As the Colombian presidential race tightens, the two candidates turn up their attacks.

Source: : 2022-06-19 14:27:21 : Megan Janetsky

The two candidates competing to become Colombia’s next president — Gustavo Petro, a leftist and a former insurgent, and Rodolfo Hernández, a wealthy businessman — are not known for pulling punches.

Mr. Petro, a long time senator, has risen through the political ranks as an aggressive voice railing against the right and the political elite. Mr. Hernández has rapidly gained traction with his unvarnished way of speaking and popular TikTok videos.

But with polls showing a tight race the candidates have engaged in an intense mudslinging campaign of personal attacks, rumors, accusations and in stoking controversies for political gain.

Colombians “have a history of polarization, but in this final stretch of the campaign, it has gotten even harsher and dirtier,” said Daniel García-Peña, a political analyst.

Mr. Petro has long been criticized for his past membership in the M-19 guerrilla group and for some of his stumbles as mayor of Bogotá.

A more recent scandal that has drawn attention involves videos surreptitiously recorded early in the presidential election and leaked to the news media showing members of Mr. Petro’s campaign discussing how to smear opponents.

Mr. Petro is never heard speaking on camera and Mr. Hernández is not mentioned — at the time, he was not yet considered a serious contender.

Still, Mr. Hernández, who was in Miami at the time the videos became public, cited them to declare that he feared for his safety and would not return to Colombia until after the vote.

“Petro and the politicians surrounding him demonstrated that they are a criminal gang without limits,” he said. “At this moment, I am certain that my life is at risk. It’s clear that anything could happen, even the most serious thing.”

Nevertheless, he returned to Colombia a few days later.

Mr. Petro claimed that the secretly recorded videos were illegal and on Twitter said that if he was found to have committed a single crime “I am willing to give up my campaign.”

For his part Mr. Hernández has come under scrutiny for promoting an anti-corruption message at the same time he stands indicted on political corruption charges related to his time as mayor of Bucaramanga, a midsize city, north of Bogotá, the capital.

Mr. Hernández is accused of pushing officials to award a lucrative contract to a specific company that would provide a financial benefit for his son.

Mr. Hernández, whose trial is scheduled to begin July 21, has proclaimed his innocence. “I didn’t steal anything,” he told The Times.

Mr. Petro has used the case to respond to accusations from Mr. Hernández that he ran a corrupt government when Mr. Petro was mayor of Bogotá. “No criminal investigation against me has ever prospered,’’ Mr. Petro said on Twitter. “It’s you who’s being charged with corruption by judges.”

The volley of accusations and controversies swirling around the election could further erode voters faith in their government, Mr. García-Peña said.

A poll in May by the Spanish newspaper El País showed that just 17 percent of Colombians said they were happy with the state of democracy in their country.

“It’s a turbulent moment, a complicated moment,’’ Mr. García-Peña said, “where these levels of aggression that have defined the campaign will surely continue on in the next government.”

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