Thursday, July 7

This is how the political center in Colombia failed

The latest incident within the Hope Center Coalition speaks for itself. The campaign’s program manager, Alejandro Gaviria, said in an interview for the Financial Timess: “We are sleeping on the tip of a volcano (…) There is a lot of dissatisfaction. It would be better to have a controlled explosion with Petro than to bottle up the volcano.”

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Even today, few understand why the person in charge of safeguarding the ideological body of the moderate coalition was openly patting the leader of the left on the back. The hypotheses that circulated on the networks included a catalog of grievances against the former Minister of Health. But it was, ultimately, another installment in a saga conditioned by internal intrigues, false moves and clashing egos.

Political expressions that serve as a mirror to understand the suffocating fourth place that candidate Sergio Fajardo occupies in the polls, with a frayed 4% of citizen support, ahead of the presidential elections this Sunday.

To the errors of the campaign we must add the lack of marriage between Fajardo’s calm temperament and an electorate engaged for years in somewhat harsh debates, which do not admit positions without nuances. And it is that the speech of this mathematician and former mayor of Medellín not only has not caught on, but is also a constant target of ridicule.

It is described as a “lukewarm” that, for broad academic and urban circles, meant a “responsible transition” towards a government capable of appeasing the tension and, at the same time, beginning to cut the roots of corruption. Laura Gil, a Colombian-Argentine political analyst, told that citizens interpreted Fajardo’s proposal as an extension of continuity. “The electorate wants disruptive change,” she says.

Success in Medellin

The decline has overshadowed his good performance as mayor of Medellín (2012-2016), a management described as a positive turning point for a city devastated by the violent years of Pablo Escobar. Although there are few coincidences in his approach to politics, an article in the British weekly The Economist drew attention to the fact that this year there were two former mayors of Medellín in the race: Fajardo and the conservative “Fico” Gutiérrez.

The article, entitled ‘Medellín is an example of what Colombia could be’, recalled that the continuity of a battery of social policies promoted by the two mayors had led to the flourishing of Colombia’s second city. For the political scientist Andrés Dávila, however, Fajardo’s solitude in this race can only be attributed to his political myopia: “Writers like Héctor Abad or Juan Gabriel Vásquez dedicated themselves to repeating in the press that they had to be central. But I believe that beyond leaning on hollow moralism, Fajardo has been a politician incapable of reading the timing of the campaign with any logic, incapable of negotiating and incapable of making clear decisions.”

Public opinion has also not forgiven him for the gesture of having gone to see whales on the beaches of the Colombian Pacific in 2018, when the second round of the elections won by today’s president Iván Duque was held. Fajardo had been out of the competition in the first round and many followers interpreted his ecotourism withdrawal as a disloyal abandonment.

This is how the centrist electorate, outraged by corruption and eager for the country’s institutional recovery, has become accustomed to storms and historical errors. It is not superfluous to remember the events of June 2010, when the former mayor of Bogotá Antanas Mockus advanced galloping in the polls for the presidential elections that year. His opponent was Álvaro Uribe’s former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who defeated him at the polls.

Today, just like a decade ago, analysts and intellectuals continue to appeal to the argument that the country is not prepared for a program that articulates obvious efforts in education, science and the economy. “People on the street literally say ‘it’s just that Fajardo doesn’t excite me.’ Why? Because it is a campaign that does not enter into the game of offenses or exaggerations and the voter in Colombia today is not up for that kind of thing”, says Juan Fernando Giraldo, analyst and consultant.

Betancourt’s failure

Neither did Franco-Colombian politician Íngrid Betancourt, 61, do well. Betancourt, who spent six years kidnapped by the defunct FARC Marxist guerrillas, initially came on board as a promising candidate. Soon after, she ended up attacking her own militants, whom she questioned for supposedly lending themselves to alliances with corrupt chiefs.

The candidate decided to leave the coalition and lurch in the debates with statements that denoted a certain disconnection with a country in which she has not lived for 12 years. The latest news is that she has joined the independent Rodolfo Hernández, a 77-year-old engineer, a sort of Colombian-style Trump, an open admirer of Nazism, an opponent of the peace process with the guerrillas, and that has skyrocketed in the polls released in recent dayseven going so far as to challenge the right-winger Fico Gutiérrez for second place.

Fajardo, for his part, faces his second and probably last electoral act with greatly diminished energy. It is not unreasonable to predict that it could also be the decline of the ‘Mockusian’ current, where the mathematician who always wears cowboys was trained. For now, the sociologist Eduardo Pizarro says that the ideological steamroller at both ends of the political arc has been in charge of liquidating the only axis called to dismantle the ideological brawls and seek realistic agreements.

“Colombia is not ready”, says the academic, “for a government capable of building consensus, capable of opening channels for dialogue. In Latin America no country is, except perhaps Uruguay or Costa Rica”.