The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, during the commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Boyacá.Gobierno de Colombia
Gustavo Petro, the first president of the left in contemporary Colombia, has made his oratory, long and fiery speeches that appeal to the emotions of his followers, one of the bases of his political strength. But this Monday, as he completed the first of four years of a term marred by two recent scandals and low popular support, he decided not to use it.
“Generally I do not read the speeches, but the need to provide figures of what has happened leads me to this unpleasant reality of reading this speech,” he explained at the beginning of his long-awaited speech on August 7, the Colombian national holiday that commemorates the definitive victory of the independence army in 1819. One year after a festive inauguration that had as its great symbol the sword of the commander of that army, Simón Bolívar, the event from the place of the battle, the Boyacá Bridge, was so cold that the The president only managed to get warm applause after half an hour of speech, when he mentioned his shortlist of women for the Attorney General’s Office.
The intervention was highly anticipated. Partly because of the precedents of March and May, when he called for marches in his favor that he received with impassioned speeches from the balcony of the presidential palace in Bogotá. Partly because for a week it had been rumored that this Monday he would relaunch his cabinet, with a new shake that would give new strength to a weakened government.
But, above all, because the president had not spoken in public since last Thursday, when attention was focused on the revelation that his eldest son, Nicolás, had accepted before the Prosecutor’s Office that he had irregularly collected money for his father’s presidential campaign. That day, before an audience of peasants who were waiting for the launch of the agrarian reform system, one of the great flags of the Government, the president clarified that he has no relationship or knowledge of this financing, and that he was not thinking of resigning. But another phrase from his speech marked the key to what follows: “Here we have to govern.”
That emphasis went unnoticed given the size of the political earthquake, a shock that led the press to focus on the government’s anniversary intervention, expecting a major political coup, or at least an attempt to do so. But the same Monday, before the speech, the Government had given signs of the new tone, away from the heat of the political debate and focused on the possibility of landing its promise of change.
One was a list of 12 first-year achievements released by the presidency. Among them, the most divisive issues are not mentioned, such as the much-mentioned total peace or the health reform that broke the government coalition and brought Petro to the balcony in March, but more administrative and social results, such as land or the housing subsidies that it has delivered, or the reestablishment of relations with Venezuela.
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The second signal was an unusual statement of support for the president signed by the entire cabinet and read by the Minister of Labor, Gloria Inés Ramírez, in the same setting where the president would speak a couple of hours later. “Our goals are so high that we cannot distract our efforts in a debate that the president’s life ended a while ago when locals and strangers recognize his honesty, all our energies are put into fulfilling Colombia,” says the text, which specifies a political support, but also shows a new emphasis: comply, execute. The fact that it was not read by the Minister of Politics, but by a clearly left-wing official (Ramírez is a communist) but recognized for her seriousness and her capacity for dialogue with the opposition and the business community, is another nod to that new north.
Petro’s speech was given in this framework: cold, cerebral, with more data than epic to relaunch the emotions that drove his government in the first months. The leading role was played by data such as the number of tons of cocaine seized or the hectares purchased to deliver them to landless peasants. Management above politics, beyond a few isolated phrases.
“We cannot be wrong, we cannot be wrong in fundamental things,” said the president a year ago. The question is whether he was referring to specific administrative achievements, such as those he presented this Monday, which may be welcome but are marginal compared to the need to achieve such a big change that he himself called it this Monday as “a new Colombia that is emerging and that demands a new meaning of our own history”. They are especially secondary when the illusion that was breathed in 2022 seems to be a long way off.
So much so that the official broadcast of the event ended with images of the president and his family leaving the battle site. In the background, the universally known melody of Auld lang syne, the hymn to nostalgic farewells. One more sign that the hope of a year ago is no longer such.
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