Two men who feel a deep mutual animosity shook hands on Thursday. The outgoing president Iván Duque received in the Casa de Nariño, the residence in which the highest Colombian leaders live, who will be his heir in a month and a half, Gustavo Petro Urrego. They cannot have more different trajectories. Duque came to power after defeating Petro in 2018, driven by the conservative tide that voted no to peace with the FARC. His opponent vehemently defended the demobilization of the guerrillas. There arose a lasting enmity. Since then one was the president and the other the main opponent. During this time, Duque saw his popularity decline, especially after last year’s social outburst due to a failed tax reform. The figure of Petro was enlarged, to the point of now becoming the first left-wing ruler. The government party and the right tried to stop him with all kinds of candidates and more or less explicit support, but destiny was written: Duque would end up shaking hands with Petro on a day like today.
The meeting had the pageantry of historic occasions. The Presidency of the Republic released some photographs in which the two leaders appear in a Versailles hall, sitting on chairs varnished in gold. To one side, two marble busts of Simón Bolívar and General Santander, heroes of independence. Duque believes that he has an important place reserved for him in the history of Colombia, which will value his role once time cushions the emotional factor. Petro arrives with the idea of honoring the memory of other leftists assassinated in their attempt to come to power, such as Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, his mother’s favorite speaker, and incidentally become a perpetual president in the manner of Álvaro Uribe or Juan Manuel. Saints. One wore a black suit and a red tie. Petro, a striped shirt without a tie, a jacket and jeans. True to his custom, Petro arrived late. That didn’t seem to cloud the mood. They both looked relaxed in the photo and even smiling.
Although one more than another. Introverted, his usual serious countenance, Petro made a happy face as he climbed the carpeted stairs of the palace. He had just picked up the document at the national registry that certifies him as the new president-elect, in an act that took too long. Not a bad excuse to be late getting to the next event, certainly better than traffic or rain in Bogotá. The presidents chatted for an hour and twenty minutes. At first they were alone and later they were joined by Duque’s chief of staff, María Paula Correa; the Minister of Finance, José Manuel Restrepo; and the director of the Administrative Department of the Presidency, Víctor Muñoz. At that time, they explained to Petro the role of the transparency portal and the process of handover in the 23 government agencies. Those chosen by both teams to complete the transition will begin work this Friday.
The person in charge of finances showed the president-elect the accounts of the country. “The Colombian macroeconomic reality,” the minister explained afterwards. They should not be buoyant, according to financial analysts. The State has a very important fiscal deficit that Duque tried to balance with a tax reform last year, in the middle of the pandemic. There was a general consensus that taxes had to be raised to sustain social spending. However, there is also a majority opinion that it was not the time or the type of adjustment necessary. People took to the streets to protest. The minister who proposed the reform was struck down. The protests led to clashes with the police, who used excessive use of force.
The country was paralyzed for weeks, in which many lives were lost. Uribe, Duque’s mentor, was critical of the management of the crisis. The protests revealed a deep dissatisfaction of the people with the current political and economic model, which seemed exhausted. The barricades of cities like Cali were filled with young people without jobs or studies who did not care about dying. They felt like orphans of the state. In the atmosphere floated the need to find a new way to face reality. This is how it has been reflected now at the polls, a year later. Fico Gutiérrez, the candidate of Duque’s continuity, with the classic look, fell by the wayside despite having a millionaire investment in the campaign. Instead, voters chose to face in the second round two political phenomena that represented a change, Petro and real estate businessman Rodolfo Hernández.
Duque, one of the youngest aldermen the country has had, will make way for a 62-year-old man, 17 years older than him. Duque is the son of a former governor of Antioquia and a former minister. He himself was a senator and worked as a representative of Colombia before the Inter-American Development Bank. He has a master’s degree from Georgetown. In Wikipedia he also highlights that he is a writer. Petro’s father was a teacher and his mother, the one who told him about Gaitan, was a housewife. Petro studied economics and was a guerrilla member of the M-19 since he was a teenager. He made peace with that armed group, which was important in the drafting of the Colombian constitution of 1991. He then became a politician and was several times a senator and until now his greatest achievement had been being mayor of Bogotá. Duque and Petro are from the same country, but they come from two very different realities. The one conservative and the other leftist. Today they were face to face after years of disagreements due to their ways of looking at the country. The handshake of two presidents who turn their backs on each other took shape.
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