Colombians vote for a president today in the tightest election in two decades that may determine whether the country continues peace talks with leftist guerrillas or steps up its battlefield offensive to end a 50-year war.
The vote has largely become a plebiscite on President Juan Manuel Santos’ strategy of negotiating disarmament of Marxist FARC rebels to end bloodshed that has killed some 200,000.
Right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga dismissed the talks as pandering to terrorists and suggested he would scrap them in favor of U.S.-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.
Santos and Zuluaga are polling neck-and-neck following a race marred by accusations of electronic espionage and drug-linked campaign financing. Neither is seen winning enough votes to avoid a June 15 run-off.
“Peace is the hope for humanity, and Santos is peaceful, not a warrior,” said Arley Bustos, 48, who was selling umbrellas and World Cup stickers on a street Bogota. “Peace will bring us progress.”
Uribe fell out with Santos, 62, when the president launched peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) instead of sticking to the eight-year strategy of forcing the group’s surrender on the battlefield.
Santos appeals to Colombians who hope the guerrillas will finally lay down arms after seeing top leaders killed and their numbers halved to about 8,000 fighters.