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Meet The Women Behind the Petro Opposition: Fearless, Unapologetic, and Pro-Freedom


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AS SOON AS it learned of the victory of leftist and former guerrilla Gustavo Petro in the presidential second round, traditional political parties (which had previously opposed Petro) announced their support for the new government.

Neither the traditional Liberal Party nor the Conservative Party supported Gustavo Petro during the election campaign, but after his triumph, they informed Colombians that they would not oppose the government.

The only party that, for now, remains in opposition to the new leftist government in Colombia is the Centro Democrático [Democratic Center], the center-right political party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe and to which former President Iván Duque (who left office less than a week ago) belongs.

While they do not have a majority in the Colombian Congress, the Democratic Center enjoys some power because it speaks on behalf of the more than 10 million Colombians who voted against Petro in the election of June 19.

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And it is an opposition party with a strong representation, which is determined to resist the next years of a government that has almost absolute control over the institutions. The most striking thing about this opposition is that the three main figures are women. Paloma Valencia, Paola Holguín, and María Fernanda Cabal, the three senators, are the most outstanding political phenomena of the Democratic Center and are emerging as the leaders of the opposition to Petro.

In fact, Valencia, Holguín and Cabal were the ones chosen by the party to represent the opposition inside Congress giving a speech in response to Petro’s inauguration on August 7.

The three senators have stood out for their firmness and their tough, provocative, and combative discourse against their adversaries. The fact that the three have consolidated themselves as the most outstanding senators of the only opposition party speaks very well of Colombian society, which saw the immense courage in the determination and principles of the three women to confront the policies that the extremist government of Gustavo Petro will seek to impose.

Notable, without a doubt, are Paloma Valencia, Paola Holguín and María Fernanda Cabal:

Paloma Valencia

Being a Senator since 2014, Paloma Valencia is heir to a political family with a long tradition and influence in Colombia. She is a lawyer from the Universidad de los Andes and holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from NYU. She was elected to the Senate in 2014 when she won with the support of the newly founded Centro Democrático party.

Valencia has stood out in the Senate for her firm stance against impunity and for her victims’ defense of Colombia’s guerrilla and criminal groups, such as the FARC and the ELN. Because of this implacable stance, for Valencia, it is impossible to flirt with the idea of giving privileges or pardons to criminals in Colombia in exchange for their submission to a negotiation process

Due to her determination, Paloma became one of the great critics of the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos, who carried out, against the will of the people, the peace agreements with the FARC.

Paloma Valencia has established herself as one of the greatest allies and defenders of the legacy of former President Álvaro Uribe. Her closeness to the former president makes her one of the favorite heirs of his policies, ideas, and principles.

Paola Holguín

Antioquia is one of Colombia’s most important states since Medellín (capital) is home to the country’s business sector. In addition, Antioquia has always had a decisive influence on national politics and (thanks to its inhabitants’ attachment to the work ethic and wealth generation) played a decisive role in preventing Colombia from falling into the hands of the left until this year—when the rest of the country prevailed.

Born in Medellín, Holguín has become one of the political figures with the most political future in the State of Antioquia. However, what makes her a leader in the country is also her impetus and unstoppable energy.

A career journalist, Paola Holguín became an expert in security and defense, which led her to advise Álvaro Uribe when he was president. Then, in 2014, the Democratic Center endorsed her as a candidate for the Senate and, since her triumph, she has been one of the most important and dynamic voices in the Colombian Congress.

Paola Holguín is relentless and this is portrayed in the way she expresses herself. Always dominated by an undaunted passion, she speaks and confronts her adversaries with an honesty that makes her a political phenomenon

Holguín has been a vocal critic of the rapprochement with the FARC and has accused former President Juan Manuel Santos of handing the country over to criminals by negotiating free seats in the Senate in exchange for the supposed appeasement of the guerrilla groups.

Her determination has led her to take the lead against the Mayor of Medellín, who has been accused of corruption and who is a close ally of Gustavo Petro, declaring her commitment to resisting Petro’s socialist agenda.

María Fernanda Cabal

Perhaps the most controversial of the three, when we interviewed María Fernanda Cabal, she told us that the future that awaits the opposition in Colombia is dark. However, she assured that she is willing to assume all the consequences of what it implies.

She is a businesswoman. She graduated in political studies from the Universidad de los Andes and studied history and literature in Spain. In 2006 she assumed the position of Director of International Affairs of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and, in 2014, she started her political career by becoming a representative in the House of Representatives. Then, in 2018 she was elected to the Senate and this year, in 2022, she was re-elected with the highest vote for a woman

Cabal is controversial because she is indomitable and does not submit to the party line, which gives her tremendous courage and independence. Because of her autonomous stance, which has led her to be one of the most prominent critics of Iván Duque’s own government -who also belongs to the Democratic Center-, she has consolidated herself as an absolute political phenomenon.

She is a refined polemicist, and she cleverly appeals to it. Known for her politically incorrect statements, she has established herself as the main representative of the Colombian right wing.

María Fernanda Cabal, a conservative, has gone so far as to say that some of her party’s economic and social ideas are to the left of her. Because of her indomitable nature many speculate that Cabal may leave the Democratic Center, but she has insisted on the importance of continuing to build the party.

By emerging as the main figure of the true Colombian right wing, Cabal has gained ground and accumulated political capital. This consolidates her as one of the three main leaders of the opposition, who will have a gigantic challenge in the coming years.

Today Gustavo Petro has a majority in Congress, thanks to the support of the traditional parties, and it is likely that he will achieve full control over the rest of the institutions. This increases the challenge that Valencia, Holguín and Cabal would face, but it also increases their responsibility, as they are the main figures of the resistance that should prevent the imminent authoritarian development of Petro’s government.

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