By Alejandro Arboleda Hoyos, EL COLOMBIANO, June 30, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The President-elect and the ex-President met for 3 hours in Bogotá. They have progressed from an aggressive political rivalry to a cordial conversation.

It was only six days after the public exchange of messages until the President-elect, Gustavo Petro, and the ex-President, Álvaro Uribe, two of the political leaders most antagonistic in recent decades, held a formal meeting. Face to face.

The appointment took place at 11:00 a.m. this Wednesday in northern Bogotá, at the office of Attorney Héctor Carvajal Londoño—who has represented Mayor Daniel Quintero, among others–, for two momentous occasions. In the first, the President-elect and the ex-President met in private for nearly half an hour; then they sat down together with their group of aides.

In spite having been fierce mutual opponents for the last 20 years, Petro and Uribe could be seen smiling and speaking cordially in this historic appointment, in which they achieved their first big agreement: they would look to find a channel for direct dialog in order to share suggestions.

A meeting between long-time rivals

In their effort to achieve their “grand national agreement”, also including Attorney General Francisco Barbosa, the President-elect was able in the last 48 hours to schedule a number of key appointments with people that might be the heads of the opposition to his administration.

“We can’t be using the government to pursue the opposition.” Petro insists on this promise after his meeting with Uribe.

Last Tuesday he had two meetings with the one who had been a rival until June 18th, former candidate Rodolfo Hernández, who offered his support from the Senate for the changes he considers appropriate, and later he met with former Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, who now leads the Radical Change Party.

Then, this Wednesday, Petro had an unprecedented appointment with Uribe, the face of the political ideology the President-elect has opposed from the Senate for the last two decades. But in spite of their differences and dust-ups in the Congress, they had a pleasant meeting in which the ex-President asked “that we don’t send bills or collect accounts.”

There is one precedent. In spite of the differences and accusations, Uribe opts for seeing Petro as an opponent, and not, like his former pupil, Juan Manuel Santos, as somebody that he still thinks is a traitor, and that’s why a meeting between the two of them is nearly impossible.

In a brief statement, Petro praised the meeting and insisted that “the dialog has begun. In my administration we will not use the government to pursue people that are part of the opposition.” In turn, Alfonso Prada, who was Petro’s debate manager in the campaign, added that everybody has a different vision of the reforms that the new administration anticipates.

The ex-President called a press conference to provide an analysis. There the leader of the Democratic Center Party—which will be the only party declared to be in the opposition—referred to the first agreement established: “I asked him to keep open a channel of direct dialog without interlocutors.”

That represented a historic event in Colombian politics, as Petro and Uribe have only played the lead in public battles, and not in meetings like this one, in which Prada and Armando Benedetti—Petro’s right hand—were the emissaries in charge of asking Nubia Stella Martínez, Director of Democratic Center, to arrange the space and, also, the cordial dialog.

“Leave me out of the societal forgiveness, as a former President, that doesn’t suit me”: the particular petition that Uribe made to Petro

Uribe assumed a constructive tone, far beyond the strong criticisms that he made in recent months—election time—about the model that Petro proposes for the country, focused on strengthening social programs and raising taxes on the rich.

Regarding the tax reform bill that’s being prepared, Uribe indicated that it would be a better idea to impose excessive taxes on private individuals and not disproportionately increase taxes on property. He also emphasized that he would support a stipend for older adults who don’t receive pensions.

In addition, he referred to what has been his principal warhorse in the political debate: security. With respect to that, the ex-President then revealed that he had told Petro that he was concerned about the drug trafficking problem, and he asked that there be a guarantee that the Armed Forces would not have a political tinge.

These declarations contrast with the tone he had used in his previous confrontations where Petro always functioned as an opponent of Uribism. Here the ex-President responded to him without hesitation.

Neither did Uribe ignore the “societal forgiveness” suggested by Petro at the table, and, even though he claimed that he was disposed to negotiate, he asked not to be included in the orbit that—at the time—represented a scandal for the President-Elect because of the visit by his brother, Juan Fernando Petro, to La Picota prison.

While talking about the meeting, the ex-President admitted that the political reality of the Democratic Center Party is not the greatest, and he thanked the President-elect for listening to him in spite of the fact that he seemed affected by his legal situation. “I am grateful to the President-elect for the invitation and this meeting. He listened to me patiently. Because my particular circumstances and those of our party, are difficult; they were the top in the Congress, and now they are fourth.”

“We didn’t talk about my legal case, and if I can’t attend his inauguration, I’ll call him”: Uribe after his appointment with Petro

It’s not yet known what the near future will hold for Uribe’s party. It will have to hold a caucus to decide, together with Uribe, which projects of the incoming administration they will support, and which they will oppose.

Regarding the legislative opposition that Democratic Center will carry out, Uribe lowered the tone of radical rhetoric of Members of Congress like María Fernanda Cabal, and said that the caucus would support the projects presented by the new administration if they considered them positive for the country, and that they would be a “reasonable opposition” for those they considered unsuitable.

Another subject that Uribe wouldn’t pass up was energy. On that, he insisted that Petro “is receiving a good inheritance because the country has progressed in renewable , and has recovered the possibilities that the supply of neither gas nor oil will be exhausted.” He revealed that the President-elect had expressed his concern about the management by Ecopetrol and ISA, while Duque still has connections with their boards of directors.

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