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Colombia: Is Hernández the Lesser of Two Evils?

Colombia

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Rodolfo Hernández, the contender of the ultra-left Gustavo Petro in Colombia’s runoff, has become the “lesser evil” of the unpredictable Colombian political process.

On May 30, one day after the end of the first round and knowing that he would be on the ballot, the “engineer Rodolfo” tweeted clarifying and warning his compatriots about the potential decisions he would take if he wins the Presidency.

The mixture of approaches has stirred comments and analysis. Hernández displays a nebulously pragmatic and populist general scheme. There is no underlying ideological compass, and there is an eclecticism of currents that pretends to convince diverse and contradictory electoral pockets. If the candidate were put in a blender, an unidentifiable political assortment of flavors and colors would come out. It will soon be seen if the catch-all formula will give him the triumph.

The point is that, in one way or another, Hernández, former mayor of Bucaramanga, is perceived by more Colombians as a much less risky bet than the one embodied by the former M-19 guerrilla and statist Gustavo Petro. Petro is an obvious franchisee of the transnational Castro-Chavismo, which he tries to dissimulate distance with limited success. There is no “moderation” or “centrism” in Petro —as there is neither in President Pedro Castillo nor in his co-governor Vladimir Cerrón in Peru—, only a conjunctural appearance and electoral calculation to get the presidential chair.

Hernández’s liquefied social, political, and economic approaches try to please from apolitical to independent voters, passing through liberals, conservatives, progressives to mercantilists, Bolivarian socialists or communists (the latter with the idea of recomposing relations that will end up indirectly helping to stabilize the repressive regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela).

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Keeping distances, and specifically, in his eagerness to agglutinate dissimilar proposals, he is close to a sort of Peru’s Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, underestimating the internal and external tensions that this forced “consensus” intended. PPK was everything and nothing at the same time. In the end, he succumbed, among other factors, due to the work of sectarian conservative Fujimori —Keiko, that is— and the anti-liberal statist leftists.

“Don’t believe fairy tales,” says Hernandez

“Don’t believe fairy tales. Here are 20 differences I have with Uribism.” This sentence starts the thread he launched on Twitter on Monday, May 30, seeking to dissociate himself from the influence of the Álvaro Uribe factor; a factor that continues to generate unfinished debates among those who consider that it can still add or subtract electoral support.

What does Hernández propose? Surprising Tyrians and Trojans, he has spoken of reducing the size of the state, of being austere, of not continuing to squander taxpayers’ money like previous governments, and of reducing VAT from 19% to 10%. All ideas that any liberal or libertarian and even a minarchist and a conservative would applaud.

To this is added “full support for sexual and gender diversity, including equal marriage and adoption by same-sex couples”. In addition, he is in favor of legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. For the candidate, “the most dangerous thing about drugs is prohibition.”

Rodolfo Hernández accepts euthanasia and assisted suicide. With respect to abortion, he says that in his government “support for abortion will be maintained within the stipulated times, the woman has the right to decide whether to have an abortion or not.”

Like most candidates in the continent, Hernández also presents himself as an anti-corruption warrior. This discourse has already been used by other candidates and governors to sell trite phrases of “fight against corruption no matter who falls”. In the end, the false preaching demands the application of the law only to enemies, but not to friends. In this field, deeds will speak louder than words.

Surprisingly, Hernández would undertake negotiations with ultra-left narco-guerrilla ELN (National Liberation Army, operating in Colombian and Venezuelan soil) and would reestablish diplomatic relations with Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

The ELN aims to get a deal that replicates what the FARC achieved in 2016 under the auspices of Juan Manuel Santos and Castroism. The agreement was perhaps the best retirement plan for ringleader Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, and the FARC narco-guerrilla leadership. Not only did they go unpunished —and became millionaires— but they got seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This set an unfortunate precedent in the region, establishing perverse incentives for future extremists who will know that, regardless of the atrocious crimes against human rights and freedoms they may commit, they could comfortably “negotiate peace” and finally smuggle themselves into the legal and political system. Bingo.

If the same happens with the ELN, there should be no doubt that later their own “dissidents” will also appear, as with the FARC, who will continue the armed struggle by relaunching political violence, terrorism, and crime as a source of financing (only between January and March 2022, 74% of attacks against civilians have been lethal, with a balance of 297 deaths reported for terrorist and criminal actions perpetrated by the ELN, the “dissidents” of the FARC, the El Golfo Clan).

Meanwhile, in foreign policy, the reestablishment of relations with Maduro and the civic-military Cartel del Sol in Venezuela paves the way for their longed-for stabilization in power and their total impunity, deepening the suffering of millions of Venezuelans anxious for justice and freedom. The selective “appeasement” policies that leave tyrants and criminals unpunished generate harmful precedents that will encourage their repetition at the hands of unscrupulous imitators.

Will Hernandez also eat the criminal logic of power and the story of “peace” and the negotiated pro-impunity “dialogue” of the ELN and Nicolás Maduro?

The social, political, and economic future, as well as the national security of Colombians, are uncertain. Trying to mimic what Petro would do to benefit his alliances with the most dangerous dictatorial and extremist forces in the region will not keep Colombia away from the abyss. There is no “lesser evil” in this reckless bet.

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