By Álvaro Forero Tascón, EL ESPECTADOR, August 8, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The era that begins on August 7, really began in 2016 with the Peace Agreement that ended the armed political conflict, and, at the same time, ended the monopoly of the center right, and so made the election of leftists a possibility.

The change toward the normalization of power in the left in Colombia is in a period of transition, divided into two parts. The first, which was headed by Iván Duque, who was chosen principally to obstruct the ascent of the left, ended up accelerating its arrival to power. The second, commencing now, is headed by Gustavo Petro, who was elected principally to end two decades of Uribista hegemony, and to demonstrate that the left is able to govern successfully.

If Iván Duque had a hard time filling the shoes of Álvaro Uribe, Gustavo Petro has one that’s much harder, filling the shoes of Gaitán, of Rojas Pinilla, of Pizarro, and of hundreds of political contenders who were assassinated or were unable to defeat the political establishment. That’s because he is the first in 200 years to wrest control of the government from the oligarchies, as Antonio Caballero defined them, in the history of Colombia. Generating confidence in the left, in a country whose politics in the last 70 years has been determined principally by the fear of the left’s rise to power, is an immense challenge, even when the winds of geography and of history are on its side.

The process of full integration of the left into the Colombian system will really end at the end of Petro’s term as President if he is able to combine two apparently contradictory factors: achieving real and substantive change, and retaining stability and the confidence needed by the economic, military, international, and political actors to collaborate. That requires walking a very difficult tightrope. It will test the political talent and the leadership of President Petro. If he exaggerates the speed, the magnitude, or the articulation of the changes, that will hurt the confidence of the other factors of power that will be used by democracy and capitalism to try to slow him down; but if he moderates too much so as not to create discomfort, he won’t be able to make the changes that would really impact the lives of the citizens, especially those that need them most.

Modern leadership makes greater demands to obstruct change than to initiate it. Ronald Heifetz uses the metaphor of the cooking pot to describe the challenges facing a leader who has attained a position hoping to carry out the vision by which he won support. The cooking pot needs fire to cook the food, but if it gets too hot, the food is ruined, or the pot might even explode. The art is in knowing how to raise and lower the heat at different times, according to the needs and possibilities. The Messianic leader tends to use too much heat; the pusillanimous leader doesn’t use enough.

Gustavo Petro’s job will not just be to govern. To do that, you only need the authority granted you by the people; you have to lead, so that change is accepted. Uribe’s greatest success was in producing “what Antonio Gramsci called cultural hegemony—the capture of the thinking of a society by means of political language, to a point that it is adopted even by people who don’t share it—.”

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