Colombia: The Friends and Enemies of Petro

Gustavo Bolívar, Orinoco Tribune,  June 11, 2023 —

Gustavo Petro is paying the price for coming to power without the permission of the six owners of the country and without the endorsement of any of the eight presidential families.

This fact, which today is taking its toll on him, gave him the necessary independence to develop reforms that, precisely, bother the former and mortify the latter. The former because they see their economic interests threatened in some strategic sectors which are the object of these reforms, and the latter because an alternative government capable of changing Colombia would expose the dissatisfactory past administrations headed by traditional politicians and parties, leaving them with no possibility of returning to power soon. That is why they are so vicious in criticizing every comma of Petro’s speech; that is why they are so petty in recognizing that, despite the mistakes that the current government may make, Petro is heading a constructive government.

Even so, Gustavo Petro’s enemies are few, while his friends number in millions. However, the power of those few is so great that they overwhelm the communicative efficiency of the millions.

Let us first talk about the enemies.

Firstly, there are the opponents of Petro’s government. Among them are everyone: Uribistas, Vargas Lleristas, tragicomedians, conservatives who until two months ago were “Petristas,” liberals who voted for Duque, galanistas who voted for Rodolfo who is today sanctioned for corruption, mourners, opportunists, people who want to become famous by checking the pages of Colombia Compra Eficiente [National Agency of Public Contracts] every second, those who want to jump into electoral life, and even supposed allies who disguise themselves as worthy when it suits them or when their funders ask them to torpedo some project or another.

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for democracy, there are no serious or meaningful opponents because all of them, in chorus, have become trivialized. From those who criticize Petro because he asks for a chicken broth and an air conditioner in the municipality of Sucre where temperature does not drop below 36⁰C, to those who worry because the president’s wife moves her hips every time she hears a drum, to those who count the tweets he posts or does not post in a day. There are also the fascists who insist on labeling Petro as a communist when he has never been one, or those who insist on calling him a guerrilla when our president today is a former guerrilla, who made peace more than 30 years ago.

There are also those who keep track of the gasoline expended by the vice president in her travels, something they never did with previous vice presidents, and the senator who asks her not to travel by plane because it contradicts her fight against climate change. Fortunately for them, we have brought upon ourselves media scandals such as the purchase of feather bedspreads, the case of Nicolás, the internal disputes between Laura and Armando, and several mistakes have been committed. Had it not been for this, they would have no objective input to criticize. What they do succeed in is the creation of fantastical stories that are then reproduced by sectors of the press that belong to some ideological and/or political grouping.

But the most shameful opposition is the one made by the eight presidential families that led the country to chaos, those of the four former presidents and four grandchildren of former presidents. It is most laughable. Ex-Presidents Gaviria, Pastrana, Uribe, and Duque do not stop criticizing everything that President Petro does. In chorus, they disqualify his reforms, his tweets, his trips, his speeches, and blame him for everything bad that happens in the country. They criticize Petro for failing to stop in a few months the violence that they created themselves and were not able to stop in decades. They criticize that the structural poverty and hunger that they created in the country have not been eliminated in a few months. They criticize the corruption that they could not repress in their own governments.

I do not know if they have Alzheimer’s or if they are overcome by cynicism, but they forget that between the four of them, they governed Colombia for 20 years, and that it was precisely them who gave us a country taken over by drug trafficking, guerrillas, and paramilitaries, a country with the highest rate of corruption in the world, a country whose agriculture and industry are ruined due to their neoliberal practices, a country with one of the biggest wealth inequalities in the world.

With what authority do these characters criticize anything?

Do they have no shame, that they criticize a president who is risking his life to change the country filled with hunger and misery that we have inherited from them?

It is absurd to validate the comments of these abhorrent ex-presidents. They should be asked whenever they try to teach us: Oh yes, and why didn’t you do that when you were president?

Not far behind the four former presidents are the successors, representatives of four other presidential families who criticize Petro even for what he does not say. The grandson of Carlos Lleras, who was once vice president; the grandson of Turbay Ayala who lies without blushing; the granddaughter of Guillermo Leon Valencia who wanted to divide Cauca between lords and slaves; and the grandson of Laureano Gómez, the most trivial of all, a man who calls terrorist anyone who does not think like him, a man who does not make a single serious comment. Four characters raised in a cradle of gold, who have lived off the State starting from when they were in their mothers’ wombs, and who now oppose that the wretched of this nation may have rights to land, to decent healthcare, to a decent job or a pension that their grandparents could not or would not give them.

In short, the members of eight presidential families who ruled Colombia for decades and who led the country to hunger, the depredation of our natural resources, the concentration of fertile land in few hands, the violation of human rights, perpetual war and corruption as a culture, are the main opponents, together with their parties, of the first president elected without their permission. It is not that permission is needed, it is that they believe they own the country, the truth, the lies, the media, the parties, and the entire narcissistic and corrupt establishment that privatized the country’s wealth.

There are also the ex-military who call for the overthrow of the president, to remove him via coup. Many of them were indoctrinated with hatred against the left and still have the idea of the internal enemy in their heads, so their rage is understandable. But there are also those who, by giving or carrying out orders, were complicit in the role of the State in the false positives and the extermination of the Patriotic Union [Petro’s former political party], to cite just two examples for which the Colombian State has already been condemned. Paradoxically, never before has a president been as concerned about them as Gustavo Petro is. At the end of his government, the reservists of the Armed Forces will find out that their living conditions have improved enormously due to the housing, education, and pension improvement programs of this leftist government.

There are other silent enemies, double-faced, even entrenched in power, but we will discuss that later.

Now let us talk about friends.

