The former M-19 terrorist Gustavo Petro and businessman Rodolfo Hernández —whose ideology is difficult to define— were the most voted candidates in the Colombian presidential elections. The divisive and decisive runoff is next Sunday, 19.
Petro, the candidate of Pacto Histórico, narrowly surpassed 40% of the electorate. Hernández, of Liga de Gobernantes, reached 29%. Nicknamed “Rodolfito, the engineer”, the latter claims to be independent, although until 2015 he was a member of the Liberal Party. Once the result was confirmed, Hernández thanked the immediate support of “Fico” Gutiérrez, who unexpectedly got only 24%, but rejected any alliance. “I receive the votes, but I don’t change my speech”. He thus dissociated himself from the accusation that defined him as a candidate of the “right.”
However, the terms “right” and “left” mean little or nothing on this occasion. The real ideological division is between those who defend democratic freedom and totalitarians.
“I am a Colombian like you —said Herández— a working person who has generated his own fortune; and this gives me the freedom to say what I want.” In the final stretch, Hernández surprised everyone with a remarkable growth. His banner is the fight against corruption and the promotion of austerity.
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An atypical candidate
Hernández is a civil engineer. In 1971, he developed housing projects and then founded his construction company, HG. Finally, he became interested in regional urban development projects, specifically in Bucaramanga. His campaign emphasizes the image of a successful businessman, who can transform Colombia. He supports the end of compulsory military service and peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.
In addition to the economic challenges, the next president will have to face a complex security and corruption situation. The fight against poverty was set back a decade by the pandemic. According to the Red Cross, Colombia has met the highest level of violence in the last five years. Although the peace agreement with the FARC was implemented, the territories and drug trafficking routes controlled by the guerrillas are now in dispute between the ELN and the Clan del Golfo.
“Rodolfito” is not free of controversy. He has a direct and sometimes aggressive style. When he was mayor of Bucaramanga, he was suspended for hitting a councilman. Some of his opinions are sexist, and his education does not seem too solid. The candidate affirmed that the accusations are unfounded, maneuvers of opponents.
Hernández recognizes that both he and Petro were elected for representing a change, but questions the left. “Each one has his vision of change,” he said. “Change doesn’t mean choosing Benedetti, Roy Barreras, and Piedad Córdoba,” he stressed. The latter, a Petrista senator, was recently detained at the airport of Honduras trying to fly with US$ 68,000 hidden in her hat.
“Today they lost the sheaves that thought they would be government forever,” declared Hernández, upon confirming his passage to the second round. For months, he increased his messages on TikTok, instead of touring. He managed to tune in with the people with clear proposals, in particular, to liquidate corruption, the most important problem for Colombians. Hernández was coherent with his message and, in the end, he made a strong impression. He also managed to distance himself from the traditional political class through a discourse against the elites and the party apparatus. Óscar Jair, his campaign manager, stated that now the strategy has changed, as he must personally travel the country and talk to the people.
The logical fear of Petro
The end of the campaign was influenced by citizens who saw “Fico” with lesser possibilities of beating Petro in the second round. Although it is not an automatic fact, the greater closeness between the candidates opposed to Petro favors the engineer’s objective. Hernández is trying to reach 12 million votes, which would be a resounding victory. Nonetheless, in two weeks, many things can happen and the citizen’s decision is personal.
Colombia is a country that seeks a change towards social policies and honesty, and simultaneously fears the tragic Chavista model.
On the one hand, Petro has been scrutinized and everything is known about him. On the other hand, Hernández is a practical stranger. In this short time, he must be seen as a serious option for change. It is difficult to define Hernández’s political stance as conservative. He defends strong reforms, and if one analyzes the programs, there are several coincidences between the two. Regardless of the outcome, the next president will have to face a fragmented congress, forcing him to negotiate in order to be able to implement his proposals.
Petro has spent the entire campaign trying to distance himself from his own trajectory. He is now neither a communist nor a Chavista and rejects violence. He opposes expropriations and introduces himself as a social democrat in the style of Chile’s Michelle Bachelet. But Petro is not credible. In his campaign, he said he would return to Bogotá, the reddest city in America; and it is not because he wants to paint it that color.
The problem of this senator, recognized for his ability, is the fear that his real objective is to establish a dictatorship similar to Cuba or Venezuela. And this risk, for a nation that sees so closely the Chavista tragedy, is an insurmountable barrier.