Progressive movements in Latin America have not hidden their solidarity with the presidential aspiration of Gustavo Petro in Colombia. In the most recent episode, the president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, visiting the United States to attend the Summit of the Americas, referred this Wednesday to the second round on June 19, in which Petro is measured against Rodolfo Hernandez. “You know where our hearts are”, he responded with an undisguised wink to the left-wing candidate when the Colombian press asked him in Los Angeles about the campaign. “Beyond my personal preferences and political affinities that you know, we have a duty to have a state relationship. We are going to respect the decision of the Colombian people”, clarified the Chilean president.
The affinity between Boric and Petro has been manifest and reciprocal for a long time. To the point that the Colombian attended the inauguration of the Chilean president on March 11, despite the fact that the event was scheduled on the eve of the legislative elections where the Historical Pact, the coalition that supports him, obtained the largest bench in the Senate. He also met with several of the ministers from the nascent Cabinet, in stark contrast to the absence of President Iván Duque. At this time, Boric and Petro were seen in the midst of numerous gestures of camaraderie, including photos in which both drew the shape of a heart with their hands. He is not the only president in the region who has expressed his solidarity.
At the beginning of this month, an unusual message from the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, usually cautious in foreign policy matters, provoked the rejection of the Colombian Foreign Ministry, which described it as “disobligant interference.” The Mexican had conveyed his support to Petro in the face of what he considers a campaign to discredit the most conservative sectors. An experience, according to López Obrador himself, that he already suffered before coming to power. “Just for a moment, I’m going to say that I send a hug to Petro,” said the president, making a gesture in which he hugged himself.
That little diplomatic storm had a very similar background. Petro has interspersed his numerous public square events in the long presidential campaign with an international agenda that has led him to also meet, in addition to Boric, with Pope Francis at the Holy See and in Madrid with Pedro Sánchez, the president of the Government of Spain, in addition to two ministers from his cabinet and former President Felipe González. Those interviews, in particular, had already bothered the Duque Executive, which then requested similar treatment for all applicants.
The expectations of a new Latin American progressive axis that includes Colombia, a country that has never had a leftist government, has come up against the emergence of Rodolfo Hernández in the second round. The unpredictable 77-year-old businessman, a politician difficult to classify who maintains a populist and anti-system discourse, began the final stretch with some favoritism, but in the polls the gap has been closed until drawing, on average, a technical tie scenario. This same Wednesday it was known that Petro has surpassed Hernández for the first time in the daily ‘tracking’ carried out by the GAD3 firm for the RCN Channel, with 47.8% of the preferences compared to 47.1%.
Petro explained his proposals the day before in a talk with the director of EL PAÍS, Pepa Bueno, and the journalist Alberto Casas within the framework of the PRISA Thought Festival, which took place in Cartagena. In the conversation, the director of EL PAÍS asked him if his victories this year in Colombia and Lula’s in Brazil would create a new axis together with Boric in the region. “Undoubtedly. A Latin America that values knowledge, culture and agriculture”, responded the candidate for the Historical Pact.
They also asked him if he would have gone to the Summit of the Americas if he had been president. “Yes, he would have gone to talk to [Joe] Biden head-on,” he answered, since he would like to discuss with the US president issues such as the climate crisis and the change in anti-drug policy. Boric decided to attend the Los Angeles summit unlike other leaders in the region, such as López Obrador himself, who have preferred to be absent due to their disagreement with the exclusion that the White House has imposed on Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.
Hernández declined the invitation at the last minute to attend and explain his proposals at the Cartagena Thought Festival. The former mayor of Bucaramanga has flatly refused to participate in any debate with Petro in the final stretch to concentrate his campaign on closed meetings with businessmen and live connections on Facebook. However, he announced this week an unusual visit to South Florida where he will meet with Colombian community leaders and businessmen.
Until now, Hernández has made virtually no foreign policy proposals, except for the controversial promise to reduce diplomatic missions as an austerity measure. Experts have lambasted that idea. “Closing 27 embassies in his first decree shows little interest in understanding the importance of the country’s presence in the world,” he criticized him in a column Former Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín. “It is tremendously inconvenient (…) It is a project that is based on a deception, it loses sight of the fact that the Foreign Ministry has a minimum percentage of 0.1% of the national budget for its operation,” internationalist Sandra Borda told EL PAÍS, that he distanced himself from the decision of his party, the New Liberalism, to support him. The international ostracism that Hernández has shown for the moment contrasts with the hearts and hugs that are sent to Petro.
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