Petro has millions of friends. Millions of Colombians who love what he does and who are willing to defend his ideal of social justice, total peace, care for our natural resources, and transparent administration of public resources. However, and although in proportion we are 10,000 to one, we do not have the power to amplify the messages through the mass media, which the few do have. This means that their poisoned messages spread like wildfire and build false narratives that can turn even the people who have benefited from the reforms against the government.

In spite of being millions, we are losing the media and publicity battle. Admittedly, they are more efficient with lies than we are with truths. Besides, loyal friends are not around. Some are in Congress, others are in embassies, and some in official positions. This caused Petro’s close circle to be filled with newcomers to the process, people alien to the progressive cause. Professional politicians who today, at convenience, are on the left, and tomorrow, without shame, may switch to the right. Some of these people have dubious reputations, while others are there for reasons that have nothing to do with their principles. The best example of what I have just said is Armando Benedetti, who gave the infamous interview that appeared in Cambio magazine. The former ambassador says, more or less, that Laura Sarabia [Petro’s former chief of staff] is a cadre of his political company, and that if he had supported Rodolfo instead of Petro, she would not be working with Petro but with Rodolfo. Regardless of how efficient and loyal Laura was to Petro, which was confirmed by the president’s family itself, this is a very raw and very real reflection at the same time. It makes clear what President Petro’s closest circle was made of: a Lizcano who voted for Uribe and for Duque, a Peñalosista Prada, a Roy who went through Uribe’s, Santos’, and Petro’s parties, a Benedetti who has had a similar trajectory. Today, due to different circumstances, none of them are in his close circle, and the president is beginning to pay the high price of having associated himself with them.

But valuable time was lost. During the months that the close circle of power was co-opted by these people, none of President Petro’s fellow fighters were around to watch his back, and this was noticeable in the recent power crisis that resulted in the departure of Benedetti and Sarabia. Petro seems to have grasped this some time ago. He made it clear by appointing Carlos Ramón González, former director of the Green Party and a friend of his since his youth, as the head of the Administrative Department of the Presidency of Colombia. It is expected that Laura Sarabia’s replacement will have the same characteristics. Petro needs someone who knows him, who has principles, who is capable of contradicting him, who is capable of sacrifices in order to protect him.

What is paradoxical is that the results of good governance are beginning to be seen. Or only those of us whose want to see change are beginning to see change. The opposition, the ex-military, the eight presidential families, some so-called allies, the politicized sector of the press, and the petty sector of politics are not interested in seeing and even less in disseminating the macroeconomic figures that would begin to dispel the doubts that they themselves spread in the campaign about Petro’s inability to keep afloat a country that we received with eight points of fiscal deficit, double-digit unemployment, seven million people in extreme poverty, an inflation rate of 10.8%, several armed conflicts in full swing, and many contracting mafias entrenched in the State.

The silence has been brutal. Nobody expected 3% growth in the last quarter. It placed us in fifth place among the fastest growing OECD nations. Foreign investment continues to pour in and that explains, in part, the stability of the exchange rate with the dollar, which after a period of high volatility, is now under control and at the levels at which we received it on August 7, 2022. Inflation is starting to ease with the subsidy for agrochemicals and Petro’s masterful move to get a supermarket chain in Portugal to lower the prices of hundreds of products, which produced a chain reaction with other supermarkets, which today is benefiting millions of consumers. Deforestation is slowing down, agriculture is showing signs of reactivation, the fiscal deficit is decreasing, tax collection is increasing, a sign that companies and individuals continue to produce—all this in the midst of symptoms of global recession.

Although perception goes in the opposite direction compared to the results, violent crimes have decreased by 8%. There were no expropriations either, nor did we “become Venezuela,” and neither are we governing with guerrillas in the Casa de Nariño as everyone was shouting from the rooftops. On the contrary, the guerrillas are not behaving as they did at the height of their power. They continue to hinder peace, they continue to act clumsily, trying to make themselves heard by force and without need, because this government from day one opened the doors to dialogue.

In conclusion, if the government’s publicity is improved, a giant mole of the administration, soon the country will know that we are on the right track and that the country will become better than before. The worrying thing is that the mid-term elections are just around the corner, and we need the country to know this good news so that the atmosphere of pessimism disappears. Only a professional team of strategists and publicists can achieve this.

The National Development Plan has already set the course for new mayors and governors, hopefully many of them from the Historic Pact, to start the change in the territories hand in hand with the national government.

The biggest mole is in the Congress. The government coalition did not work there. There are powers greater than that of the president, and these powers called to order the traditional parties that have always eaten out of their hand. Not having obtained the majorities in Congress (55/86), the daily grind is figuring out how to obtain votes to pass bills. Due to the lack of time and of majorities, it is very likely that in the few days left of this legislative semester, the government’s reforms will not be approved.

Let us make an analysis of what President Petro has and what he can do. The sabotage against the Health Reform in Congress is imminent, but there are things that do not require reform, such as preventive healthcare. Let us put together 5,000 teams of doctors, psychologists, and nurses to start touring the territory, as was done so successfully in Bogotá Humana.

The people have the wisdom to recognize the traitors to the social cause, and they will understand that President Petro, his ministers, and his party’s legislative bloc have made the best efforts to bring welfare to the forgotten territories. What we cannot do is to continue giving in to blackmail and handing over the State and slowing down the definitive start of the government with the pretext of not approving the Reforms.

Let us put the government back together. Let those loyal to the cause stay, and let us make the best government in history.

In view of the terrible misinformation that generates an atmosphere of pessimism in a country that needs joy to overcome so many problems, we recommend to the uninformed and the manipulated that if they do not want to believe us, they should believe the numbers. The numbers do not lie. Colombia is doing very well.

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