SEMANA, December 17, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The President, in a lengthy interview with Vicky Dávila, defends freeing the Front Line. He talks about his health and answers a question about his wife possibly running for President. He says that Pedro Castillo, in Perú, is a ‘victim’, and that there are also people that would like to bring him down.
VICKY DÁVILA: Mr. President, this is the interview that everybody wants to see.
GUSTAVO PETRO: I think it is . . .
V.D.: Thank you for receiving us here in the Presidential Palace.
G.P.: Here in this cold.
V.D.: Yes, intense.
G.P.: (Laughing) It’s tough.
V.D.: You ought to be sleeping with double blankets.
G.P.: (Laughing) The featherbeds are getting famous already.
V.D.: The featherbeds (laughing).
G.P.: (Laughing) Bit it’s true we have to keep warm because I’m a little bit under the weather.
V.D.: You are?
G.P.: Of course, because I make very sudden climate changes. I go to La Guajira, next to Puerto Asís, then everything is really hot, and when I get back here, the change of weather makes me sick.
V.D.: I wasn’t exactly planning to start the interview talking about your health. But, since we’re on the subject, and by the way, it’s nothing to worry about, is it? Mr. President, are you OK?
G.P.: Oh yes, even though I’ve had this gastritis for a long time. I have to watch that, because it could cause problems. I get an attack when I don’t follow a good diet. There are foods that can be really harmful. But, in general, I’m fine. We have had serious virus problems on international trips. I think there is a serious virus problem in the world. On that trip to Egypt, I was able to avoid it, but several journalists got sick with covid. It even came on the plane, which was very risky. We all had to be tested, it was no problem. In México the same thing happened, but this time the ones that got sick were the officials in the Consulate in México. Four of them. But it wasn’t covid; it was some rare virus and I did get sick from that. But in general, let’s say, we fended it off.
V.D.: People say all kinds of things about your health; that you have cancer, that you’re dying, you must have heard all that.
G.P. (Laughing) But that’s just talk. The gastritis does have a high risk, but so far I’m very well.
V.D.: And that little cough is just allergy?
G.P.: It’s the reflux in the throat from the allergy from the weather changes. I’ve had that cough for months now.
V.D.: Do you take anti-allergy medications, herb tea, honey? What are they giving you?
G.P.: Over the counter syrups; but, in reality, they haven’t referred me to any allergy expert and I think that’s the path I will have to take.
V.D.: Mr. President, what’s the difference between spokesmen for peace and workers for peace?
G.P.: They are legal terms. Basically, they have to do with the Peace Statute that has been deferred for a long time and has been the legal framework for negotiating with the armed groups. With the FARC in the past, for example, and with the ELN. Now we are expanding that to what we call the social conflict, which has left people incarcerated. My opinion is that a social conflict should not be a reason for putting people in jail. There are hundreds of people, not just in jail, but also charged, tried; I mean, we have turned protest into a judicial proceeding. There are extreme cases, and we aren’t saying that they are all like that, but in general, this should not be. We are only going to move within the concept of spokesmen, we are not going to affect judicial proceedings, we can’t. The judges, their procedures, if it’s a case for the prosecutors, they all keep on, they continue. What we are going to try with the prosecutors is that in the legal process there ought to be wider participation, more eyes to see. You can’t tell the excluded young people from poor neighborhoods in Colombia that they will end up in jail because all the other doors are closed to them. We have to open up a different destination. Your destiny, young man, young woman, is to study.
V.D.: Your announcement that you would free members of the Front Line that are in jail has set off a legal storm. The Attorney General, the Inspector General, and the President of the Supreme Court all agree that you can’t do that, but you have gone ahead.
G.P.: The Statute mentions the social conflict, and it names spokespersons when that social conflict has resulted in having a lot of people in jail.
V.D.: You’re saying that you can do that?
G.P.: Of course we can do that. And we’re going to do it. We have already signed it. What’s happening is that the proposal made some people think that we were going to inject ourselves into a legal process and break up judicial proceedings. Not at all. It’s just the same as when President Álvaro Uribe pulled Sra. Karina out of jail. He appointed her to be a worker for peace. And he did that with several people. The procedure is exactly the same. It’s just that the Statute has been expanded and it’s no longer just to organize armies, which are now multi-crime organizations, but it’s also for people that, on the basis of the social conflict, they have been jailed.
