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Colombia Presidential Contest Presents Sharp Choice

By VOA News June 17, 2018

A leftist former guerrilla and a young conservative lawmaker are vying Sunday for the Colombian presidency, with the outcome a referendum on the government's fragile 2016 peace accord with FARC rebels.

One-time militant and former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro supports the peace agreement but wants to overhaul Colombia's economy, Latin America's fourth largest, by redistributing unused lands to poor farmers and turning the country away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

Meanwhile, front-runner Ivan Duque, who topped Petro by 14 percentage points in a first round of voting but fell short of the required majority, wants to make changes to the peace deal to require former Marxist FARC combatants, if they committed crimes against humanity, to serve prison time before entering politics.

His candidacy is buoyed by the support of his mentor, former President and now Senator Alvaro Uribe, whose presidency a decade ago was marked by an all-out war on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"These are momentous elections," outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos said as he cast his ballot. "Let us continue to build a country at peace, a country of democracy, a country which we all hold dear and to which we all contribute."

The 41-year-old Duque, as he voted surrounded by his children, said he wanted to make sure that those who committed crimes during the decades-long conflict in Colombia "pay for them."

He told reporters, "I've come here to fulfill a dream. For Colombia to be governed by a new generation, one that wants to govern for all and with. One that unites the country and turns the page on corruption."

The 58-year-old Petro is the first leftist to reach a presidential runoff in Colombia, showing, he says, that the country has rid itself of fears of the left that had been marked by 50 years of conflict until the peace accord was reached.

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