Every afternoon in Samaná, a small coffee-growing town in the Colombian Andes, prosperous townspeople mount Paso Fino horses to ride from bar to bar, where they down shots of aguardiente, Colombia’s most popular tipple. Their tongues loosened by the anise-flavoured drink, they become garrulous on the subject of the country’s presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for May 27th. Álvaro Uribe, a right-wing former president, “is a horseman just like us”, declares Brayan López, a horse-dealer. He, and almost everyone else in Samaná, it seems, will vote for Iván Duque, Mr Uribe’s protégé, who is leading in the polls. As president from 2002 to 2010, Mr Uribe sent the army to expel from the area around Samaná the 47th Front, a unit of the FARC, a guerrilla group that had fought the state since 1964. The front’s leader, Elda Neyis Mosquera, known as “la negra Karina”, was one of the FARC’s few female commanders and is thought to have been one of its bloodiest. She turned herself in and is now, by Mr López’s account, an uribista. In all, some 220,000 people died in the war and perhaps 7m were displaced.
The presidential election is the first to take place after the war’s end. Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Mr Uribe as president, signed a peace accord with the FARC in 2016. The group disarmed last year. But the election is no celebration of peace, which has both disappointed Colombians and raised their expectations. Smaller armed groups have occupied some of the territory vacated by the FARC and cultivation of coca, over which they fight, has surged (see article). FARC members are now guaranteed seats in congress and face light punishment for their crimes. Mr Uribe was the peace accord’s most prominent critic. His ally is the front-runner in part because many Colombians wanted Mr Santos to take a much tougher line with the FARC.
But peace has also opened the door to the candidacy of Mr Uribe’s antithesis, Gustavo Petro, an ex-member of M19, another guerrilla group, and a former mayor of Bogotá. Polls suggest he is running second to Mr Duque, making him the first left-wing politician with a serious chance of becoming president. “By disarming the left, peace made the left capable of playing a role in politics,” says Eduardo Pizano of the University of the Andes in Bogotá.