V.D.: Mr. President, there are nine members of the Front Line that have been convicted of serious crimes, like torture. That’s the case with alias 19. Is that fellow going to walk out of prison?
G.P.: We are not going to take any convicted people out of prison.
V.D.: Some of them have not been convicted, but they are facing serious charges, for example the ones that are in custody and accused of killing Captain Jesús Alberto Solano, can they be released?
G.P.: No. That has nothing to do with the social conflict. That’s another matter. We are going to establish permanent communications with the prosecutors, because they are the ones that really know the cases. We don’t know the cases and we have no reason to know them. The Attorney General’s fountain of information will be fundamental. Prosecutorial discretion, mediation, and settlement agreements for these young people that are jailed or at home after being charged, and that will facilitate the conclusion of their cases, but the administration won’t be doing that. That will be done by the legal system itself, the Attorney General’s Office.
V.D.: What’s the justification for that?
G.P.: That the conflict come to an end, this war, because in many areas it has ended in war. A social conflict can’t be managed with jails. It’s managed with dialog. The reasons behind this youth movement, which for the first time was the young people from the barrios, not the universities, were legitimate. I mean, that when the young people say ‘I want to work’; ‘I want to study’; ‘I want to have an opportunity’: ‘I want a life’; well, they are absolutely right. This administration is going to open up possibilities for the young people of the barrios.
V.D.: What do you say to the judges that are worried, that evaluated the evidence and decided, based on the evidence, that these people ought to go to jail?
G.P.: We are thinking of people that are accused. Listen, accused, they have not been convicted; you can’t call them criminals; they are under orders from judges and prosecutors. We aren’t going to affect that from any point of view. The judges, if they want to call them up, let them call them up. What’s happening is that the youngster is going to make an agreement with the government to carry out some specific tasks with some conditions. Meanwhile, the case continues; we won’t suspend it.
V.D.: When they are released, what work are these people going to do for the government?
G.P.: Organize the youth in their barrio, in their urban surroundings, to make possible the advances for youth that we are going to develop.
V.D.: And suppose they’re working on that, but are convicted. Do they lose the benefit?
G.P.: They will go to jail if that’s what the judge decides. Even though they could be sentenced to house arrest, as has happened to the most corrupt in Colombia, but not to the young people. Pay attention to that difference. It can happen that there could be a legal negotiation in which the judge takes part, which is how prosecutorial discretion can work. That’s what we were talking about with the Attorney General. Then, with prosecutorial discretion, in spite of the fact that there is evidence for a trial, it can be limited for the benefit of the young person. Why? Why is it that in Colombian society it’s better for people to go to jail than to have opportunities? This is a better society.
V.D.: How can the government guarantee that these people won’t run for it when they’re out in the street?
G.P.: We have the first seven cases and it’s the Front Line. That’s how we can tell if the system will work. There are even people among these seven that aren’t prisoners, they aren’t in jail.
V.D.: Let’s go to the extreme case; a person escapes. What happens to the agreement he made with the government and the judges?
G.P.: Well, it’s broken.
V.D.: And they will start going after him.
G.P.: Obviously. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but we will see.
V.D. Mr. President, to close down the subject of the Front Line now, some people, maybe very suspicious people, are wondering what’s the motivation, why the commitment to the covenant that Petro made, to release these people. How do you answer them?
G.P.: If we believe that the young people, because of their longing for recognition by society, have to be convicted, put in jail, beaten, even killed, as happened at that time, then we aren’t building a nation. That isn’t a nation. A nation doesn’t kill its children. Measured by that concept, what happened at that time was an enormous political error by the government. Everybody knows the causes; the tax reform bill was one, but ultimately, the real cause of the conflagration was the lack of dialog. Why couldn’t this room have been used for dialog with the young people? We don’t like the clothes they wear, or what? That isn’t important. They had some things to demand. Not just to ask for, because their demand was for human dignity. Now we have an administration, if it’s a democratic one, it will pay attention, listen, and provide them with a solution. If you tell these young people, ‘your future is prison’ or ‘if you protest, we will kill you’, you are shutting down the future of this country.
V.D.: What do you say to the victims of those people that are in jail? They feel that they were not considered and that you are rewarding the people that did them so much harm.
G.P.: Paradoxically, the victim is the government, because the protests were against the government. There you have a paradox. You have a civil society that you are calling killers and a government that thinks it’s the victim. It’s the reverse.
