Gustavo Petro, the former guerrilla called to change

It's now or never.

24 June 2022 Friday 12:14
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Gustavo Petro, the former guerrilla called to change

It's now or never. Gustavo Petro is running for the presidency of Colombia for the third time, and for the second time he reaches the second round. But he assures that this is his last attempt. A veteran of Colombian politics, a former guerrilla fighter, former mayor of Bogotá and now a senator, at 62 he prefers to be called a "revolutionary" rather than a "guerrilla" and, more recently, a "progressive" rather than a "leftist."

Like his surprising opponent, the independent Rodoflo Hernández, he is running with the promise of breaking with the elites that have dominated the country. "After so many years of a system managed by the same people and not working for the majority, change is the aspiration and struggle of all of Colombia," underlines the leader of the coalition of the Historical Pact. He repeats it over and over again, his intention is to change the course of "200 years of history".

Aware that it frightens conservatives, businessmen, large landowners and the military, who evoke the bogeyman of "communism" or the example of neighboring "Bolivarian socialist" Venezuela, in this campaign he has left behind some of his revolutionary ideals and those of his fellow He has surrounded himself with more pragmatic profiles, from evangelical pastors to former Uribe senators, and has chosen African-American lawyer and activist Francia Márquez as his candidacy partner, who has collected discontent from the streets and who attracts women, young people and many Pacific voters, where he comes from.

Born in 1960 in Ciénaga de Oro, in the Caribbean department of Córdoba, he grew up and studied in the interior of the country, in Zipaquirá, an Andean town near Bogotá. He is the eldest of three brothers, from a middle-class family, with a father from the coast and a mother from the interior. He began his militancy at the La Salle de Zipaquirá school, the same one where he studied his admired Gabriel García Márquez, reading Marxist intellectuals. In 1978, at the age of 18, he joined the M-19 guerrillas, where he mainly did urban liaison work and not so much armed struggle, until he was disarmed in 1990. His clandestine name was "Aureliano", like the mythical character from 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'.

According to his companions in the urban guerrilla, he was a "mediocre" combatant. In his recent memoir, 'One life, many lives', he himself admits that he never felt "a military vocation (...) what he wanted to do was the revolution". In 1985 he was captured and imprisoned for a year and a half, during which time he suffered torture.

Despite being a burden to connect with more moderate sectors of society in a pre-eminently conservative country and an easy target for attacks by his opponents, more so than those years, his time as a parliamentarian in the House of Representatives and in the Senate may be the one that best defines. He is usually considered "one of the most brilliant congressmen Colombia has ever had" and gained popularity in the early 2000s for his denunciations of the links between politicians and paramilitaries, also becoming a headache for his nemesis, former president Álvaro Uribe, and getting several people prosecuted.

The first death threat he received, of the many that would come later and that have made him one of the politicians with one of the strongest security devices in the country, was in 1994 and forced him into exile in Belgium for three years, time he spent graduating with a specialty in the Environment from the University of Leuven.

In 2011 he was elected mayor of Bogotá and remained in office until 2015, leaving behind a memory of an authoritarian man and a mediocre manager. Those who worked with him say that he is not easy to deal with and that he makes the decisions alone. A character that caused numerous resignations and the change of more than fifty senior managers in the four years of his management. One of his advisers at the time, Daniel García-Peña, criticized his "despotism" and his "difficulty working as a team," while acknowledging his knowledge of the country. Others accuse him of a form of messianism, of believing himself to be one and having an excessive ego.

A Catholic influenced by Liberation Theology, he is the only candidate in these elections who has met with Pope Francis. He is married and has six children from various women. In a recent interview, her daughter Sofia was pleased to consider her father "a man in deconstruction, a great victory for feminism."



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