Two men who feel a deep mutual animosity shook hands on Thursday. Outgoing President Iván Duque received Gustavo Petro Urrego, who will be his heir in a month and a half, at the Casa de Nariño, the residence where the highest Colombian leaders live. They cannot have more different trajectories. Duque came to power after defeating Petro in 2018, spurred by the conservative wave voting ‘no’ to peace with the FARC. His opponent vehemently defended the demobilization of the guerrillas. A lasting enmity developed. Since then, one has been president and the other the main opponent. During that time, Duque saw his popularity plummet, especially after last year’s societal outcry over a failed tax reform. Petro’s figure was enlarged until now he became the first leftist ruler. The ruling party and the right tried to stop him with all sorts of candidates and more or less explicit support, but fate was written: Duque would shake hands with Petro on a day like today.
The meeting had the splendor of historic occasions. The Presidency of the Republic published some photos showing the two leaders sitting on gold-lacquered chairs in a hall in Versailles. On one side two marble busts of Simón Bolívar and General Santander, heroes of independence. Duque believes he holds an important place in Colombia’s history and will appreciate his role once time has softened the emotional factor. Petro comes up with the idea of honoring the memory of other leftists who have been assassinated trying to come to power, like Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, his mother’s favorite orator, and incidentally an eternal president in the vein of Álvaro Uribe or to become Juan Manuel. saints. One wore a black suit and red tie. Petro, a striped shirt with no tie, a jacket and jeans. True to his habit, Petro was late. That didn’t seem to spoil the mood. In the photo, both looked relaxed and even smiled.
Although one more than the other. Introverted, as serious as ever, Petro put on a happy face as he climbed the palace’s carpeted staircase. He had just collected the document from the national registry accrediting him as the new President-elect, in an act that took too long. Not a bad excuse to be late for the next event, certainly better than traffic or rain in Bogotá. The Presidents talked for an hour and twenty minutes. At first they were alone and later they were joined by María Paula Correa, Duque’s chief of staff; the Minister of Finance, José Manuel Restrepo; and the Director of the Administration Department of the Presidency, Víctor Muñoz. At that time they explained to Petro the role of the transparency portal and the handover process in the 23 authorities. Those selected by both teams to complete the transition will begin work this Friday.
The person in charge of finance showed the country’s accounts to the president-elect. “Colombia’s macroeconomic reality,” explained the minister afterwards. According to financial analysts, they should not be buoyant. The state has a very high budget deficit, which Duque tried to offset with tax reform last year in the middle of the pandemic. There was general consensus that taxes needed to be increased to support social spending. However, there is also a majority opinion that it was not the right time or the right way to adapt. People took to the streets to protest. The minister who proposed the reform was crushed. The protests led to clashes with police, who used excessive force.
The country was paralyzed for weeks, with many lives lost. Uribe, Duque’s mentor, criticized the crisis management. The protests revealed people’s deep dissatisfaction with the current political and economic model, which seemed exhausted. The barricades of cities like Cali were full of young people without jobs or studies who didn’t care about dying. They felt like state orphans. In the atmosphere was the need to find a new way to face reality. That’s what happened now, a year later, in the elections. Fico Gutiérrez, the candidate for Duque’s continuity, with the classic look, fell by the wayside despite investing millions in the election campaign. Instead, voters chose to face two change-making political phenomena in the second round, Petro and real estate entrepreneur Rodolfo Hernández.
Duque, one of the youngest councilors in the country, will give way to a 62-year-old man who is 17 years his senior. Duque is the son of a former governor of Antioquia and a former minister. He himself was a senator and worked as a representative of Colombia before the Inter-American Development Bank. He has a master’s degree from Georgetown. Wikipedia also notes that he is a writer. Petro’s father was a teacher and his mother, who told him about Gaitán, was a housewife. Petro studied economics and had been a guerrilla member of the M-19 since he was young. He made peace with this armed group, which was important in drafting the 1991 Colombian constitution. Then he became a politician and was a senator several times and to date his greatest achievement has been mayor of Bogotá. Duque and Petro hail from the same country, but they come from two very different realities. One conservative, the other left. Today, after years of disagreement, they faced each other over their perspectives on the country. The handshake of two presidents turning their backs on each other took shape.
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