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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The day Petro defeated Petro

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The people who filled the hall of the Hotel Tequendama in central Bogotá fell silent. The results of the first round of the Colombian presidential elections were projected on a screen: Gustavo Petro won with 40%, but in the next vote he had to face a new and groundbreaking candidate, Rodolfo Hernández, who had taken 28th of those for granted the 24% , Fico Gutiérrez, the right candidate and the furnishingsHe would automatically go to Hernández. It was clear that anti-Petrism was back in the majority and would stop a left-wing candidate coming to power.

The same feeling of despair was experienced by Petro himself, who received the results in a hotel room. The numbers didn’t add up. Four years of campaigning since he lost to current President Iván Duque in 2018 has been worth nothing. The 2016 peace deals with the FARC, which legitimized left-wing democratic options, and last year’s protests had made him the favorite, but now it was all just a mirage. It took him two hours to go out and talk to his people, still a little shaken by the data. “There are changes that are not changes, they are suicides. What do we want, change or suicide?” He started first against Hernández. The moment he accepted that defeat was a real possibility and that his opponent was ahead, Petro began to consolidate his victory.

He wanted to win by acclamation early in the campaign, uttering a phrase he’d wanted to say for a lifetime: “I’m Gustavo Petro and I’m your president.” That was the moment. Uribismo, the movement bringing traditional sectors together, was at its lowest level in 20 years. Society demanded a change and Petro believed he could give it to them. The left was poised to rule for the first time. Those who know him say that he has a very high self-image and tends towards intellectual arrogance. In the debates with the other candidates, he showed that he not only wanted to convince the voters in front of the television, but also wanted to defeat his opponents with arguments. The elections were a matter of Petro yes or Petro no.

Hernández’s break-in changed the entire strategy. His advisors made it clear to him that turning the competition into a referendum on his figure could lead him straight to defeat. He has a large number of followers who will vote for him at any cost, but also armies of detractors who would not support him under any circumstances. Hernandez, a 77-year-old real estate salesman, was a novelty three weeks ago and continued to climb in the polls. At the same time, he was a great unknown to most, including his constituents who trusted him for his videos on TikTok. They knew him as El Viejito, he aroused affection.

At that moment, Petro stepped aside and let all the spotlight fall on Hernandez. This decision was not easy to make for someone like him, who associates his name with Wikipedia. He wants to be a historic president, like Álvaro Uribe or Juan Manuel Santos, and not an interim president like Duque. It cost him to lower his profile, but he did. He stopped holding large rallies across Colombia and devoted himself to attending ordinary citizens to events that he broadcast on social networks. His presence in the media decreased. At the same time, videos and audios from Hernández’s past as Bucaramanga mayor began circulating, showing his worst side: sexist, xenophobic, and a tendency to lose his composure in stressful situations. Direct light seared him.

Supporters of Rodolfo Hernández react to the election of Gustavo Petro as President of Colombia in Bucaramanga. June 19, 2022. Photography: Chelo Camacho/El PaísCELLO-CAMACHO

The engineer, as he is called because of his studies, was not aware of the basic functioning of some state institutions. He slandered the Jungfrau in a TV program and criticized the hygiene of taxi drivers compared to the cleanliness of Ubers. Videos emerged of him boarding a yacht with lobbyists in Miami, surrounded by dancers. He has been heard saying that the best deal for the rich like himself, whose fortune is estimated at $100 million, is in the poor. His voice began to fade, especially among the women.

The last drop was the debate that the candidates had to celebrate three days before the elections. Petro, who has spoken in public all his life, happily accepted. He was convinced that he could easily defeat him. One of Hernández’s strengths was his speech against corruption, while he is also accused of favoring one of his sons with a mediation committee for a garbage contract. Petro wanted to confront him publicly with this. It was not possible. Hernández ignored the court ruling and extended it with excuses that it would not take place. In the midst of this discussion, he made an aggressive and rude statement against his opponent, whom he invited to a debate in Bucaramanga with the moderators he chose and the topics chosen by his team. I didn’t expect Petro to say yes: “We debate when, where and how you want.”

That was a fatal mistake. Hernández dodged his rival’s answer, and it was clear in front of the whole country that he didn’t even mean to debate dead. In an attempt to reverse this situation, he read an incoherent statement on social media, accusing Petro of actually being the one who didn’t want to appear. He seemed trembling, unable to read, and disoriented. Petrism was responsible for spreading the images to every corner. He wasn’t the very image of a president.

The rest is history. Petro received 11.2 million votes Sunday, compared to 10.5 for Hernández. He was the most-elected president in a democracy with the highest turnout of all time. This is the first time there has been an outspoken left-wing president in a country where just two decades ago there was a stigma about being one.

Before him lies the task of sewing together a country divided equally by the results: those who trust him to transform a country in dire need of reform and those who fear he may lack a solid economic and economic democracy institutionally erodes, as does the Colombian, despite its ups and downs. It is in your hands as President-elect. To get here, Petro had to defeat Petro along the way.

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Source elpais.com

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