V.D.: Obviously, I’m not talking about the ones that protested. I’m talking, for example, of the parents of Captain Solano, whom they murdered with a knife. What do you say to them now?
G.P. That the legal system acted and found them guilty and the guilty are going to prison. If you look at the violence in Colombia, the armed conflict, people get killed right and left. And I just went to Munchique (Cauca Department). I wanted to go there the other day, even with the serious surprise that the dead bodies are still there. I saw what the people are going through. Of course, the mistakes by the military, but that’s the least of it. I saw the conflict, the young people that survived were kids 18, 20 years old, I saw them in shock. I wanted to stay and sleep there. I ended up sleeping in Buenos Aires (Cauca), the closest municipality.
If the society closes the doors on negotiating peace to end the armed conflict, if that’s what we decide, as was decided before, it’s war, war, war. How many boys are going to die? If we make an analysis in ten years we have 5,000, 10,000 killed, all of them kids, is that an objective for a society, or do we have to admit that it’s up to us to stop the war? So then, where is the exit? Revenge, without forgiveness, without reconciliation?
That is a logic that a victim might be thinking. I don’t think so. The majority of victims that I have talked to, mothers of soldiers, police, combatants, mothers of people tortured and disappeared, the majority of them want this to end. That there be no more victims. That we forgive.
V.D.: But the victims also want justice . . .
G.P.: They want this to be over. I was with the victims of El Aro. It was 16 years more or less after a decision by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (CIDH in Spanish) that ordered the government to apologize. It was 16 years and the administration of that time never complied. At the massacre, there were official helicopters. They allowed the slaughter. Why couldn’t the government apologize? It was up to me to do it. I saw elderly people weeping, I saw an auditorium full of people all weeping, I cried myself. I could hardly stand the level of stored-up misery. What does that mean? It’s a government that begs pardon, that says, ‘Look, it’s that the government helped to kill those people, humble campesinos, all of them, innocent, by the dozen, there in El Aro.’ So if a government can’t apologize, there will never be peace in Colombia.
V.D.: The police that are in jail, charged with committing crimes during the strike, will they be released?
G.P.: That’s the government. I keep telling you, it’s a political game, for the media, society is thought to be the victimizer, and the government the victim. That’s how part of public opinion sees the problem that we call the explosion. The society, the victimizer, because it went out to protest; and the government, the victim, because it repressed the protest and killed 100 young people. A government shouldn’t kill.
V.D.: Is that a no? The police won’t get out of jail?
G.P.: A government can’t torture, it can’t be worse than the criminals, it can’t be managed by the criminals. Do you know what that produces? Genocide. Society doesn’t produce that, the government produces that, it has the potential for genocide because of its power.
V.D.: Mr. President, but don’t you think that will generate more violence? You are determined to have total peace. So the police should be in jail and not the Front Line?
G.P.: That time will come. The JEP is a place for restorative justice. That’s a strange word meaning it tries to provide restoration to the victims. The military go to the JEP and thousands are saying, ‘What are they trying to do? Confess that they committed crimes, which is generally called false positives. False positives is a bad term used by the media. It’s the way the communications media could remove the characterization of the government as the killer. It’s a power game, because what the government did was systematically shoot to death thousands of young men and women, civilians, many of them vulnerable. That is a crime against humanity. The worst one in the hemisphere in recent decades. The time could arrive, a time I call social forgiveness, where all of the actors, including those who were acting for the government, could end up in a process of reconciliation.
V.D.: I want to talk about your wife, Verónica Alcocer. She has charisma and she can fly on her own. What do you think about the fact that she’s already being talked about as a candidate for President in 2016?
G.P.: Sometimes people say, ‘This person or that person wants to be a candidate for President.’ There are a lot of those and there will be a lot more. Up to now, we are just getting started with this administration. Don’t take me to the end of it so fast.
V.D.: But do you like the idea?
G.P.: First, I’m not going to interfere in my wife’s decisions that, as a woman, are unfettered. Second, I’m not going to interfere in the political process. When it’s time to think about a new campaign, Petro isn’t going to be the one to decide on the candidate for President, whoever it may be. I’m not going to get myself into that. There will be a process, like next year in the case of the Mayors races. There should be a process for a democratic selection, where the public, through consultations, chooses progressive candidates. I’m not going there, to those contained offices, with a ball-point to see who should be the candidate in Medellín, in Cartagena . . . That’s not my role.
