Gustavo Petro seems to be everywhere. The candidate to beat in the Colombian presidential elections has been distributed so far in 2022 between electoral debates with other candidates, outings to the public square in different parts of the country and an active international agenda. Although no official photo has been released, the favorite of all the polls met this Wednesday at the Holy See with Pope Francis for 45 minutes in which they spoke about peace in Colombia and climate change, according to the team of the Historic Covenant aspirant.
The left-wing politician is also meeting this week with Spanish businessmen in Madrid, where he already held a meeting with Pedro Sánchez last month at the headquarters of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). That interview with the President of the Government of Spain, even if it was in his capacity as Socialist General Secretary, annoyed the Executive of the conservative Iván Duque. Petro, who has been campaigning since he lost the second round of the presidential elections against Duque in 2018, also met then with the second vice president and Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, and with the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, both United We Can, in addition to former President Felipe González. The Colombian vice president and chancellor, Marta Lucía Ramírez, expressed surprise at such a “prolific agenda (…) with a pre-candidate”, and asked the Spanish government to offer the same welcome to the other candidates.
That international varnish to his campaign has garnered other striking support. A week ago, on the eve of a presidential debate organized by Prisa Media that pitted him against Sergio Fajardo and Federico Gutiérrez, the former mayor of Bogotá published a photo on his social networks with the French economist Thomas Piketty, who was visiting Colombia. . He accompanied his message with the announcement that he would come to advise his eventual government “in the search for production and equity.” Petro, who has advocated taxing higher earners more, has long argued that Piketty’s ideas about the need to combat inequality have influenced him. The famous author of Capital in the 21st centuryfor its part, He had already supported him four years ago, when he advocated “for a new progressive cycle in Latin America.”
The candidate of the Historical Pact, a left-wing coalition made to measure, was also invited on March 11 to the inauguration of Gabriel Boric in Chile. The 35-year-old president-elect has exchanged winks with Petro. “There would be a strategic alliance with Chile to revitalize and make very powerful what was a good idea, which was left to die, which is a common market throughout the Andean territory,” said the candidate – who has also sparked controversy by insistently defending the need to increase tariffs on imports.
Although the true electoral weight of these postcards is uncertain, for Petro, who belonged to the extinct M-19 guerrilla in his youth, they represent a welcome international validation in the face of the resistance and fears that his political project still arouses. They all have the effect of softening his image. Well it is for showing him almost as a statesman, in the case of the visit to Spain. As a Catholic, on his visit to the Vatican. For giving him intellectual credibility in the economic field, where he has been criticized so much, with the advice of Piketty. Or to associate him with Boric, who enjoys sympathy among progressive sectors in Latin America.
When a dozen pre-candidates are still competing in two other center and right-wing coalitions, the head of the Historical Pact shows himself to be one step ahead. “Petro is well aware that he is the preferred candidate in the polls, but also the most resisted, particularly due to the perception that he has a very radical position,” says analyst Yann Basset, professor of Political Science at the University Rosary. “He wants to attack that perception by normalizing his image, appearing as a man who has the stature of a ruler and is a politician like the others, who is not isolated or radicalized, who is a responsible and recognized person who speaks with other heads of state. , with the business sectors, with the whole world. He is an essential part of his strategy,” he notes.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
After the wave of protests that rocked Colombia last year, observers agree that Petro is the candidate best positioned to capitalize on social unrest. Even at this critical juncture, the former mayor of Bogotá showed signs of a shift to pragmatism, betting on projecting a presidential image with “speeches” on his social networks about the situation in the country, accompanied by criticism of the unpopular government of Duque, but also of some call to measure. The international comes to add to that turn.
When a candidate begins to make these trips, and merit is recognized outside his borders, it is because he is already putting himself in the shoes of a president, points out Eugénie Richard, an expert teacher in communication and marketing politician from the Externado University of Colombia. “When leading the polls, you have to be very careful to project a speech that unites and not a barricade speech, of opposition, that divides people. He is cultivating various facets of his character that allow him to broaden his electoral base,” he notes. “He is reaping the fruits of long-term work that he has been building since his defeat in 2018. Petro knows that his time is now.”
Subscribe here to newsletter of EL PAÍS America and receive all the informative keys of the current affairs of the region