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Colombian Leader Sees Buffer Against the Rising Radical Tide

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/23/2021 Andrea Jaramillo and Oscar Medina
Colombian President Ivan Duque Interview © Bloomberg Colombian President Ivan Duque Interview

(Bloomberg) -- Investors shouldn’t fear that Colombia will elect a radical in next year’s presidential vote, President Ivan Duque said. 

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“Colombia has always been dismissive of extremists and I have the optimistic sense that Colombia will remain in the center,” Duque said Thursday, in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. 

Senator Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla, is leading in polls ahead of 2022 elections as he taps voter rage over the unemployment and poverty left by last year’s slump. He has called for an overhaul of Colombia’s economic model by cutting its dependence on exports of oil and coal, and wants to distribute a greater share of corporate revenues to workers. 

Elsewhere in the region, Peru elected a president from a Marxist party this year, while left-wing candidates are leading in polls in Chile and Brazil. Colombia is the only major country in the region that has never had a leftist government.  

Duque beat Petro in a second round runoff vote in the 2018 election. 

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The possibility that Petro might win this time has made investors perceive the country as riskier, Credicorp Capital said in a report earlier this week. Colombia’s recent loss of investment grade and concerns over fiscal sustainability are also worrying investors, Credicorp said. 

Petro led the most recent survey with 17% of voting intentions. The next two candidates, both from the center -a former mayor of Medellin and a former lawmaker- posted 7% and 6% support respectively, according to the poll published by Semana magazine. Other candidates are still coming forward ahead of the election next May. 

Duque’s four-year presidency ends next August. Under the constitution, he can’t seek a second term, and his Democratic Center party hasn’t yet picked a candidate. 

In a separate interview on Bloomberg Television, Duque, 45, forecast that the economy will expand more than 7% this year and said his target is to get the jobless rate back to its pre-pandemic level by the end of the year. 

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China Ties 

Duque said he wants to continue to strengthen Colombia’s close relationship with Washington, and attract more foreign direct investment from the U.S. 

At the same time, he says Colombia can forge a closer relationship with China. Chinese companies have indicated interest in a plan to make navigable stretches of the Magdalena river, which runs through the Colombian Andes to the Caribbean. That project should open for bidders by the end of the year, while Chinese builders have also expressed an interest in highway projects, he said.  

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Colombia is “open for business,” to overseas investors, Duque said. 

(Adds Duque’s remarks on the U.S. and China from 10th paragraph.)

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