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A President Who Did All the things Proper and Obtained No Thanks

Which might you favor? An aged TikTok star who compares himself to Donald Trump? Or a former Marxist guerrilla who attended the funeral of Hugo Chávez? A candidate infamous for his radical flip-flops on public coverage? Or a candidate infamous for his intolerance of any sort of disagreement or dissent? One who defined his reward for the Hitler dictatorship by claiming he had confused Adolf Hitler with Albert Einstein? Or one whose try to renationalize rubbish assortment in his metropolis left mountains of trash piled within the streets?

Welcome to the Colombian presidential election of 2022. The second spherical of voting final night time yielded a victory for candidate No. 2, the previous guerrilla Gustavo Petro, over No. 1, Rodolfo Hernández. Clearly, both alternative would have inscribed big query marks over the way forward for one of many extra profitable democracies in Latin America.

However there’s one other query mark, a retrospective one: How on the earth did Colombia arrive at such a weird dilemma?

Colombia’s outgoing president, the reasonable conservative Iván Duque Márquez, was barred from working once more by the nation’s strict single-term restrict. In that 4 years, he oversaw a file of coverage success unmatched in current South American historical past. In return, he’s leaving workplace with an approval ranking within the low 20s, the worst any president has had in Colombian polling historical past. The social gathering he belonged to has been wrecked and discredited.

I interviewed Duque on June 2, throughout a go to he made to Washington, D.C., and located him as baffled as anyone else by Colombia’s flip to extremism.

When Duque took workplace in 2018, he was solely 42. But he appears as vexed by the impression of social media as politicians many years his elder. “The world has grow to be very polarized,” he mentioned. “Sound debates about coverage points don’t appear to be applauded at this time. It makes extra applause for those who determine to take a powerful stand, even primarily based on not-sound information or on lies—however you get a whole lot of likes. That generally appears the temptation we’ve got in trendy politics.”

President Duque confronted two large challenges in his 4 years in workplace: the COVID-19 disaster and the social collapse of neighboring Venezuela. He met each challenges in a cautious, balanced, well-informed method.

On COVID, he rejected the dismissal and denial espoused by populists like Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Duque didn’t pursue doubtful Chinese language vaccines to win factors from anti-American voters, as Peru’s leftist president, Pedro Castillo, did. As a substitute, Duque used the sturdy relationship with the USA constructed by Colombia’s reasonable conservative management. Colombia certified for the primary exports of the Pfizer vaccine from the USA and commenced a nationwide vaccination program early in 2021. As of mid-June, at the least 70 p.c of Colombia’s inhabitants has been totally vaccinated with secure and efficient vaccines developed by Western democracies.

On Venezuela, Duque agreed along with his nation’s proper that the Chávez-Maduro dictatorship was repugnant, no mannequin for anybody to observe. He took a tough line towards Venezuelan subversion and threats to export revolution to Colombia. On the identical time, Duque prolonged refuge to Venezuelans fleeing the catastrophe of their nation. He granted some 1.7 million Venezuelans the suitable to stay and work in Colombia for 10 years, the most important such temporary-protected-status program within the historical past of the Western hemisphere.

As he coped with these emergencies, Duque upheld Colombia’s buying and selling relationship with the USA, ratified by the U.S.-Colombia free-trade settlement that entered into power in 2012. Because of this settlement, Colombia has enhanced its conventional exports of oil and low. The nation now provides three-quarters of all of the lower flowers bought in the USA. Colombia has additionally emerged because the world’s No. 3 avocado producer.

Colombia is surging out of the pandemic with one of many fastest-growing economies in Latin America. Within the first quarter of 2022, Colombia’s output expanded at an annual price of seven.5 p.c. Duque used a few of this wealth to bolster the nation’s shaky social-insurance system. He abolished tuition for just about all college students in Colombia’s public schools and universities.

At each flip, he confronted assaults both for doing dangerously an excessive amount of, in accordance with the exhausting proper, or for doing offensively too little, in accordance with the unconventional left.

Colombian society stays cleaved by the aftermath of the left-wing insurgency of the Seventies and ’80s, in addition to by the opportunistic alliance these guerrillas shaped with drug-trafficking cartels just like the one as soon as run by the infamous Pablo Escobar. A prolonged peace course of produced an settlement signed in 2016 that supplied amnesty for former guerrillas. However the settlement was intensely resented by the various Colombians whose household and mates had been kidnapped or murdered by the insurgents. That resentment turned the idea for a extra militant Colombian far proper—a resentment then bolstered by anti-immigrant sentiment, with the inflow of a whole lot of 1000’s of Venezuelans asylum seekers into Colombia.

Colombia’s new president will inherit all of those challenges, plus hovering inflation and a doable recession in the USA, by far Colombia’s most vital buying and selling companion. That file made it no surprise that President Duque acquired such a fond goodbye from President Joe Biden on Duque’s farewell tour of the USA. In sharp distinction, President-elect Petro has made his profession by exploiting his nation’s social divisions, not therapeutic them.

People might have come to take as a right Colombia’s very current, hard-won, and fragile achievement of social peace. The democratic world will sadly miss President Duque, maybe greater than it but is aware of.

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