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Felicidades, Uribistas — the candidate you helped promote won Colombia's election

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro (left) at his victory celebration Saturday night in Bogota.
Fernando Vergara
URIBISTA BOGEYMAN — OR BENEFICIARY? Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro (left) at his victory celebration Saturday night in Bogota.

COMMENTARY Why are conservative Colombians so upset about leftist Gustavo Petro's victory when their anti-peace plan fervor did so much to help him win?

Right now I have the same exasperated question for conservative Colombian expats that I once put to liberal Brazilian expats.

When right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in 2018, I talked with a lot of Brazilians here in South Florida who are Petistas — supporters of the PT, the leftist Workers Party Bolsonaro defeated.

They were angry. Sad. In despair. So I asked them: Why are you upset when you did so much to help Bolsonaro win?

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I wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass. I was serious. In the years leading up to Bolsonaro's victory, the PT held Brazil's presidency. But during its time in power it wallowed in some of the rankest corruption in Brazil's history. And that's largely why Bolsonaro — every reactionary, racist, sexist, homophobic, Amazon rainforest-destroying inch of him — won the 2018 election.

PT loyalists, there and here, displayed little if any disapproval of their party’s fraud festa — including its involvement in the multi-billion dollar Lava Jato bribery scandal, which put some of Brazil’s most powerful politicos and business tycoons behind bars. When Brazilians marched in anti-corruption protests back home, Petista Brazilians here made excuses instead of calling the malfeasance inexcusable. They branded the PT’s critics “fascistas.”

They did their dogmatic bit to push disgusted voters in Bolsonaro’s direction.

Now that left-wing former guerrilla Gustavo Petro has won Colombia’s presidency, I can only feel the same way about Colombians who support Uribismo. That’s the right-wing Colombian political movement (named for former President Alvaro Uribe) that was riding so high four years ago.

This week Uribistas are gnashing their teeth after Petro’s Sunday victory in Colombia. Irate. Distressed. Prophesying Colombian doom. So I’m asking them: Why are you upset when you did so much to help Petro win?

READ MORE: Dear Uribistas: Colombia's problem right now isn't the FARC — it's you

Let’s first recall why the Uribistas won Colombia’s presidency in 2018. On the one hand, they offered a more appealing economic program, which they said would help launch Colombia into its post-civil war future. But in retrospect that was some ironic campaign plank — because the Uribistas’ loudest message was their opposition to the 2016 peace agreement that ended that half-century-long civil war.

They warned the peace plan, which made Colombia’s disarmed Marxist guerrillas a political party, would open the door to socialismo. It would morph the nation into a left-wing dictatorship like the one next door in Venezuela — whose humanitarian disaster was sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Colombia.

The fear-mongering worked then. Uribista candidate Iván Duque took 54% of the vote.

Uribistas ominously insist Petro’s presidency will put Colombia on the path to Venezuela. What they won’t talk about is how they helped put Colombian voters on the path to Petro.

But there was one big problem waiting: the COVID-19 pandemic. It wrecked Colombia’s economy — and suddenly made Uribista hatred for the peace plan look heartless. That’s because the pact called for a raft of social projects, from land reform to education to desperately needed rural infrastructure, all designed to address Colombia’s monumental economic inequality — and prevent a future civil war.


President Trump with Latino supporters at his golf resort in Doral on Friday.
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
President Trump with Colombian and other Latino supporters at his golf resort in Doral in 2020.

Duque and the Uribistas refused to prioritize those efforts, even as the pandemic ravaged Colombian households. Furious Colombians took to the streets — and human rights groups say security forces killed dozens of protesters. Presidential candidate Petro, who promised to follow through on the peace projects, saw his poll numbers soar.

Seeing all that, Uribista loyalists there and here decided they should change tack, right? Nope. They doubled down — they claimed the unrest was just more evidence the 2016 truce was a communist-enabling plot.

Especially Uribista expats. Many were victims of guerrilla violence during the war, so they loathed the peace plan. That’s understandable. But when then-President Donald Trump came to campaign in Miami in 2020, they publicly urged himto revoke the U.S. visa of former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Their red-baiting reason: the centrist Santos had inked the peace agreement with the guerrillas, so that made him by default a red-menace threat to America.

Fanatical nonsense like that gets reported back in Colombia. The Uribista expat performance was so cluelessly, callously out of synch with how so many Colombians there were feeling that it only could have buoyed Petro’s presidential prospects.

Now the Uribistas are ominously insisting Petro’s presidency will put Colombia on the path to Venezuela. We'll see. But what they won’t talk about is how they helped put Colombian voters on the path to Petro.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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