Colombian Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo declared his candidacy for president of Colombia Thursday in a Spanish-language speech at Ives Hall. Robledo belongs to the Polo Democrático Alternativo, a leftist political party and the only party expressly opposed to incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos.
“The failure of those that have been governing us is truly evident,” Robledo said. “Colombia needs my position, and we desperately need to change.”
Robledo’s announcement comes just four days after the people of Colombia narrowly voted to reject a peace deal between the country’s government and the FARC — a Marxist rebel group formally known in English as the “Revolutionary Armed Fighters of Colombia.”
The agreement — which was poised to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict — was signed by both the Colombian government and the FARC on September 26, but it will now expire at the end of October due to the failed referendum. The 52-year civil war has claimed over 220,000 lives and displaced over five million Colombians, according to CNN.
President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning for his efforts to resolve the conflict.
In an interview with The Sun, Robledo said he is a strong supporter of the peace deal and has criticized Colombia’s reigning leadership for allowing the country’s people to vote it down.
“Since day one, this conflict has been damaging and dismantling the country,” he said. “The biggest point in the peace treaty is that it disarms the FARC.”
Many Colombians — including those who have lost friends and family to the conflict — voted against the peace deal because they felt it made too many concessions to the FARC, according to The New York Times. The agreement would have allowed most of the organization’s soldiers to re-enter society with no punishment and promised relatively light sentencing for leaders who have committed war crimes.
Robledo said that he understands the pain these naysayers feel, but views the deal as the best way to move forward from conflict.
“The peace accords cannot resolve things that already happened in the past. It can’t bring back my friends or the dead,” he said. “But what it can solve is what will happen in the future.”
Robledo criticized Santos for allowing the Colombian people to vote on the accords, saying that the president instead should have issued the agreement to the Colombian people as a mandate.
“The choice to consult the people is always an option, but one should consult the people depending on the reasons,” Robledo said. “If you have the opportunity to not consult the people, and you go ahead and do it and you lose, it’s ridiculous.”
Robledo also criticized Santos’s desire for Colombia to join the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries, arguing that it would tremendously harm Colombia’s economy.
“Free trade agreements have gone really bad for Colombia,” he said. “Even the people who are proposing the TPP within Colombia concede that the sugar, palm oil and biofuel industries would essentially disappear if Colombia joined the TPP. These are key agricultural sectors within the Colombian economy.”
He emphasized that national unity would be the hallmark of his presidency if he is elected.
“I am proposing to unite all of Colombia — people from all parties, all social groups, all parts of society — in pushing forward a democratic agenda that does not include removing private property, but that does point toward making radical changes to the economic and social structure,” he said.
Robledo further detailed his six priorities as president: defending labor, protecting non-monopolistic production industries, preserving the environment, preventing political corruption, controlling big capital so that it benefits the country and creating an authentic democracy. He also mentioned Colombia’s income inequality as a key issue driving his campaign.
“I will work for the poor, the middle class and corporations and entrepreneurs who are not monopolistic,” he said. “And I will leave the doors wide open for the involvement of all people, regardless of political party.”
Robledo vowed to set his country on a path toward better redistribution of income, but noted that the process to do so will be lengthy — “I will become the president, not a magician,” he quipped.
To win the election, Robledo plans to coalesce the fractured groups of people who oppose Santos under his name. After his lecture, he expressed confidence in his prospects of becoming president.
“I will win the presidential election in 2018,” he said.
Robledo also voiced his thoughts on the U.S. presidential election, saying the two candidates are similar to Santos and Álvaro Uribe, a former Colombian president and leading opponent to the peace deal.
“Clinton and Trump represent the same interests and institutions. They would govern for the same interests that are not favorable for the nation. Those interests are for small minorities, not for the American people, and I support neither of them,” Robledo said.
Robledo’s visit was co-hosted by the Cornell Spanish Debate Society and is part of a distinguished lecture series organized CampusSkyline.