Gustavo Petro arrived so disoriented to sleep in his apartment in Bogotá at dawn that he couldn’t find his room. During the campaign of the first round he went to bed at midnight and was up again at five in the morning. He visited three cities in one day. He was confident that giving emotional rallies throughout Colombia, as Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and Luis Carlos Galán did before, would ensure his victory. However, a rival who is rarely seen in public and who campaigns with messages on Tik Tok and WhatsApp like Rodolfo Hernández has put his victory in danger.
Petro’s strategy has taken a turn in the last week and, in view of the results, it works for him. He has changed public squares for something that his micropolitical advisers: small experiences with ordinary citizens that he retransmits on his social networks. These days he has slept in the house of a family of fishermen, he has played a soccer game, he has gotten into taxis and trucks —although he does not know how to drive— and he has shared ranch food with some miners. The day after the first round of voting, the polls placed Hernández seven points ahead, a 77-year-old construction businessman buoyed by his message against the discredited political class. Now, ten years later, the trend has reversed and those same polls show a technical tie.
A few days ago he slept in the wooden house of a family victim of the armed conflict in Chocó, in the Caribbean Sea. She danced reggaeton with a teenage son. His mother said goodbye emotionally: “Thank you very much. God bless you and you be president. God has power.” The video did not appear in any news, only on their social networks.
The experience is less exhausting. Petro looks rested and in good spirits today. He was gloomy a few days ago, when he trailed in the polls. He buckles up when he hears the noise of his plane’s engine, about to pick up speed on the runway.
—Candidate, the defenders who covered him in yesterday’s match let him score the goal.
—No way, don’t take credit away from me. It was a great goal,” she jokes.
At his side sits the Spaniard Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí, his main adviser. The brain behind this new approach to his campaign shows him the plan for the day on his laptop: a visit to a mine in the city of Paipa and then a meeting with taxi and truck drivers in Duitama. In this region, Boyacá, Hernández got more votes than Petro in the first round.
In a debate with the other candidates, Petro said that Colombia exports three evils: coal, oil and cocaine. It was not the most prudent statement addressed to a sector with thousands of workers and less than 48 hours before the polls opened. Months ago, he already commented something like that. “I said that coal is a poison, but I didn’t explain myself well”, he tries to clarify now.
Gutiérrez-Rubí proposes that he tell the miners that it will not be them, the humblest in the chain, who will pay for the closure of the mines and the cessation of exploration that Petro is talking about. He insists that she remind them that this will not happen overnight, but that it will be a gradual process.
—We don’t want to seem like the quiet left that intervenes. The word close is bad for us and the weakest in the chain cannot think that your ideas have a cost. They must be guaranteed that during the current exploitation there will be labor guarantees, that they will be able to access a pension —, continues the advisor.
—That’s the great debate in the world. How do you make an economic and energy transition that saves humanity? – answers Petro, who tends to abstraction.
On the ground, five miners and a female miner are waiting for you at the mouth of a small excavation, sitting on a bench. They eat lunch in pots that a stray dog is prowling around hoping to steal. The workers are not condescending to Petro at all. “They see us ugly, doctor,” says the owner of the mine. “That mining is predatory with nature is a false belief that must be turned back,” adds the oldest of them. “Clean energy production is no more than 6%. The day the coal is replaced they will replace us. Until then we have to keep producing,” a middle-aged man seeks to tickle her.
Petro tells them about the climate crisis: the planet, in a century, could disappear or experience immense catastrophes. He proposes that they move from now to green energies with the help of the State and thus anticipate the social crisis that would cause the sudden closure of the farms in a few years. The miners listen to him attentively, although they don’t seem entirely convinced.
“They have sold the idea that you are going to screw us, you are going to finish us off,” one of them blurts out. “Give me peace of mind,” begs another. The youngest doesn’t beat around the bush: “Rodolfo says that if you win on August 7, on the 8th he orders the closing of all small mining.”
Now the most energetic Petro comes out, who was a little hesitant. “That’s not true,” ditch. What needs to be done —he remembers what Gutiérrez-Rubí told him on the plane— is towards a model in which the miners own electricity. Coke, a fuel used in smelting iron ore in blast furnaces, continues without a problem. And, as soon as oil demands are exhausted, there are two alternatives: grow potatoes or install solar panels with government funding. That, he will say later, is what he should have explained the day he spoke of coal as a poison.
Taxi drivers and truck drivers await you on an esplanade. The reception is warmer than that of the miners. While he talks to them he focuses on them on his mobile phone: the candidate himself is broadcasting the meeting live. Gutiérrez-Rubí gives him some discreet directions from behind. The drivers ask him to put an end to Uber, but he tells them that it would be better to find a way to live together: removing it would leave many people unemployed. The clean energy debate is here again:
– Who buys a car of 125 million pesos against one of five?, a taxi driver questions him.
“That’s where the government comes in. Society would be interested in cars being electric. You have to subsidize the cost of the vehicle.
His team encourages him to end the conversation because he has to leave in a hurry: the Paipa airport closes in a quarter of an hour. On the way to catch the plane to Cartagena de Indias, where another event awaits him, he realizes that he has not given big two-hour speeches to the crowd, in which he usually loses his voice. She has addressed, and so his strategists had planned, to anonymous Colombians who have been able to tell him what they wanted, without a script.
That candidate is no longer seen on a platform, surrounded by bodyguards. Waiting for the next few days to see the impact of leaked recordings of his campaign team, where strategies are discussed to attack political rivals, this new way of showing himself has worked for now, and has cut the Rodolfo’s lead in the polls.
Of course, Petro is Petro and he is not a pragmatic politician in his speech. Back in the air, with a drink and a packet of chips in hand, he resumes the discussion with the miners:
—If I were a demagogue I would have gone there to tell them that they will be here in a few years and I will support them and their children and grandchildren will be there. But he would be lying to them.
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