V.D.: I have to change the question to insist. You won’t oppose your wife’s candidacy for President?
G.P.: The only thing I will say is that there is a process for the people to use in deciding who the candidate will be.
V.D.: And if it’s your wife?
G.P.: Anybody that wants to get into that mess, the one that I, thank goodness, am just out of. I have been in it for many years. Anybody that wants to get into that, man, woman, near or far, will have to go through a popular consultation process.
V.D.: It’s that Verónica Alcocer is your wife and you would have to say, ‘Yes, dear, go for it, I’ll support you,’ or ‘Darling, I won’t support you.’
G.P.: Let me hold my tongue.
V.D.: Which speaks more than words.
G.P.: Sometimes that’s important.
V.D.: Do you see potential in her?
G.P.: Yes, she has potential and so do some other people. Let’s let it be the way the politics goes. I’m not interested in having a member of my family be a candidate. Like what happened with my older son, who was a Deputy before I became President, and he had decided to go into politics. That was his decision. My other children have decided on other things.
V.D.: Going and studying . . .
G.P.: And my daughter Antonella to play football. Those are decisions that are up to them. I don’t force them or hinder them or make them do things. It seems to me that, in the case of my children, they ought to be completely free in the choices they make in their lives, for their own purposes. It could be here or away. It could be intellectual, or not, that has been my effort, which has cost me quite a bit, because I have faced difficult times and at the same time I have had to support them financially. But they have had a good education and are able to have convictions and relatively solid standards about their occupations. Their purpose.
V.D.: How does a President manage the matter of family?
G.P.: It’s difficult. Of course, it can be a vulnerable point. I’ll tell you this. When I met Pedro Castillo, in Perú, I went into the Palace. There they give you a reception, with protocol. Then he comes into the Palace and we had an opportunity to talk there, just as I’m talking with you. He seemed troubled, he was a nervous person. He told me, ‘No, it’s that several hours ago they came to search the Palace and to take my wife and daughter prisoner.” And that set me to thinking: putting yourself in a situation like that is not a simple matter. One thing is when they come after you, I had resisted, and another thing is when they attack the weak. Who set that off? Well, the Peruvian oligarchy. That was their way of trapping the President. However we evaluate this President, which is not up to me to do, what I saw was a President that was trapped. That was a month and a half ago. I followed the case. How a Parliament, not very popular for a lot of reasons, could start an offensive to trap a President and bring him down? That’s called a Parliamentary coup. So, the criticisms of the offensive are the way they took his daughter prisoner, the way they took his wife prisoner, and the way they destroyed him as a person. There have been times when I have felt trapped.
V.D.: Really? Like when, Mr. President?
G.P.: Yes, of course. When there were the attachments of my property for example. There was a legal offensive against me and they wanted to take me prisoner in that manner at a time when I was vulnerable to the Attorney General’s Office. Sure, there came the lawsuits and the why’s. At the same time, there was an offensive from several agencies of control. The Inspector General’s Office, you recall, took me out of the Mayor’s Office. In the control agencies there was a barrage of attachments that added up to USD $100,000,000. In social media, they said, ‘Well just pay.’ Sure, of course, $100,000,000! I saved my house, which is the only property I have, although it’s still mortgaged, because it was a family estate. If not, they would have taken it and left me with nothing; it was attached, I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘What is it that you want? Want me to leave the country? Just go?’ They didn’t kill me, but they were trapping me.
V.D.: You’re comparing yourself with Castillo . . .
G.P.: But still, in that trap, I think that gentleman in Perú has experienced something worse, and with less support. You can see by the news that people are going out into the streets. There is a serious problem, an emergency, there are demonstrations, above all in the Sierra area, which was where the people voted for him. Perú has been experiencing a societal fracture for a long time between what is Lima and what is the Sierra. They have very different political processes, the one and the other. That President, popularly elected, is from the Sierra. They are taking him down, among other reasons, because he’s from the Sierra, because he’s poor.
V.D.: Is it that you don’t believe that Pedro Castillo is corrupt?
G.P.: I can’t say; I don’t have the facts. What you see is that he’s not being prosecuted for corruption, he’s being prosecuted by rebellion. He’s the President, imagine that?
V.D.: But they have accused him, supposedly, of being the head of a criminal organization.
