The Colombian Crossroads

Carlos Alberto Montaner

I read in a research on Colombia that poverty and lack of opportunities increase Gustavo Petro’s chances among young people. Colombians must be told that there is no possible redemption along the path chosen by Petro, except to emigrate, as six million Venezuelans, two million Cubans and one million Nicaraguans have done.

There is no more sensitive issue in Latin America than Colombia. It is the only large nation in South America that has access to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It has a population more or less similar in number to Spain’s population: Colombia 52 million, Spain 48. But it doubles the Spanish territory: Colombia, one million one hundred thousand square kilometers, including the paradisiacal islands of the San Andrés archipelago; Spain, half a million, without excluding the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, linked by geography (and not by history) to the Moroccan kingdom.

Colombia is a medium development country with all climates and all environments. It has dozens of universities, but only two are included in the reports of the three most prestigious “rankings” of all: The University of the Andes and The National University. The rest graduate highly competent professionals, but they do little research. Colombia produces some 60,000 objects that the country regularly consumes, from toothpicks and deodorants to very complex vaccines, achieved by the immunologist Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, such as those he has developed against the variants of Covid 19 and his already old (and controversial) vaccine against malaria.

Will the left wing expand, as the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua dream of? Even the governments of Mexico (AMLO) and Argentina (Cristina Fernández, the VP, but she is the one who rules there because she has the votes). I don’t think so. The left must settle for Chile, where Gabriel Boric reigns. But I don’t believe it will happen in the nation that chose Uribe, when it was about to throw in the towel, because it couldn’t travel by road between cities and had to depend on planes.

At that time, it was thought that Juan Manuel Santos was going to be a kind of Uribe 2.0, but he turned out to be a maverick, and then Uribism came back with Iván Duque. I don’t believe – I insist – that the majority would select Petro. The question asked by the New York Times (“Is Colombia ready to elect a leftist ruler?”) will have a resounding answer. It will be someone from the center right like Fico Gutiérrez, Sergio Fajardo or Rodolfo Hernández, as long as they don’t kill each other.

We will have to wait for the ballotage, the “second round,” to finally decide who will be the winner. I bet on Fico. He was very good in the debates. He was brilliant. Not going to that exercise is a serious sin. The fact that a candidate has not participated in the debates doesn’t mean that he won’t know how to rule, but it is evident that there is a major limitation in not being able to verbalize the government plans and the attack on other options.

Perhaps it means that some people have not thought enough of others. People who cannot anticipate problems have a tremendous lack of imagination. Imagination is necessary to govern well. The Romans believed that the ability to express oneself well was synonymous with talent. At least that was the position of Quintilian, the great pedagogue of Rome, teacher of rhetoric, born in the 1st century AD. Today we know that this is not necessarily the case, but there is a link between the two traits.

What does it mean to rule well in today’s Colombia? Definitely abide by the law. If you swear on the Constitution, it is because you have the intention to comply. That is essential. In addition, it is necessary to charge few taxes, attract large investments and be very careful with public spending. Open economies, and Colombia is one of them, do not leave much room for planning. That is why it is important that at the head of the State and the Government there is not a “planner,” but a person who is capable of seeing the positive things that are offered and assumes them. It’s the moment for imagination and turning everything into opportunities.

It is even an opportunity to reduce the immense corruption that exists in Colombia at all levels of government. How do you fight corruption? Without a doubt, with the criminal code in hand. It is necessary to put the corrupt in jail, but avoiding that the acts of government become a vendetta. Perhaps recovering some of the ill-gotten money will be enough. In other words, the winner of the “second round” must think about the future and not dedicate himself obsessively to saving the past, which, as we already know, cannot be saved.

Published in elblogdemontaner.com Saturday May 28, 2022.

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