- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ivan Duque, a young conservative lawmaker, on Sunday won Colombia’s first presidential election since the country implemented a fragile peace accord that ended Latin America’s longest-running conflict.

The landmark peace agreement between the Colombian government and the rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was at the heart of the campaign between Mr. Duque and leftist former guerrilla and ex-Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro.

In Washington, analysts speculated that Mr. Duque’s victory — and his sharp criticism of the country’s crisis-wracked neighbor, Venezuela — could create one of Latin America’s most conservative governments and also become a rare potential ally for the President Trump in the region.

A former senator backed by a popular former president, the conservative Alvaro Uribe, Mr. Duque comfortably won the first round last month, and on Sunday captured almost 54 percent of the vote.

While campaigning, the 41-year-old economist — who will be the youngest president in Colombia in more than a century — vowed to rewrite the historic but controversial peace deal struck with the FARC in 2016 that granted the rebels an entitlement to representation in Congress.

And he repeated that note at Sunday night’s victory speech to hundreds of jubilant supporters.

“The peace we all dream of demands corrections,” he said. “So that victims are the true center of the process and so that there is justice, reparations and no repetition.”

In contrast, Mr. Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group that signed a peace accord with the government in 1990, vowed to uphold the 310-page deal.

Rodrigo Londono, the FARC leader better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, congratulated Mr. Duque and said he wanted to meet him, adding that “the road of hope is open” to all Colombians.

Corruption, the economy and inequality were also major issues as local commentators played up how the two candidates — a business-friendly political newcomer and a leftist ex-guerrilla — could not have been more different.

Mr. Duque’s critics highlighted the father-of-three’s limited political experience and worried it could leave him dependent on Mr. Uribe, a leader both admired and abhorred in Colombia. Though millions of Colombians praise Mr. Uribe, even elevating him to cult-like status, others contend his advances as president came at the price of grave human-rights abuses.

On Sunday, according to The Associated Press, 53,000 police officers were stationed at voting sites to ensure safety as crowds of supporters cheered both men when they cast their ballots.

After voting, Mr. Duque said he wanted to unite the country and turn a page on corruption. He added that his victory would allow Colombia to be governed by a new generation.

Mr. Uribe said Sunday that Mr. Duque was the best guarantee against Colombia falling victim to “destructive socialism” in the mold of Venezuela, the country’s crisis-wracked neighbor.

Before Sunday’s vote, Mr. Duque had pledged to take the lead in denouncing Venezuela’s socialist regime before international courts in addition to backing the Trump administration’s policy of tightening sanctions after President Nicolas Maduro secured another term in elections May 20 widely denounced by election groups and regional governments as a sham.

While Mr. Duque has denied seeking a military conflict with Venezuela, Mr. Uribe has often called for a coup against Mr. Maduro.

This article is based in part on wire service reports and reporting by Martin Arostegui.

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