Colombia farmers, including coffee-growers, back Duque for president

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s agricultural federation, which includes the country’s coffee growers, said on Tuesday it will back right-wing candidate Ivan Duque in the June 17 presidential election.

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It is unusual for industry groups in the Andean nation to back candidates. The Colombian Agricultural Society represents members of the coffee federation, as well as growers of cacao, flowers, potatoes, rice, sugar cane, palm and cotton and producers of pork and beef.

Duque will face leftist Gustavo Petro in the contest after the two beat other candidates in the first round last month.

“After analyzing the rural policies of the presidential candidates, the board of the society considers that Ivan Duque’s program is most coherent with the needs of Colombia’s farm and ranching sector,” society president Jorge Bedoya told reporters.

Sixteen million of Colombia’s 50 million residents live rurally, he said, and the next president must assure agriculture is profitable, that land rights are concrete and that roads are built to connect farmers to markets.

Colombia is the world’s top producer of washed arabica, and more than half a million families make their living from coffee farming alone.

Members of the society have previously expressed doubts about Petro’s proposals, which include raising taxes on unproductive land and redistributing it to the poor.

“Petro does not support free markets,” Jens Mesa, the head of the palm federation, told Reuters in a recent interview. “There we have a danger to the country, to the kind of society we have been trying to build.”

Duque, a 41-year-old lawyer and economist, was hand-picked by former President Alvaro Uribe as a candidate for the Democratic Center party. Duque has promised to modify Colombia’s 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels and to cut taxes to bolster growth.

Petro, a former M19 guerrilla and mayor of Bogota, has promised to preserve the peace deal and heavily restrict extractive industries like oil production and mining.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Jonathan Oatis