Colombia Elections 2022: Fico Gutiérrez and the strategy of betting on a moderate right | International

Federico Gutiérrez, candidate for the presidency of Colombia, poses in front of his image reflected on a screen.
Federico Gutiérrez, candidate for the presidency of Colombia, poses in front of his image reflected on a screen.AFP

Frederick phyco Gutiérrez knows that he does not have to pose next to Álvaro Uribe to get the votes of Uribismo. He knew it since he won the mayoralty of Medellín, in 2015, and received the support of that group without being the official candidate of the former president’s political party, the Democratic Center. This time, in his campaign for the presidency, he also does not need open support from Uribe and his supporters. It is enough for Fico to be the antithesis of Gustavo Petro —the worst fear of the right— to trust that those votes are already his. What he has ahead of him, on the other hand, is to make himself known throughout the country, distort the idea that his presidency will be the continuation of the questionable current government, and continue seeking electorate in the center. Fico grows in the polls, separating him by 11 points from the protagonist of this electoral campaign, Gustavo Petro, and distances himself from the other candidates. His bet now is not to win in the first round, but to reach the second and become the main rival of the leader of the left.

“It is working for Federico Gutiérrez not to be associated with Uribismo. I don’t think he will achieve an image of the center, but of a right without Uribe and that allows him to get support that was not guaranteed, “says analyst Yann Basset, for whom the challenge facing the former mayor of Medellín is to become known in all the country. “He is not a national figure and that is why his campaign is regional. In important places, such as the Caribbean Coast and Bogotá”. The Caribbean is one of the regions most coveted by the candidates, and although Petro is ahead there, Fico has been able to take advantage of the support of the former mayor of Barranquilla, Alex Char, who a few hours after the primaries that gave Gutiérrez the candidacy of the right, made himself available to get votes. Nothing difficult for a man like him, a member of a powerful family that has held power in the region for more than a decade.

Fico also has the backing of David Barguil, of the Conservative party, and a leading figure in his region, including the Caribbean Coast. Both, Char and Barguil, were two of the presidential candidates who disputed with Gutiérrez the official candidacy of the right. After the primaries on March 13, in which Federico Gutiérrez was the winner, they came together to make him Petro’s main rival and thus ensure his passage to the second round.

For Mónica Pachón, doctor in Political Science and professor at the Universidad de los Andes, “the inter-party consultation gave Federico Gutiérrez a great platform for the vote that his coalition achieved.” She was the second most voted [en las primarias del pasado 13 de marzo] and that result made his candidacy visible. “The unification in the discourse of the right around Fico catapulted him, made him the viable candidate against Petro”, he adds. Fico’s growth in the polls has been the most notable in recent weeks. He is second, behind Petro, with 24%. The campaign of the leader of the right has, for the moment, achieved its main objective, which was to leave the other candidates to be the main opponent of the candidate of the left.

“The Team for Colombia [la coalición de derecha] He has been the most sensible with what he is looking for and that is to prevent Petro, whom they see as the worst thing that could happen to this country, from coming to power, and that is why they have come together to position Fico. It is a clearer strategy than that of the center and it works to meet the system’s need to give viability to a candidate who can compete against Gustavo Petro, on whom this campaign revolves,” says Pachón.

Fico has tried to present himself as the antithesis of the left-wing leader with a moderate right-wing discourse, although some of his ideas seem to come from the depths of Uribeism. It supports aerial fumigation with glyphosate, opposes the recent decriminalization of abortion, rejects same-sex couples being able to adopt children, opposes reestablishing relations with Venezuela, and reacts gently to events as delicate as the massacre perpetrated by the Army in the Putumayo. “The Armed Forces have and will continue to have rigorous respect for human rights as their north. They will be essential in strengthening security and the best ally of the community. I ask the authorities to urgently investigate the complaints about what happened in Putumayo,” he wrote on Twitter. He was the last of the three candidates with the most options to rule on the death of 11 civilians at the hands of soldiers. Like him, he was also the last to uncover his letter to the vice presidency, with an election that surprised him and that adds to his desire to want to seem like a moderate candidate.

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Rodrigo Lara Sánchez, a doctor and former mayor of Neiva, a small city in the south of the country, has become an argument that has allowed Fico to present himself as a candidate who does not make political calculations. Lara Sánchez is practically unknown in the country, he has no scandals, he has no ties to power, nor is he tied to any political party. “Federico has been very clever in his strategy, he was right in his vice-presidential election, and he has known how to take advantage of the fact that they are the novelty in the campaign. Despite the fact that there are other candidates with more preparation, such as Sergio Fajardo, Federico’s advantage is that it is the first time that he has launched a national candidacy and he has managed to quickly gain strength”, says Professor Pachón.

The press has helped the former mayor of Medellín to position himself and show a close image. “Fico cut his hair”; “Fico went to mass”; “A woman took a photo with a Fico fence” have been media headlines that help position him as the only candidate who can counterbalance the left. “The establishment needed a viable candidate, given the fear that Petro arouses in them, and with Fico hunger was found with the desire to eat,” says Pachón. Or as he has written columnist Álvaro Forero Tascón in The viewer: “Federico Gutiérrez is the result of a camouflage strategy by Uribe in the face of the new reality that his influence has collapsed due to the end of the FARC and the disappointment of those who believed that Duque was the right president to tackle Petro.” The right now clings to Fico as its only bet to stop the left, which has never held power in Colombia.

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