surged. The ghosts of paramilitaries, guerrillas, revolutionaries, violence, narco-trafficking, and kidnappings have faded. The image of Colombia has slowly changed from Pablo Escobar’s Playground to a diverse and opportunity-filled place to live, work, and play.
The poverty rate has been nearly cut in half in Colombia since the start of the Uribe Administration.
Colombians are living longer and have some of the best medical facilities in the continent, if not the world, in Medellin. In fact, medical tourism has helped turned a city with a violent and volatile reputation into a place that attracts thousands of visitors per year.
National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Grass National Income per Capita (GNI) are up significantly as well.
There’s the matter of safety and security, which has been emphasized in the past two decades. Medellin was the Murder Capital of the World. In 2015, Medellin had 20 murders per 100,000 people.
How does the former Murder Capital of the World, Medellin, stack up against major Western cities as far as safety?
Atlanta, Georgia, United States vs. Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia
New York, New York, United States vs. Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia
Paris, France vs. Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia
London, England, United Kingdom vs. Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia
Berlin, Germany vs. Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia
It’s very likely that as a country, Colombia, could become safer than Sweden.
The Alternative to this Big Picture Progress
Ivan Duque represents a continuation of the progress although he takes a harder line on FARC than current President Santos. Issues concerning corruption surround Duque and his mentor, Alvaro Uribe. The question as to whether Duque is his own man still remains.
Gustavo Petro represents a very different direction. Petro is a former guerrilla and member of the 19th of April Movement (M-19), he would serve in government as part of the Colombia House of Representatives and Senate as well as his most recent stint as Mayor of Bogotá. Petro is a leftist nationalist who endorsed Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela, in 2017. Petro’s critics cannot help but notice how he is very similar to former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. Petro’s executive experience included more than two dozen of his appointed staffers resigning in the first year of his Mayoral Administration.
The choice of Petro is in a way a choice to undo what has been done already from the big picture. However, the Colombian people in the short-term see things much differently and have indicated that they are dissatisfied with current leadership. The taboos of left-wing governance may have dissipated in the wake of the Peace Agreement with FARC. Young people are more disenchanted with Conservative Governance and intent to bring about a new pink tide. The poor of Colombia are attracted to Petro because they believe he will help provide for those in Estrato 1 and 2.
The business community is very concerned as Petro is proud to be anti-business, which could be harmful to attracting future investment into the country as well as bring about divestment. In Petro’s last executive role, he was removed from office temporarily. Petro may have had trouble taking the trash out, but he provided the poor with access to clean water and reduced the presence of drug trafficking as Mayor of Bogotá.
Petro’s main objectives are to reduce income inequality, shift economic focuses from mining and oil to agriculture and manufacturing, free education for all, radical land reform and redistribution, centralization and nationalization of all health care, raise taxes, and end of exporting natural energy sources (oil and coal).
It’s a major shift from the status quo, but this is an election that is truly about Market-Oriented Solutions vs. Nationalized Socialist Solutions. After this Colombian Presidential runoff on June 17, the markets will react accordingly to Colombian companies and the Colombian Peso.
Colombians will have to ask themselves if they are better off because one of these choices is a complete repudiation of the past two decades who will undo everything and usher a completely different way. On the outside looking in… businesses, ex-pats, entrepreneurs, and traders from all over looking to Colombia for opportunity wait with bated breath.