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Surprise Colombian presidential candidate Hernández brings his populist campaign to Miami

Pedro Portal
El Nuevo Herald
Colombian presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez at his Miami press conference on Thursday.

Anti-corruption populist Rodolfo Hernández is the favorite of South Florida's Colombian expat voters — and he's neck and neck with leftist Gustavo Petro.

Colombia’s presidential run-off election will be held in 10 days — with polls showing the two contenders in a dead heat — and the favorite candidate of the Colombian expat community visited Miami on Thursday with his trademark firebrand rhetoric.

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Speaking at a hotel near Miami International Airport, Colombian presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernández carried a message most expats in Florida wanted to hear: that he’s the man to prevent Senator Gustavo Petro — a former rebel guerrilla — from becoming Colombia’s first leftist president.

The 77-year-old Hernández, an entrepreneur and former mayor of Bucaramanga, Colombia, came out of virtually nowhere to finish second behind Petro in last month's first-round election — thanks largely to his populist anti-corruption platform.

"[Colombian] politics is prisoner to criminal and drug money buying votes," Hernández asserted in Miami. He added that he wants to make Colombia-Florida ties "closer."

Polls now show Hernández and Petro neck-and-neck for the final June 19 vote.

At his Miami press conference, Hernández lived up to his reputation for incendiary remarks. He said Petro wants to make Colombia a socialist dictatorship. (Petro denies that.) And he claimed, with no proof, that Petro activists plan to burn down the houses of voters who support Hernández.

Hernández also said he’s canceled public campaign appearances in Colombia now because he insists there’s a plot there to assassinate him "using knives."

Despite his campaign's anti-corruption zeal, Hernández himself has been under investigation in Colombia for allegedly corrupt public contract negotiations when he was mayor.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.