The frontrunner in Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, progressive candidate Gustavo Petro, has suspended activities in central Colombia after his campaign warned that it had uncovered plans to attack him. It is the latest incident targeting candidates in the Historic Pact coalition of left-wing and social democratic parties which is performing strongly as Colombians prepare to head to the polls on 29 May, with a potential second round on 20 June.
On 2 May, Petro announced that he would suspend planned rallies on the two following days in the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) region. It came after his security detail uncovered alleged plans by a paramilitary outfit known as La Cordillera.
According to a statement posted on Petro’s Twitter page, ‘”La Cordillera” is a paramilitary organisation dedicated to drugs trafficking and contract killing which has achieved broad control over regional civil authorities and politicians in the Eje Cafetero, as well as some instances of the police and the army.’ The statement also said that the plot involved a police agent who had participated in the killing of student protester Lucas Villa in Pereira last year, a case which sparked outrage in the country.
The suspension of campaigning raises fresh fears over the potential for violence directed against progressive candidates ahead of the presidential election. The Historic Pact’s vice-presidential candidate, human rights defender Francia Márquez, has received numerous threats, while there was controversy over recent comments made by General Eduardo Zapateiro against Petro. Other Historic Pact members and supporters have also been targeted.
In March’s primaries, Petro won more than double the number of votes of any other candidate, while Márquez was the third-most popular politician. A victory for the Historic Pact coalition would give Colombia the first progressive government in its history.