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Colombians Elect Right-Wing Populist Duque As President


Colombia has elected a new president. Ivan Duque is his name. He's a conservative, and he defeated a onetime leftist rebel named Gustavo Petro. The winner promises to be tough on drugs and on former rebels. John Otis has more.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Duque, Duque, Duque.

IVAN DUQUE: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Duque, Duque.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: At a rally Sunday night, Duque celebrated his meteoric rise to the top of Colombian politics. He received nearly 54 percent of the vote, compared to about 42 percent for Petro. That means the 41-year-old Duque will become the youngest president in Colombia's history. Previously, he worked at the Inter-American Development Bank and served a single term in the Colombian Senate. He rose from obscurity after he was endorsed by Alvaro Uribe, a popular former Colombian president.


DUQUE: (Foreign language spoken).


OTIS: That's why in Duque's victory speech, the first person he thanked was Uribe. Duque's win marks a rightward shift for Colombia. The president-elect plans to cut taxes for businesses. He may restart aerial fumigation of coca, the plant used to make cocaine. Fumigation was halted three years ago due to health concerns, but since then, the coca crop has ballooned, alarming U.S. officials. But Duque's most controversial pledge is to rewrite a 2016 peace treaty. That accord disarmed 7,000 members of the FARC rebel group, who had been fighting for half a century. Duque claims its terms are too lenient. For example, he wants ex-rebels accused of atrocities banned from holding political office until they face justice and compensate their victims.


DUQUE: (Foreign language spoken).

OTIS: "There will be changes," Duque declared. "We're going to make war victims the focal point of the peace process." But too many changes could prompt former FARC fighters to take up arms again, so says Arlene Tickner, a professor of international relations at Rosario University in Bogota.

ARLENE TICKNER: If we have a large number of ex-FARC leadership, for example, abandoning the process, it's very difficult to envision the success of the peace accords.

OTIS: Although Petro lost, his candidacy was a breakthrough. A former Bogota mayor and member of the now-defunct M-19 guerrilla group, he was Colombia's first-ever leftist politician with a realistic shot at the presidency.


GUSTAVO PETRO: (Foreign language spoken).

OTIS: In his concession speech, Petro declared, "I do not feel defeated." Petro will now become the head of the opposition, while Duque will be sworn in as president on August 7 for a four-year term. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW OWL'S "SEIS ROSAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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