Ivan Duque’s victory in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election is definitely good news. Duque is a follower of former president Alvaro Uribe. Duque has taken a strong stand in opposition to the Venezuelan government; has strong democratic and pro-American credentials, and he possesses a moral vision which will enable Colombia to continue to be a stabilizing force in a region.
A part of the globe that has not yet clearly rejected the regimes of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
However, Duque’s opponent, Gustavo Petro, succeeded in securing eight million votes. The equivalent of 46 percent of the vote. This is an undeniably impressive showing.
Petro ran on a platform of social justice, the environment, economic development, and the need to eradicate corruption. However, he failed to dissipate his image as a man of the radical left.
Indeed, Petro criticized the dictatorship of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro but vindicated the government of Hugo Chavez despite the fact that when Chavez was alive and in power, drug trafficking, alliances with terrorist groups, incarceration, and expulsion of opponents, subjugation of the legislative and judicial branches, mass expropriations and mass exoduses were already well underway.
Additionally, during the first round of presidential elections, Petro supported the installment of a Constituent Assembly — a first step Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador took to perpetuate their authoritarian revolutions, and corrupt democratic institutions.
Petro also refused to speak up about the crisis of Nicaragua.
Currently, the Venezuelan crisis is not the only challenge Latin America is facing.
Nicaragua is facing a crisis bringing more than 150 deaths with high levels of government violence. Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega, is an ally and supporter of Mr. Maduro, and like him, Nicaragua’s president is refusing to step down despite the fact that the regime is no longer legitimate.
Petro also expressed full support for the peace agreements signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) despite the fact that the FARC has not been able to convince the Colombian public that they will be bound by the peace agreements. One of the FARC chief negotiators was found trafficking cocaine; people resent the fact that FARC enjoys representation in Congress without any of its members having been democratically elected by Colombian citizens.
Petro’s concession speech had some strong overtones.
Petro pointed out that "the opposition will not allow the government to take a path that may destroy the foundations of our society, its children and its youth . . . We cannot be part of the continuity of Colombia."
Petro also called on Duque to break with his mentor Alvaro Uribe, a man credited with having restored order and democracy to Colombia.
Petro is a former guerilla group member of M-19, a group entering politics in 1990 after giving up its arms and signing an agreement with the Colombian government.
However, Petro is now showing signs of morphing into a polarizing figure — not a conciliatory one.
It seems that the broad and diverse coalition of progressive forces who voted for him has empowered him to adopt a more ideological position that raises fears that — after all —Petro is closer to Havana and Caracas than he admits.
But there is a greater potential danger.
In a recent interview with Secure Freedom Radio, I spoke about the radicalism expressed by Argentinean leftist elements now in the opposition. Followers of former Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner not only continue to support the Maduro and Cuban regimes, but also continue to maintain relations with Iran.
Kirchner cut a deal with Iran while she was in office in an effort to remove a number of top members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) involved in two major terrorist attacks in Argentina from Interpol’s most-wanted list.
By the same token, the left-wing government of Uruguay has declined to condemn the Maduro regime and also to join the voices demanding improvement of human rights in Venezuela and the restoration of democracy.
More recently Graciela Bianchi, a Uruguayan congresswoman from the opposition, stated that important elements in the government associated with former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica receive money from Iran. Interestingly enough, when Petro was accused of being a Chavista, he dismissed that accusation by claiming that he was closer to Mujica.
Indeed, Congresswoman Bianchi added that some Hezbollah members live in Uruguay and maintain strong contacts with the Uruguayan government.
Iran obviously sees the Latin American left as an ally and are likely to expand these relations. The Latin American left has failed to become a genuine moderate force, one advocating for specific social issues while placing democracy and the rule of law above their agenda.
The Latin American left — radical and moderate — are not real social-democracies in the European tradition. I suspect Gustavo Petro is no exception.
Iran has already developed a strong political and tacit military alliance with the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA). Iran could definitely penetrate Colombia by strengthening relations with the opposition. This could make Iran’s political influence in the country more consequential. If that influence comes with financial support, as Bianchi claims is the case with political sectors in Argentina and Uruguay, the situation could be very troubling.
There are reasons to celebrate Duque’s victory in Colombia but there are reasons to be concerned. Indeed, Petro may well win the next presidential election in Colombia. All it takes to shift the political map is for Colombia to face an economic crisis or public discontent with the performance of Ivan Duque's government.
The people right now are relating to only one thing — immediate needs.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Barry University. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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