Although political analysts have not necessarily interpreted it as such, the decision by Claudia López and Antanas Mockus to endorse the campaign of radical leftist candidate Gustavo Petro was not only sad and predictable; it was also an act of pure, hardcore populism.
Populism on the agenda
The leaders of the Alianza Verde, a party that Petro has co-opted for years, decided to make their announcement in front of the Voto Nacional church (first populist act), because this place represents “the vote of unity,” and, according to them, the alliance they decided to make with the left candidate also represents such a unity vote, which would supposedly overthrow the longstanding political establishment.
However, this alliance exemplifies ideological hypocrisy and incongruity, since López and Petro decided to modify their positions in order to seal their alliance. A candidate who once claimed that “Álvaro Uribe and Gustavo Petro are the closest thing we have to populism in Colombia” and that the candidate of Colombia Humana represents the extreme left, showed that she has flexible morality, because she decided, in the blink of an eye, to set aside what she really thinks of Petro, and support him to reach the presidency, perhaps with a sincere desire to overthrow the prevailing power structures, or perhaps in the hopes that he will support her candidacy for mayor of Bogota. Lopez’s positions changed without any real change in what Petro really represents.
For his part, Petro decided to use a broader strategy in order to attract centrist voters and their respective leaders. He modified his extreme ideological discourse, which he has defended vehemently for years, and made several oaths to the Colombian public, writing them on two marble tablets (second populist act), like Moses, so that everyone can see that he is a man respectful of the law.
But as has happened with the Ten Commandments, Petro, before writing his own at the request of Mockus and Lopez, had already breached several of them. One was the respect for administration of public resources: we must not forget that because of the decisions taken when he was mayor of Bogotá, the city government had a loss more than USD $817 million. This represents a figure similar to what was stolen during the infamous Carousel de la Contratación scandal, when former Bogota Samuel Moreno and his brother fleeced the city for millions by inflating the cost of major construction contracts.
Nor should we forget that Petro is no lover of respecting the rule of law, because if judicial rulings do not favor him, he uses the citizenry as a weapon to pressure the judiciary branch to reverse them. Nor is he a lover of creating policies that favor private enterprise; already during his campaign he has shown that his main enemies would be entrepreneurs and business leaders. It should also not be forgotten that when he was mayor he decided, on many occasions, to not solicit bids for major contracts; what he did was to was to award them based on his own whims, shrouded in the guise of promoting “science and technology.”
How much confidence do Mockus and López have in Petro? Almost none. That was demonstrated by the request that was made to inscribe his pledges to the Colombian people in marble. It is clear that this is a reference to Santos in 2010 telling Mockus that, if necessary, he would chisel in marble his oath that he would not increase taxes. And although Santos did not write his oath in marble and ultimately broke his promise anyway, there is a clear difference between that oath and Petro’s 12: respecting the rule of law was implicit in the 2010 campaign. In the 2018 election, confidence in Petro is so low that even his own allies ask him to swear in public and enshrine in marble things that are already in the Constitution.
That his allies do not trust Petro is not only an indication of the clear threat he represents for Colombia; it also shows that these allies are willing to put the country in danger in exchange for possible future political support: in Lopez’s case, for her widely expected run for the mayorship of Bogota, and in Mockus’s case his insistence that the peace agreements not be modified.
The sadness of the alliance
It is sad to see how, once again, Mockus conducts his political wheeling and dealing. He had already done in 2015 Jorge Torres, who managed to win a seat on the City Council of Bogota, and in the last legislative elections when he got Katherine Miranda elected to Congress. Now he is participating in such electioneering with Petro.
Those same people who for years described Mockus as an underhanded neoliberal “Uribista”, today are his greatest allies, using him as long as he suits their purposes, since his endorsement could garner Petro more than half a million votes.
Ultimately, Lopez and Mockus in their attempt to form a curious center-left to center coalition, rightly pointed out the multitude of troubling facts, positions, and acts, in Petro’s lengthy political career. Now, in a populist power play, they are all of the sudden happily putting aside their concerns. It seems very suspicious.