Petro’s speech and Leon’s book

By: William Segovia

Political scientist, lawyer and journalist

It is not the title of a fable. I refer to the first speech as President of the Republic of Gustavo Petro Urrego before the Seventy-seventh Assembly of the United Nations Organization in New York, on September 20, and to the book The left to power in Colombia, by analyst León Valencia. Gustavo and León meet in the art of the word and the search for true democracy, after having renounced arms and having fought, each in his own way, from the letters and the platform, for the advancement and triumph of the left in the presidential elections, one of the country’s great utopias for generations. I know both of them from afar, the optimal situation that Simón Bolívar advised to judge the facts and the human beings.

According to El País de España, Petro’s speech was based on a draft commissioned by the president from Laura Sarabia, a recent acquaintance who has become very close and won his recognition, and Antoni Gutiérrez Rubi, his head publicist, from general lines. She then crossed out, removed, added, emphasized and kept secret the text that guided her appearance: heartfelt, profound, humanistic, predictive, proactive and exciting. She had to tell herself and, again, Petro did: stop this criminal war against drugs, the jungle and the peasants, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people! Let’s protect the Amazon, lung of humanity! Let’s make love the antidote to addictions! Let’s reduce consumerism and deepen humanism! Let’s not poison the atmosphere anymore! Save the planet!

Serious and respectable internationalists such as Juan Tokatlián and Arlén Tickner, whom he interviewed on the matter and with whom María Jimena Duzán coincided; María Emma Mejía, Mauricio Jaramillo Jassir, among others, highlighted the importance of a Latin American president having dared to raise his voice to make demands that, not being immediately unrealizable, are not necessary and a moral duty of powerful countries, and Empower yourself as a leader of a dim Latin America in times of crisis. Even Sandra Borda, politically distanced and critical of the lack of pragmatism, agreed on the relevance of Petro’s premiere at the UN. The president attended a forum, to establish positions that must go through the world social movement, multilateral agencies and bilateral agreements of states. Of course, the ignoble and petty opposition could not see beyond their hatred, nonsense, pastranadas and nonsense.

The tone of Petro’s speech at the UN highlighted the echo of those epics of Fidel Castro in 1960 in the face of aggression and the historic one of 1979, in which he warned, at a time when even though the problems were serious, the anguish was distant of today, that if awareness was not raised and the necessary corrections were made to the inclement exploitation of man and nature “… if we do not peacefully and wisely resolve current injustices and inequalities, the future will be apocalyptic.” There are also traces of the anguish expressed in the beautiful, lyrical, dramatic and hurt speech by Gabriel García Márquez upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 40 years ago, when he spoke of “the loneliness of Latin America.” And also, from the intervention of Juan Manuel Santos to thank the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, that accolade from the world when the “no”, caused by the deception in front of the plebiscite, shook the agreement with the FARC.

The president of Colombia, inspired, with the sharpness that characterizes him to observe problems and think of progressive, humanist solutions, picked up the thread in the face of the catastrophe that is being suffered and will increase due to the absurd anti-drug war, the blind exploitation of hydrocarbons, the hypocritical arms race, the capitalist fascination with consumption and savage warmongering, and the implications that all this has on the third most beautiful country in the world and its “bloody beauty”. Rhetorical, his opponents say, his ill-wishers laughable. Envy, the national heritage that Gabo was talking about.

Some of the auspicious comments, not to concede completely, point to absences or lack of emphasis, peace perhaps the greatest. The reason could be that Petro knows that the United Nations enthusiastically supported the agreements with the FARC, that he overcame Duque’s hypocritical international management of the issue, and that in this aspect, he already has an ally. On the other hand, his conception of Total Peace is just beginning to take root in the country and faces the obvious distortion of the beneficiaries of an eternal war and the undisguised arrogance of the Santos negotiating team, led by Sergio Jaramillo, suspicious that the new proposal overshadow the merits of their achievements. To achieve peace there are no exclusive formulas. For all that, Petro’s emphasis touched other aspects of his ideology.

How did that nervous and vibrant speaker come to power who, in his “first stop” at the United Nations, carried the voice of what was promised to his electors, aroused the pride of many enlightened Colombians and not a few praises in cultivated minds from various parts of the world? What made it possible that, despite so much bloodshed caused by the stinginess of some elites accustomed to privilege and fueled by the insurgency of corrupting and criminal money from drug trafficking -which harmed everyone equally to the pain of a country in eternal mourning-, will the stubborn and stoic Colombian left reach the government?

These are the questions that León Valencia tries to answer with the essay subtitled “Petro and the secrets of the left on the way to the presidency”, partly personal memory, partly contemporary political history in which, thanks to his sagacity and acuity, he has been a witness and protagonist . In much self-confirmation of the hypothesis of a previous essay in the certainty that Duque, and the other disasters of recent years, would lead a progressive coalition to the House of Nariño and that it would have to act very clumsily to lose the opportunity, that almost misses. Not because she was stupid, but because the establishment preferred to risk it for someone who clearly was not capable of leading the country, in order to avoid change.