G.P.: But he hasn’t been convicted of that. So you can’t say that. They said that about me too, for example, that the stock that I sold, the re-purchase by TGI (International Gas Transport) was an act of corruption. Of course, it came out that way in the newspaper, that was sold for as much and bought for as much. You actually have to demonstrate, even with technical complexity, that that was the value of the companies, that we hadn’t done anything wrong, rather the contrary. We had doubled the value of the Bogotá Energy Company, which is what a Governor is supposed to do. Imagine a damage to those assets when the company’s value was not reduced, but instead was doubled. But they never let me do anything without headlines announcing things that were intended to show that I was corrupt. What’s true is that in Perú there is a President elected by the people and who tried to use an Article of their Constitution that did indeed allow the Congress to be shut down. We don’t have that, and look what happened there.
V.D.: Just let me say this. There was a particular circumstance, and it was that their Congress that he ordered shut down was at the point of decreeing his office vacant.
G.P.: That vacancy, which is a Parliamentary coup. That vacancy, meaning, ‘you’re out’.
V.D.: For you, Pedro Castillo is a victim? Is that what you think?
G.P.: That’s what I think.
V.D.: But listen, the CIDH (Inter-American Court for Human Rights) didn’t protect Castillo.
G.P.: Well, is the CIDH carrying out the American Convention, or is it in a political game that has to do with the OEA (Organization of American States)?
V.D.: What do you mean?
G.P.: If the leftist governments keep on winning, the OAS has to change. So, what simpler mechanism than taking down leftist governments, legitimately chosen by the people?
V.D.: Do you think that what’s happening to Castillo is a warning for other leftist governments, including you? Do you think that could happen to you? Would they try that?
G.P.: For all of them, yes. It happened in Paraguay, in Honduras, in Brazil, when they took down Dilma Rousseff. It happened in Bolivia, with some people killed, among the cases I remember. The message is clear. What they can’t win at the polls they are trying to take down and that can’t be. So, the democratic covenant, which I call the American Convention, breaks. That’s what happened to Allende. When they took down Allende, who was a President elected by the people, when they downed him by force, what happened then in Latin America? Dictatorships followed, millions of people exiled, revolutionary wars. I am a son of that. In Central America, in Colombia, they broke the democratic covenant. There was only violence. Thirty years have gone by and now it’s another time, again, the people choosing who should govern them, for bad or for good, but it’s the people choosing. Why do they overthrow them? Why doesn’t the Latin American oligarchy want progressives? When progressives win the elections, they don’t overthrow the Presidents by force. The only thing they’re doing is driving us to such levels of violence that could be serious if we aren’t ready to react. We are seeing it already. What can be done in Colombia? Clearly, it’s a path that certain people are seeing as legitimate.
V.D.: Seriously, do you think there are people in Colombia who want to overthrow you?
G.P.: (Laughing) Do you think there aren’t?
V.D.: Tell me . . .
G.P.: (Laughing) What’s happening is that there aren’t very many.
V.D.: They don’t have much power?
G.P.: Yes and we have something we didn’t have before, the power of the people, the people are supporting us up to now. We are strong and we have played honestly, in many ways, weakening any attempts that would not be democratic. We have opened the doors of democracy; the opposition always comes here and tells us what they want us to do. So, we aren’t fostering a path to polarization, as has already happened in Perú.
V.D.: But the attempts to overthrow you, where do they come from, are there any?
G.P.: Yes, there are people that would like to, that don’t like it when the people express their will at the polls.
V.D.: Mr. President, let’s get to the point on the subject of your family. People are saying that, supposedly, Verónica Alcocer holds positions in the administration. Is that bogus, or is it true?
G.P.: It’s bogus. I don’t say I don’t have people that know her, because we’ve been together for 23 years.
V.D.: Of course, but if she were to come and say to you, ‘Gustavo, just for me, appoint that personage to something’ . . .
G.P.: That doesn’t exist.
V.D.: And would you agree to that?
G.P.: No. Obviously, I could make a mistake on the people that I appoint. There are nearly 140 agencies. Many of them I never heard of. I had never heard anybody mention them, and they keep appearing. When you have that quantity of positions to fill, managers, directors, presidents, women, because you have to pay attention to the quota law, the possibility of error does exist. What happens is that you have to size them up, there are ways to test. The press itself is a help, they do what seems like a support for the governor, not because they don’t criticize, because what they do is criticize, but there are times when you figure out that there is a reality.
V.D.: As in the ICBF?
