On 26th April former President of Colombia Iván Duque Marquez addressed the Oxford Union, speaking on a variety of issues including democracy, migration, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A member of the centre-right Democratic Centre Party, Duque served as a Senator for Colombia from 2014-2018 before becoming President from 2018 to 2022. He is now a Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre and a Transformational Leadership Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government.
In his Union address, Duque highlighted ‘polarisation, populism, and fake news’ as the main ‘vices’ facing contemporary democracies, arguing that the world was living in a ‘digital civil war on a permanent basis’ with people treated as ‘enemies’ for not thinking alike.
Duque also argued that democracy was a ‘verb’, stating that it requires permanent consensus building.
Duque criticised what he saw as the lure of populism in presenting ‘easy solutions’ that lead to a ‘loss of choice’. He also emphasised a need to return to a ‘P majuscula’ (capital P) politics, where the amount of social media likes is not what is valued but rather the ‘paper you have written’.
During his presidency, Duque was noted for his emphasis on the war on drugs, calling Colombia ‘a partner for all of the Western hemisphere in the fight’ against narcotics. In discussion with Union members, he stated that ‘more coca is less peace’.
The former president also argued for more compassion towards Venezuelan migrants, arguing that they represented ‘millions of brothers and sisters’ who had ‘lost everything’.
He highlighted that 1.8 million Venezuelans now live in Colombia with the same rights as natives, which he argued refuted claims that a surge of migrants would lead to increased crime and unemployment.
Duque also spoke on the pandemic, emphasising the need to make decisions based on ‘science and not on politics’. He argued that his approach had been successful, citing Colombia’s position as the highest-ranked Latin American country in pandemic resilience.
Duque’s emphasis on liberal values and democracy in his address may be in conflict with some of the policies that he espoused while in government.
The former president was noted for hardline stances on the 2016 peace agreement noted by former President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), which earned Santos a Nobel Peace Prize.
Throughout his presidency, Duque undermined the deal, reducing funding for critical programs and failing to ensure demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters and community leaders. In his 4 years in office, 930 social leaders were killed and 261 massacres took place in which 1144 people were killed, with violence and instability rapidly increasing.
The Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) characterised Duque as a ‘much-reviled former president with a disturbing, blood-stained record’. The group also highlighted ‘a lethal wave of repression’ in response to civil unrest regarding Duque’s tax reforms, rising inequality, and police brutality.
Duque also commented on the FARC agreement in discussion with Union members, stating that he is ‘in favour of peace but not in favour of impunity’.
Image Credit: Inter-American Dialogue on Flickr