| 23 February 2024, Friday |

Colombia candidate Petro says ‘human’ campaign will carry him to victory

Gustavo Petro, a leftist Colombian presidential contender, claimed on Friday that he will win a tight June 19 election against construction mogul Rodolfo Hernandez by exposing his human side and inviting his opponents to discussion once elected.

Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla and current senator, and Hernandez, an ex-mayor who unexpectedly made it to the second round on anti-corruption promises, are tied in the polls ahead of the vote to succeed President Ivan Duque, who is not eligible to run again.

Petro has promised a battery of social programs for the deeply polarized country, where violence from a six-decade conflict is ongoing and nearly 50% of people live in some form of poverty.

“Once I’m inaugurated I would immediately invite (my opponents) to talk and establish a channel to firm up the democratic reforms that Colombia needs not to break down,” Petro told Reuters at his apartment in Bogota. “If I’m elected the new atmosphere will be one with rhetoric that builds peace, not hate.”

Petro said his campaign has shifted its strategy away from large rallies, where bodyguards protected him onstage with anti-ballistic shields, toward more personal visits at people’s homes, where he sometimes spends the night.

“We had to practically have armor plating, which caused a margin of separation from the people,” he said. “It’s not my taste, so we changed the strategy for one that is safer, but also more human.”

Both Petro and Hernandez have said their lives have been threatened during the campaign, with Hernandez saying on Thursday he will appear only virtually at events.

Support for Hernandez, who first gained fame for whimsical TikTok videos, is trending downward, said Petro, who cited recent surveys he said show him gaining.

“It’s as if an electorate which didn’t know him voted for him because of some simple images on social media and is now beginning to know him and regret it,” Petro said. “Rodolfo doesn’t campaign, he stays at home in his pajamas.”

Petro said he hopes the national registry – which he has roundly criticized for vote-counting problems during congressional elections – will ensure the count is fair.

“But if we have evidence of fraud we will have to tell the country.”

Petro said his first priority in office will be to fight hunger, especially among young children.

Then he wants to bolster agriculture, tourism and production of legal cannabis so that Colombia can begin to replace income from top exports oil and coal.

“In the medium term what we propose is nutritional sovereignty, energy sovereignty with clean energy, a process to disconnect from what I call the fossil economy, coal and oil, and connect with agriculture and industrialization,” he said.

He will respect already-signed contracts for oil and mining, including for exploration, he said, but will not sign new ones. His promises have rattled many in the energy industry, as well as some investors.

Petro said fully implementing a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels will “partially deactivate” groups of still-armed former fighters, and that he plans to quickly mount negotiations with active ELN rebels.

He said his administration would rebuild diplomatic relations with Venezuela, especially to take advantage of potential new oil income for the neighboring country, which would create a market for Colombian exports.

Troubles in Venezuela and an exodus of its migrants to Colombia have given his opponents, who regularly compare him to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, a rhetorical advantage, Petro said.

“If that didn’t exist we’d have won a long time ago.”

  • Reuters