Ten million Colombians turned on the radio and the computer this morning and found themselves debating three men who want to be president. Each in their own way, of course. Gustavo Petro, the favorite, used that solemn tone of those who are at the gates of being the boss-boss. On the right, Federico Gutiérrez, Fico, tried to ridicule him. He punctuated all the interventions and raised his finger several times to try to stop the speech of a granite, bomb-proof politician. Sergio Fajardo, the moderate, the centered, the calm man, also unleashed some blows. And that was not even half past seven in the morning.
In a country that gets up before dawn and the first thing it does is turn on the transistor, it is not unusual that a debate with the main leaders of the Colombian coalitions organized by Prisa Media began at seven in the morning. A president, on one occasion, said that this time for him was already noon. So we were already late. Fajardo, the most applied in the class, arrived first. He sat down on some soft coffee-colored sofas to go over his notes. A few minutes later Fico appeared aboard a van. Three Ficos got out of it, men in jackets, without ties, elegant but informal, with their hair slicked back. Only one was the real one. Petro adjusted the time, so much so that it made the producers nervous. But at two minutes to the hour he was sitting at the debate table, headphones on, headband behind his ears so as not to mess up his hairdo.
It soon became clear that the rival was Petro. Now yes, this seems its time, macerated over a slow fire, like López Obrador in Mexico. He who resists wins. The former mayor of Bogotá fell by the wayside in 2010 and lost to Iván Duque four years ago. He has been campaigning ever since. With that aplomb she sat firmly in the chair, her back straight, her hands folded. The veteran. Smugly, he didn’t even address his rivals at the start. He feels that only he can lose what bears his name. But after a few minutes it was clear to him that it would not be an easy morning. Fico began to talk about expropriations, the free market, companies, populism. The debate lasted an hour and Fico did not want to waste time.
The moderator, the journalist Roberto Pombo, had to deal with three miuras. It was not easy to contain them and move the speaking turn. They told Petro that if he took the issue of expropriations for granted and was offended: “It’s perverse, I don’t know what it has to do with me.” He sounded angry. That’s where the debate soured. Petro’s response was forceful, the only one who has expropriated has been Duque, who killed 600,000 companies. He was actually referring to those that had gone bankrupt during the pandemic. Fico, so focused on Petro, did not see it coming and Fajardo attacked him there: “His is the same story as Iván Duque, which has not worked.”
No one wants to associate his name with a president with such low popularity, nor with Uribismo, which was the one who promoted him. Fico, former mayor of Medellín, defended himself by assuring that he has nothing to do with Uribe, a suspicion that he has not completely cleared up. And he, in this way, sold himself as someone new, not like those by his side, who had already lost more than once.
The three got into a fight over oil, drug trafficking, violence in some areas of the country like Arauca. Always without losing papers. There was harshness but no low blows. To end corruption, one of the country’s great concerns, each one showed a different way. Petro spoke of fighting the mafia embedded in the state and, incidentally, promoting a tax reform that makes the rich pay real taxes. Fico then used a moralizing tone, almost Franciscan: values are learned in the family, at home, where children are taught the you will not steal.
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Then came the Petro moment. It was in the security section. He adjusted his glasses with one finger and began a long exposition on a concept of his (“a concept of mine”) called human security. Time was suspended. Fajardo and Fico, stunned. Those present took the opportunity to refill their coffee cups and take a look at Twitter. A good while later, Petro was on his way. He turned up the volts with false positives, hot lead in Colombia, but the issue languished. Fico raised his finger. Fajardo cleared his throat. In a third dimension, Petro continued. And Fico couldn’t stand it: “We’re already in the third dimension…” The debate was about to reach space.
But there was no time and it smelled like a tie. There was so much to talk about that it lasted 20 minutes too long. Fico was sharp, daring, but Petro did not end up cornered. He left alive and warning that he will overthrow the regime of corruption. Fico, who does not give up his efforts, added that he will put an end to the corrupt and the violent. Fajardo, center winger, said that he will close the door to radicalism. Neither one nor the other. That was the end point. It was almost half past eight in the morning and Colombia had three different visions of the country on the table. It was late, the day was about to come to an end.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.