Voices of Colombians living abroad
Colombians go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, and abstention levels, which have been more than 50% in the past, are expected to fall within the country and particularly at polling stations abroad. FRANCE24 talked to expat voters.
This Sunday 30 million Colombians are expected to go to the polls to choose a successor to outgoing president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe cannot stand for election himself because the Colombian constitution limits presidential terms to two.
Authorities expect a bigger voter turnout than in previous years, both within the country and at polling stations at consular offices worldwide. To serve the over four million Colombian expats, the government has opened 196 polling stations in 56 countries. FRANCE24 asked expatriate Colombian voters why casting their ballot is so important.
Alejandro Estevez, 34, is an economist living in New York: “We are choosing between two economic models: having higher taxes – Colombia currently has the lowest taxes in South America - to invest in science and technology, social welfare and education, or lowering the rates to generate foreign investment. To have economic growth, the country needs stability and national security.”
Ana Maria Mendoza, 29, is a lawyer living in Paris: “It's the first time I've voted since coming to France ten years ago. In the past it was known that Uribe was going to win the elections. This time we have the possibility of change. National security is no longer our main concern, our priorities are human issues, education and democracy.
“We need to get rid of the image we have of being of a military country, and we need to stop fighting with our neighbours. My family lives in Cucuta, a city on the border with Venezuela. The continuing fight with Hugo Chavez has brought lots of problems to the city. It has affected our neighboring country, and our commercial relations with them. Many people have lost their jobs, both countries' economies are suffering. We also need a new strategy with the US - it is true that they are our allies, but that doesn’t mean we are their employees.”
Martin Fernandez, 60, is a teacher in the US: “These elections are important because we now have a green party who would protect the country’s natural resources. Globalization has brought many good things to the economy of the country, but has also destroyed our resources, and we need a government that thinks about the consequences of destroying the environment.”
Andrea Penuela, 29, is a business manager living in Santiago de Chile: “We are choosing between traditional parties and new independent movements who are finding their way in the political scene.”
Anonymous voter, 37, living in Berlin: “For me the future of Colombia is at stake: we have the power to choose a suitable leader who can take advantage of the strengths of our country, both nationally and internationally, and who will improve the living conditions of its citizens. The next president faces the difficult task of strengthening the achievements of the outgoing government (leaving with high popularity rates) but also the challenge of satisfying those who want change after eight years of the same government.
“These elections are important and different from the 2002 elections where the winner was a forgone conclusion. In these elections we are measuring different forces (not just the traditional ones), there is no certainty about who will be the new president. Also there is great interest from the public, especially young people”
Andrea Florez, 30, is a psychologist living in New York: “In this election the stakes are high: relations with neighboring countries, national security and social welfare. The question is whether we risk national security for social welfare.”