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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Gustavo Petro, the tireless stubborn

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It’s not easy to guess what’s going through Gustavo Petro’s mind when he’s standing in front of him. Hermetic and impenetrable, it exudes an air of absence, as if it were somewhere else at the same time. Sometimes even his advisers don’t know what to expect. One of them tried a few weeks ago to persuade him to take a clear position on an issue that has made him very unpopular with a segment of the electorate. The candidate examined the papers and replied: “My positions are categorical. I won’t back down.” He then began watching the sky through the plane’s window.

Petro is stubborn, says his daughter Sofía, but he believes that stubbornness has gotten him to where he is: a chance to become Colombia’s first left-wing president. For the third time, he is stepping into a position that does not seem destined for someone like him, an ex-guerrilla who instills fear in the social and business elite. She has distanced herself from any sympathy for Cuba and Venezuela in recent years, tries to understand feminism and talks about creating a progressive axis in the region together with Boric in Chile and Lula in Brazil. And he’s stopped dressing like the social warrior he’s always been to look more like a statesman.

Although he is shy, rallying is one of his strengths. Petro, 62, is in the tradition of the great orators this land of the people has had with ease. He gave 100 speeches with which he believed he could decide the elections in the first round. It wasn’t, and the second involves the most unpredictable opponent, the enigmatic Rodolfo Hernández. In the final stretch of the campaign, he focused on broadcasting his visit to social media to ordinary people to convey an image of closeness that he failed to convey on the platform.

Gustavo Petro during his youth, in an image file.rrss

His journey here is something of an odyssey. Many would have been left behind. He was born in the small Caribbean town of Ciénaga de Oro, but his parents moved to Bogotá when he was a baby. He was a student enrolled in the same college for priests where García Márquez studied in Zipaquirá. When he joined the M-19, an intellectual and urban guerrilla, at the age of 17, he called himself Aureliano, after one of the characters in A hundred years of loneliness. The armed group recruited a brain because Petro was then puny and already suffering from severe myopia.

At that time, he became a social leader, invading a country along with hundreds of families, where he founded a neighborhood, Bolívar 83. “I will never forget those days because they linked me forever to the world of the poor” , writes Petro in his autobiography. He briefly served on the council before being captured by the military in 1985 and tortured in the army stables. From that moment on, he has a premonition that his brand of rebellion against the world will lead him to a violent death.

When he got out of prison he failed to set up an armed cell in the bush, it was definitely not his thing. During this period he severed all ties with family and friends. He returned to civilian life in 1990 when the M-19 signed a peace deal with the government. The last guerrilla leader, Carlos Pizarro, was assassinated a month and a half later while he was a presidential candidate. His daughter María José, now a member of Congress for Petro’s coalition, draws a comparison between the two: “Gustavo is much more rational, he’s a man of suggestions that has already been built over the years.” She thinks that Petro has something of a savior because he has lived in this environment full of great ideals: “This whole generation of men and women is quite messianic. The luck Gustavo has is that he survived.”

He was first elected Congressman in 1991, but had to go into exile in Belgium after his term expired: the guerrillas who entered politics were killed. In Europe he became an environmentalist, and without that it would not be possible to explain why he now wants to change Colombia’s economic model when he becomes president – he proposes, for example, to stop oil production as part of the energy transition. He believes that Latin America must abandon extractivism and focus on production, industrialization and knowledge. Back in the country, he returned to Congress in 1998 to become one of the opposition’s most admired MPs. The biggest blemish of this legislative career was his vote to elect Alejandro Ordóñez, a controversial ultra-conservative politician close to Uribism, as attorney general.

Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro during a campaign visit to Ciénaga de Oro, Colombia, in April this year.Photo: Juan Carlos Zapata | Video: EPV

From the Capitol he was the scourge of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). He denounced both the alliances between politicians and paramilitaries and the intelligence agency espionage from which he himself suffered. He believed that fame was enough to get him president and he tried in 2010 with very little success. He didn’t give up. He was mayor of Bogotá and no one agrees whether he did it right or wrong. It achieved the lowest homicide rates in 20 years, extended the school day in public schools and implemented policies to guarantee the poorest households the bare minimum of water. Many former employees agree that he is difficult to work with, as evidenced by the frequent changes in an unstable government team. He was fired by lawyer Ordóñez for trying to deprivatize the garbage model and he called demonstrations that grew massive with speeches from the balcony of the Liévano Palace. There Petrism was born.

Riding that wave, he tried again for president four years ago, but rejection of the peace process turned against him. He’s been campaigning ever since. The unpopular government of Iván Duque, placed there by Uribe, now put him as a favorite in these elections. In the first round, led by Francia Márquez, he defeated the right, the furnishings, Uribism and all the currents that are against it. The presidency seemed close after the end of his historic enemies. However, he was now put in front of an anti-system opponent, who represents exactly what he is for the political disenchantment. This last week he has to climb an Everest, another one in his life. It remains to be seen whether the idealistic Aureliano, the brave congressman, the combative mayor and the stubborn candidate have the strength to crown this summit.

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Source elpais.com

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