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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: In Colombia Elections, To Live, a Fragment Suffices
Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner takes a look at Colombia's upcoming presidential elections.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

There are primary elections in Colombia. They are open primaries. Everyone can vote for anyone. That is not right. It lends itself to cheating. It means that voters in bad faith can choose the candidate that would be easier to defeat in the final elections. Apparently, it has happened before.

The center right will choose among three candidates: Iván Duque, Marta Lucía Ramírez and Alejandro Ordóñez. The left will decide between a former guerrilla fighter, Gustavo Petro, and the mayor of Santa Marta, Carlos Caicedo. Both call themselves progressives, but they are close to the Chavista views, being Venezuela the Latin American country that progresses the least, and the only one that quickly regresses to African levels.

There are other candidates. So many, that I call my friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza in Bogota to ask for some guidance. Plinio is the best memorialist in Spanish language. He is a remarkable novelist and essayist, and also a regular and well-respected columnist for El Tiempo, but what he truly excels is in telling his memories. I invite anyone who wants to confirm this categorical assertion to read La llama y el hielo (The Flame and the Ice) and El olor de la guayaba (The Smell of Guava). They are two insurmountable books in a very difficult genre.

Plinio himself gives me the bad news. (Álvaro Vargas Llosa had told me in advance.) Plinio had suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right part of his body. It was the second to visit him in a few months. He tells me about it without any drama. He was born in 1932. Soon he will be 86 years old. It is time, he says laughingly, "to start hanging up the tennis shoes," a headline he read many years ago in a Mexican newspaper and he thought was very funny.

The good news is that his brain is intact. Plinio, with his left hand, was writing a column about the tense political moment in Colombia. I was touched by his words. Listening to him, I remembered an impressive poem by Miguel Hernández, "El tren de los heridos" (The Train of the Wounded), about the Spanish Civil War. Two verses fully portray Plinio: "To live, a fragment suffices / a man fits in a corner of flesh." Plinio will be Plinio until the last breath of his very fruitful life.

Colombia has a lot at stake in the presidential elections of May 27. If none of the candidates, as expected, gets more than 50% of the vote, the voters will return to the polls on June 17 for a second round. They will have to choose between the two that get the most votes.

Fortunately, "Timochenko" and Piedad Córdoba, the lady with a Mandrake-style turban, who launched her candidacy in Santiago de Cuba in front of Fidel Castro’s tomb, invoking his protection, will be meticulously repudiated by the voters. According to the polls, the voters don’t want them.

Most likely, the final duel will be between the center-right candidate and Gustavo Petro.

And among the three candidates from the center-right that go to the March primary election, judging by the polls, two have more chances of winning: the lawyers Iván Duque, the young senator preferred by Álvaro Uribe, eloquent and powerful, and Marta Lucía Ramírez, currently the leader of the Conservative Party, and former minister in Uribe’s cabinet, preferred by Andrés Pastrana. She has a remarkable experience in public administration and an enviable honorable reputation.

It is rumored in Colombia that whoever comes second in those primaries will go to the elections as vice president of the one who comes out first. It is a good formula and a magnificent display of civic cordiality among circumstantial opponents.

The center-right candidate is expected to win. Colombia already has too many problems to add the storm that a Chavista victory would be. The country has, at least, to stop corruption, including the bribes that politicians give and receive, defeat the narco-guerrillas of the ELN, eradicate cocaine, increase oil production, assimilate the tide of Venezuelan exiles, reduce the unbridled public spending and clean up the electoral process. None of that is on the Chavista agenda. Petro's chavismo is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected."


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