BOGOTA, Colombia - The young protégé of a powerful former president is being sworn in as Colombia’s new leader Tuesday, tasked with guiding the implementation of a peace accord with leftist rebels that remains on shaky ground.
Forty-two-year-old Ivan Duque will be the youngest Colombian chief of state ever elected in a popular vote when he is sworn into office at Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar.
The father of three describes himself as a centrist who will unite the nation at a time when many are still fiercely divided over the peace agreement that ended more than five decades of bloody conflict.
His detractors fear he will be little more than a puppet for Alvaro Uribe, the conservative ex-president who led a referendum defeat of the initial version of peace accord in 2016. Uribe is still backed by millions of Colombians, though he is perhaps equally detested by legions who decry human rights abuses during his administration.
Duque is taking Colombia’s presidency at a critical juncture: Coca production is soaring to record levels, holdout illegal armed groups are battling for territory where the state has little or no presence and a spate of killings of social activists has underlined that peace remains a relative term.
On Monday night, a motorcycle bomb exploded outside a police station in the western province of Cauca, an area where several groups are fighting over drug trafficking routes abandoned by the former FARC guerrillas. The National Liberation Army, a smaller guerrilla group that is still in peace talks, last week kidnapped three policemen and a soldier in an attack that highlights the government’s struggle to bring law and order to Colombia’s most remote areas.
“If Duque is not able to solve this problem and find a way to bring the state into the countryside, we’re going to keep having the same problems we’ve had for decades,” said Jorge Gallego, a professor at Colombia’s Rosario University.
Duque is the son of a former governor and energy minister and friends say he has harbored presidential aspirations since early childhood.
But his rise from unknown technocrat to a popular senator and now president has been extraordinarily rapid, propelled in large part by the support of his mentor, Uribe.