Colombian presidential hopefuls meet for debates

BOGOTA, Colombia - Verbal sparring between President Juan Manuel Santos and his principal rival Oscar Iván Zuluaga defined the first debate between presidential hopefuls in Bogota on Thursday with the May 25 election now just hours away.  

The debate, hosted by Colombian news channel RCN and Semana Magazine, was the first of its kind in this election with all five of the main candidates participating.

But the focus was the war of words that has taken place between President Santos of the Social Party of National Unity and Oscar Ivan Zuluaga of the Democratic Center party over allegations of email hacking, wire-tapping and illegal payments from drug lords.  

“Why don’t you come clean and tell the country why you are still trying to evade the truth? The truth has no memory, you must remember those meetings,” said President Santos in reference to the video releases of Oscar Ivan Zuluaga talking to the hacker Andres Sepulveda who is accused of hacking members of the negotiating team involved in the peace dialogues with the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia in Havana, Cuba.

“You have yet to explain to the country what happened to the US$12 million. We are still in the dark about this. I am showing my face, everyone is asking me the questions and I have nothing to hide,” countered Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in response and with regards to the money allegedly received by JJ Rendon, President Santos’ former campaign strategist.

JJ Rendon is alleged to have received a payment from various drug lords in exchange for acting as a go between and helping them negotiate terms of their surrender to the government.

But the debate also addressed issues such as the peace dialogues, which have been on-going since 2012, the recent scandals, justice reform, the candidates’ positions on Venezuela and mining in Colombia.

While the most recent poll shows Oscar Ivan Zuluaga leading President Santos by one percent this debate was also seen as an opportunity for the other candidates, Enrique Peñalosa of the Green Alliance, the Conservative Party’s Marta Lucía Ramírez, and Clara López of the Democratic Pole to voice their concerns regarding the dirty tricks campaigns employed by both President Santos and Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Later a debate had been organized for each of the vice presidential candidates with only one showing up. The Democratic Pole’s candidate Aida Avella gave a monologue.

Current forecasts are that neither President Santos not Oscar Ivan Zuluaga will win the necessary majority amount of votes to win the election outright on Sunday. That would lead to a second round between the two leading candidates on June 15.

The next debate between the candidates is scheduled for Friday tonight on the Caracol news channel.

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