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Colombians are glad to see foes Petro and Uribe talk — even South Florida's Uribista expats?

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) and President-elect Gustavo Petro meeting in Bogota on Wednesday.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) and President-elect Gustavo Petro meeting in Bogota on Wednesday.

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro and former President Alvaro Uribe want to open dialogue channels in their war-torn nation. Expats here seem to agree.

If you know Colombian politics, you know left-wing President-elect Gustavo Petro and right-wing former President Alvaro Uribe are bitter enemies. But the two sat down to talk in Bogotá on Wednesday — and even Colombian expats here who loathe Petro and adore Uribe seem glad.

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Conservative Colombians — who include most Colombian expats in South Florida — are distressed that Petro, a senator and former leftist guerrilla, won the presidency last month. They favor the right-wing political movement led by Uribe.

But Petro and Uribe met for two hours to “open dialogue channels.” Most Colombians applauded it because their country’s still dealing with deep division and socio-economic inequality after its half-century-long civil war ended six years ago.

The symbolism was powerful. The defunct guerrilla group Petro once belonged to, M-19, is notorious for its deadly attack on the Palace of Justice in 1985. And a truth commission reportthis week cited army atrocities — including the murders of thousands of civilians falsely identified as rebels — committed during Uribe’s 2002-2010 presidency.

Uribe fiercely opposed Colombia's 2016 peace agreement. But his sit-down with Petro suggests a willingness on the right to help implement the peace plan, including land and police reform, as well as education and rural infrastructure projects. Petro, in turn, seemed to signal the left's willingness to ease conservatives' concerns that his presidency might threaten private business and property or turn Colombia in the direction of the authoritarian socialist disaster in next-door Venezuela.

Petro and Uribe called their talk “constructive.” So, it seems, did most Colombian expats — more than 80% of whom in South Florida voted for Petro's opponent in the May 29 run-off election. Some of Petro’s fiercest critics here even tweeted or retweeted praise for the confab, one saying it “put the interests of a healthy democracy above personal political differences.”

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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