The environment still retains an air of startup. “We know what we tell and we tell what we know”, reads the first motto of the decalogue written on the wall that welcomes visitors to the empty chair, the reference digital medium in Colombia for information on politics, a word that is repeated all over the place. On a small terrace, one of its editors meets for zoom to produce the next morning’s episode of the podcast scrambled eggs with politics. On a table in a waiting room is The sweet power, this is how politics works in Colombiathe first of several books published under the seal of The chair. Juanita León, its director and founder, has just launched The presidential (Aguilar), which brings together long-term profiles of the candidates who aspire to reach the House of Nariño this year.
“During the thirteen years of existence of the empty chair We have covered four presidential campaigns, including that of 2022″, writes León (Bogotá, 52 years old) in the prologue of the book, the result of years of reporting and signed by several hands. “By far, what has helped us the most to predict what the winners’ presidency will be like has been their profiles as candidates,” he maintains. In a campaign that is running at full steam, the leftist Gustavo Petro is the favorite in all the polls in the first round on May 29, followed by Federico Gutiérrez, who is trying to regroup the right, and Sergio Fajardo, the candidate for the weakened political center.
Ask. You argue that, although it seems that many things happen in Colombia, in reality almost everything that happens is mere episodes of a few great stories. What are those stories today?
Answer. Right now, history is these elections. One could see it as one more chapter in the struggle that has always existed in Colombia between conservatism and liberalism, or between the right and the left, between the fear of communism and the fear of the fascist dictatorship. This campaign, which is really about Petro, not even about change and continuity, is part of that story that has been reissued under different figures, different faces, for years. There are always those two fears that have been exploited on many occasions throughout the history of Colombia.
P. Could these elections mark the end of Uribismo as the dominant force in Colombian politics?
R. One peculiarity of this campaign is that the right-wing coalition does not revolve around Álvaro Uribe. Obviously, Uribe supports Fico Gutiérrez, but he is not the axis around which that coalition is gravitating. [Equipo por Colombia]. It is a big change in the recent political history of Colombia. Clearly, in this campaign, Uribe is not the protagonist; In fact, he almost has to hide so as not to stir up anti-Uribeism and help Petro with that.
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P. What lessons have been left by the legislative elections and the consultations?
R. The most obvious is that the country has moved to the left. Colombia, I think that due to the armed conflict, had kept a little away from that pendulum that has normally characterized Latin America. With the demobilization of the FARC we became a more normal Latin American country and we have entered into that dynamic. That is the most relevant.
P. the empty chair has made a series about the emotions that move in this electoral campaign. Which are?
R. There is a very clear one in the people who are going to vote for Petro, which is to want to end him status quo, not wanting four more years of anything resembling what it has been, wanting a change, even if that change involves a leap into the void. It’s a super strong feeling. On the side of many of those who are going to vote for Fico Gutiérrez, it is a feeling of having no idea who Fico is, or what he thinks, but the only thing that seems clear to them is that he can beat Petro. And there is an emotion in the center that is almost a resignation, to vote for Fajardo, even if he is going to lose, for not agreeing with the extremes.
P. the profile of The presidential He says that working with Petro is not easy, although he is very calm even in tense situations. What is your defining trait?
R. What is a revolutionary? Petro defines himself as a revolutionary several times in his own book [Una vida, muchas vidas, Planeta]. He has attempted several unfinished revolutions, since Bolívar 83, the neighborhood he created when he was very young in Zipaquirá. After he was captured he never went back. He contrasts a bit with what he has done on the campaign trail, but in his book Petro tends to reject any compromise, any agreement or any piecemeal reform. He really believes in revolution in that sense, in a change in power relations. When he governed Bogotá he was betting on some very fundamental changes; he couldn’t do most of them, but he tried them all.
P. How much of your time in the M-19 is there in today’s Petro?
R. There is a very strong idea, that of the “national sancocho”, which I feel that Petro tries to recover in the Historical Pact. The M-19 always spoke of a great pact between the elite and other powerful groups. What happens is that at the same time, as there are many people behind him who have great resentments and more sectarian ideas –and Petro also expresses them sometimes–, there is an ambivalence in the speech that makes it difficult to think that it is a sufficiently inclusive pact. .
P. The negative image of Petro is less than four years ago. What has been the key to soften it?
R. It seems to me that many people chose Iván Duque under the assumption that he was going to take us away from [la idea de convertirse en] Venezuela. And what has happened in these four years is that this promise has not been fulfilled. There is no sense of greater institutional strength, that threat has become less credible. On the other hand, Petro has run a very different campaign from 2018 in the sense of being much more open, more open to dialogue, trying to get closer to the center. I fear that with the nomination of Francia Márquez, those bridges that he was weaving are beginning to break.
P. Many already point to the polarization between Petro and Federico Gutiérrez. Isn’t it precipitating a second round scenario that is still distant?
R. Both the right and the left should begin to say that this is already between Petro and Fico, and that the useful vote has to come into action. Fico needs to make us all believe that the center is no more, and so is Petro. Now, there are reasons to think that the center does not have great possibilities because Fico tripled Fajardo, Petro multiplied him by five [en sus respectivas consultas]. There is a basis for saying that, not that they take it out of the hat, but so far the first round campaign begins. In almost two months there are many things that can change.
P. What is the trait that best defines Fico Gutiérrez?
R. His extreme charisma. He has been a charismatic guy, in high school and in college. But he also has another trait that does not play in his favor, and that is that he is a person who has a very superficial education. He was a bad student, in a not very good university, he had not finished graduating when he had already started campaigning for councilman. He was a fairly prominent councilman, there he became mayor of Medellín and now he aspires to the presidency. He doesn’t have a very solid background and his life experience is very local. He has lived abroad for a few months, he does not speak English. His central characteristics are a great charisma, a great ability to connect with people and a somewhat superficial intellectual formation.
P. It is a contrast with Sergio Fajardo.
R. Fajardo has much more experience, he has been mayor of Medellín, governor of Antioquia, he has had a longer life, with more triumphs and defeats than Fico. Life has put him to the test. In Fajardo, the most characteristic feature is that he is a mathematician, and he approaches life as a mathematician. Many times it seems to me that Fajardo, more than politics, what he does is prove a thesis that he has in his head, like an equation. And that makes it so hard for him to alter the sequences of what he sets out to do, it takes away a bit of flexibility to adjust. The equation that he wants to solve is that diagnosis that he has that the real problem in Colombia is political corruption, and until that changes, nothing else is going to change.
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