In short: an unusual prologue, the hopeful and beautiful message of support from Pepe Mujica to Gustavo Petro in the 2018 elections, which he lost. Chapter one: Petro, scared by the result in the first round in 2022, asks León to intercede with Sergio Fajardo to support him. Fajardo refuses. The petition is the consequence of a close relationship that began when Petro, from the demobilized M19, arrived at the peace rally of the Corriente de Renovación Socialista, an ELN dissident, where León was, and continues today, although, in the last presidential elections, he has opted first by Fajardo to support Petro in the second round. He is honest, he says it bluntly. As well as what he expects from Gustavo: that he normalize democracy, transitions, alternation. Hopefully, if that is the case, with a civilized right.

Later in the book, a strange but suggestive connection, typical of León, the Santos peace process with the FARC and Petro’s electoral victory are a moment comparable in its effects to the Sitges Pact between Alberto Lleras and Laureano Gómez that stopped the bloodshed of the liberal-conservative violence of the 50s. Clarification in between, that the exclusive National Front gave reasons for the next war, twice as bloody, in which guerrillas with various acronyms with foreign identities emerged in the Caribbeanized Marxist creed in Cuba until the irruption of the M19 that with its language, symbols and excesses, broke the marginality of the rebel discourse. Then, a vindication of Belisario Betancur, his will for peace accepting the challenge of the “eme” and the FARC and the conclusion, in his favor, that in the taking of the Palace of Justice he was temporarily displaced from power.

It continues with the melancholic meeting with the commander of the M19 Álvaro Fayad, in the delirious days of the Simón Bolívar National Guerrilla Coordinator, the praise of his interest in literature, common passion, and the prudence in the face of his warlike ravings. Chapters ahead, the miseries of the army in the anti-subversive struggle, the accumulation of guerrilla forces through the mobilization of masses in marches and strikes; the good will for arrangements with the insurgency in the institutional framework of a liberal president, Virgilio Barco, sick and cornered; and the ascendant social struggle of the year 89 converted by the hallucinated guerrillas into the final battle. Moment in which, fortunately, some of them analyzed the context and made the lucid determination to seek a political solution that led to the 1991 Constitution and opened the long road for the government of the alternative forces.

Then, the author’s recognition of César Gaviria as a neoliberal who has always opened the field for the left, the reformist Samper trapped by the mafia and the presidency unfortunately denied by circumstances to an authentic liberal like Horacio Serpa; the infernal growth and dominance of paramilitarism and its connection with politics, whose denunciation and contributions to the prosecution the author claims with justice for himself and for those who were part of his investigation teams, for the unequal and brave battle of Gustavo Petro since Congress and for the always serene and forceful performance of Iván Cepeda Castro in favor of humanitarian causes.

It brings to mind, at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, with a good deal of blood and sacrifice, the first independent triumphs in local governments and collegiate bodies, the imperishable legacy of Mockus and the political rebellion of the people of Bogotá, in a context Latin American rise of alternative forces; the opportunistic peace of Pastrana; Uribe’s war -with whom he recognizes an ambiguous relationship between courtesies and encounters- successful in casualties and fatal in human rights. Highlights the inflection of Santos and the peace process with the FARC, which had the strong support of the left and opened the floodgates to the progressive torrent, reaping the highest educational level of the population and an accumulated struggle for social justice and reconciliation, not without heroics and epics.

For the climax, León appeals to his talks with the appreciated Pepe Mujica, who with his wisdom sentenced: you lack a heroic speech and with such a cruel war in which you have been part, it can only be that of reconciliation. According to León, it was the argument that triumphed in the second electoral round, on June 19, and that today Petro leads in his peace effort. Victory that, he points out, was also given thanks to the erratic government of Duque, the complicated circumstances that surrounded him and the moral and intellectual decay of the right.

A well-written book, from the heart and the experiences, of a person passionate about change who embraced the armed struggle when letters are his thing and corrected himself in time to help create and celebrate the event of the triumphant left. In the last thirty years, his analysis and reflections have been helpful in promoting change towards a democracy in capital letters. The passion for writing accompanies him from adolescence in the student newspapers, the militant communiqués, the political essays of maturity and a fluid literary vein put to the test in novels such as With the fist of life Y the president’s shadow.

In the end, I cannot contain myself in a conjecture: if the Green Party and Peace & Reconciliation, the foundation that León directs, had played for Petro, instead of sustaining its infeasibility as “toxic”, to favor Fajardo’s centrism in the 2018 elections, wouldn’t we have spared the four fatal years of Duque? Of course, it also weighs that then the liberal majorities that today accompany him were elusive, by managerial decision, because he knew how to win them over. Assumptions aside, the important thing now is that we all live up to the historical moment for which we dreamed, fought and lived, which, to a large extent, as the book supports, is the result of the intelligence, perseverance and consistency of Gustav Petro.

*The opinions expressed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the person who has been the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Fundación Paz & Reconciliación in this regard.

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Petro’s speech and Leon’s book