Colombian presidential election: Petro, Marquez campaigning behind bulletproof

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CALI, Colombia – The stage was set, surrounded by a small force of police officers, tribal guards and martial artists. Thousands of people waited for the candidate to become Colombia’s first leftist president, waving flags under the rain-soaked dark sky.

Gustavo Petro, who ran in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, was assisted in providing security by an unusual group of volunteers: members of Cali’s front line, protesters at the center of a massive uprising across the country last year. Now, a year after clashes with police, they are standing by hundreds of officers with a new mission: to defend the candidate they saw as their only hope.

When Petro got up, the crowd seldom saw him. He was hiding behind four men carrying large bulletproof shields. And as he spoke, the armor was on either side of him, reminding the people in the plaza what it meant to run for office in this South America. Country

“Many people, again and again, have tried to change history in Colombia,” Petro told crowds in the town near the Pacific coast last week. Mention its name Leaders Among those killed were Jorge Eliasson Gaitan, a presidential candidate Whose death in 1948 sparked decades of violence in the country. “Failure after failure, for two centuries, and now we are at the peak.”

Two days later, at a campaign rally in Bogot, someone pointed a laser at Petro’s running mate, Francia Marquez. The bodyguards surrounded him He quickly finished his speech, standing behind their shields, in agony.

As Colombians move toward elections, the atmosphere here is more exciting, uncertain, and volatile than at any other election in at least a decade. Security has been beefed up in the wake of the escalating death threats against Petro. Even after the Clan del Golfo, the country is still in the rural north The cartel has crippled more than 100 municipalities in retaliation for their leader’s extradition to the United States. Allegations of electoral irregularities and a loss of confidence in the government have raised concerns that candidates from either party will demand election fraud.

The former guerrilla is fighting for the presidency of Colombia, imagining a new Latin American left.

Colombia, an important ally of the United States in the Hemisphere, has long been recognized for the strength of its democratic institutions, even within half a century. Armed conflict. But it has never come so close to the left swing – or such a harsh rebuke to the status quo.

“This is a test of democracy,” said Camilo Gonzalez Poso, president of the Columbia-based Institute for Development and Peace Studies.

If a candidate – especially a popular candidate like Petro – loses by a narrow margin and contests the result, Colombians are concerned that big cities could explode into civil unrest.

On Saturday, Petro accused the government of conspiring to postpone the May 29 election, calling it a “coup against the popular vote.” Colombia’s interior minister has quickly denied the allegations and called on all candidates not to spread false information.

That Taking a page from former President Donald Trump is a phenomenon seen in other countries in the region. Armando Novo Garcia, a former member of Colombia’s Electoral Council, said: “This is a conspiracy theory to take away the legitimacy of the election results.

Concerns about the electoral system have grown since Colombia’s legislative election in March, where the country’s election observation mission found an “unusually large” difference between the pre-count and the actual results recorded on the ballot. But Spaniard Xavi Lopez, who heads the European Union’s election observation mission in Colombia, says the problems that arose have been resolved.

Lopez He expressed the importance of building trust in the electoral system of the country. However he acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat Petrobras’s government. “By international standards, the governing body does not suspend elected officials,” Lopez said.

If no candidate gets a majority in Sunday’s vote, the top two will advance to the second round by the end of June. Polls show that Petro, a 62-year-old senator and former guerrilla member, is in the lead.

In recent weeks, it seemed almost certain that Petro would go to the second round with Federico Guterres, the former center-right former mayor of Medellin who wanted to capture the votes of the political establishment. But recent polls show a late rise for an outspoken candidate who has been compared to Trump, 77-year-old civil engineer and businessman Rodolfo Hernandez, whose social media presence has earned him the nickname “Tick Tuck Old Man.”

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If he is able to defeat Gutierrez, the country will see a close second-round contest between two popular, anti-establishment candidates.

Meanwhile, Petro faces a more immediate risk – one for his life. He is campaigning in a country where criminal gangs have strongholds, where assassinations of social leaders are on the rise and where four presidential candidates, three of them on the left, have been killed in the last 35 years. One of them, Carlos Pizarro, was much like Petro: a former member of a guerrilla group called the April 19 Movement, an organization that emerged to deny what it saw as a fraudulent presidential election in 1970.

In cities like Cali, Petro’s campaign is turning to extraordinary measures to help keep candidates safe. In addition to Petro’s government-funded bodyguards, more than 1,000 police officers were deployed to secure the area. And about three days before the rally in Cali, members of the front line said campaign leaders had reached out to them for help.

Protesters faced a historic nationwide protest in response to a controversial tax reform a year ago. According to Human Rights Watch, police responded with brutal force, killing at least 25 people.

Cali had a specially polarized group of hundreds of protesters in the front row. To some, they were fearless community leaders who were gassed, beaten and shot by police. To others, they were violent instigators who blocked roads, destroyed buildings and looted businesses.

The cartel has closed most of Colombia since the leader’s extradition to the United States

Juan Carlos Ruiz Vasquez, a professor at the Universidad del Rosario and a former adviser to Colombia’s defense ministry, said their involvement in Petro’s security “seems extremely serious.” Petro’s critics have already questioned his relationship with them.

National Police Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Alberto Ferria Buitrago, Petro’s chief of security, said volunteers like Front Line were providing logistical support to help manage the crowd. The candidate’s official security team only coordinates With government authorities, he said.

However, some front-line members standing near the stage wore black shirts with the word “safety” written on them. They coordinated with police officers to help set up barricades. While speaking on the radio, they watched the crowd for unusual behavior, at one point flagging suspicious movements on a roof, using the skills they had acquired by navigating months of violent protests. They set out an exit strategy, discussing the option of taking Petro to the backstage church in case of a threat. Some carried the same colored metal shields during last year’s protests.

Near the stage was Heidel Arboleda, 35, a member of the Puerto Resistance Front line, one of the city’s most important protest points.

“Right does not want to give up power, and it worries us,” Arboleda said. “They want to scare us.”

But Hernando Mouz, another front-line member, said they were no longer afraid.

“We lost that fear on the streets,” Munoz said. “We have nothing to lose.”

Diana Duran contributed to this report.

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