G.P.: In the ICBF: Sra. Baracaldo hasn’t been the Director for very long. There’s a potful of corruption there. We already know that. Those pots of corruption have killed children. There are some systems of attention that were instituted a long time ago and that, in my opinion, are inefficient, continue stuck to “bienestarina”, and to wretched methods of caring for the children, really wretched. It occurred to the leaders that taking care of poor children has to do with poverty. So they stick them in shacks. There’s no professionalism in many cases.
The case of the Guajiros (indigenous people) was the effort to mold the Wayú community, which has a culture that’s different from ICBF, which was working from Bogotá. Instead of doing the contrary. That means, take the ICBF and adapt it to the Wayú culture. This is what I have told the ICBF Director.
V.D.: But you are continuing to support her?
G.P.: We have to try it, it’s a test.
V.D.: You have her like in a “lower grade”, on alert . . .
G.P.: I’m watching. I said that in La Guajira, in Uribía. My speech was public, if children keep dying, we are the ones that have failed. That’s all it is.
V.D.: That means that if this doesn’t change, she will have to go?
G.P.: We can’t allow children to die of hunger in Colombia.
V.D.: But listen to what I’m saying. If that doesn’t change, she will have to go?
G.P.: Any official that doesn’t achieve the objective will have to go.
V.D.: What do you say to all of the people that think you want to stay in office after August 7, 2026?
G.P.: No. The Constitution says that it’s until 2026.
V.D.: Peñalosa says that you want to remain and that you will remain . . .
G.P.: I don’t care what he says.
V.D.: In this administration you will never change the Constitution so that you can be re-elected?
G.P.: No. That will never happen.
V.D.: And not to extend your term either?
G.P.: No. That has nothing to do with this administration. That’s Claudia López’ proposal, thinking more about the Mayors Offices. They think that all the mayors should have the same terms as the President’s term, which is not what is sought in the Constitution, but that they would be able to plan better. But that’s not for this administration. Nor for the current mayors either. It’s a proposal for the future, to match the mayors’ terms with the President’s term. I think it’s questionable, I don’t much care for it, but the idea also has some basis.
V.D.: But for you, zero?
G.P.: No, for me, no.
V.D.: Mr. President, I see a new medal on your hand.
G.P.: No, by now it’s pretty old.
V.D.: What medal is it?
G.P.: It’s a special cross that protects. This is a cross that, according to Catholic tradition, protects from the bad energy that’s around here.
V.D.: And you’re seeing a lot of bad energy?
G.P.: Just imagine. It has this function: to protect from the darkness.
V.D.: Have you prayed a whole lot in these four months? Has it been difficult?
G.P.: Well, it seems to me that it has been relatively easy. The objectives that we have proposed have passed relatively easily. Undoubtedly a more difficult period is coming. Up to now it’s been a honeymoon. We haven’t lost the support of the population. I have been on the move because I don’t like being here (in the Palace). That has worn me out physically, to tell the truth. When I go out, I see a lot of friendliness.
V.D.: Do you feel as if the people like you?
G.P.: Yes. There is so much hope. Disappointing that would be terrible. I have a commitment and it’s to do everything I can to transform the people’s li ving conditions.
V.D.: There are two key reforms, the one for pensions and the one for health. Regarding pensions, are you going to raise the age of eligibility?
G.P.: No, that’s not the problem right now. The worst is the structure that we have. The financing system is leaving three million older adults without anything, in the street. The objective of a pension system is to provide pensions. If not, what’s it for? If the people comply with the rules, the age, why can’t they receive a pension? So, here there is no pension if you aren’t in Colpensiones. It is the only way that you are guaranteed a pension. In others, no; unless you earn more than four times the minimum wage. That is a small part of the population who have that privilege. But the immense majority of the population in Colombia earn less than the minimum wage. So, you have no system here that gives you a pension, and the goal of the reform is so that you will have one. There has to be a system that guarantees the pension.
V.D. With your contribution, or not?
G.P. No. I’m talking about complying with the criteria in the law. So you count the weeks worked and the age. But it’s that there are people that do that, and they aren’t going to receive a pension. Why? Because the amount saved in their individual account doesn’t allow them to get a pension. Why? Because of the low amount of their salaries. So, we are excluding the majority of Colombian society from the right to a pension.
V.D.: Mr. President, the eternal: Are the private pension funds over with?
G.P.: No they aren’t over with. What we’re saying is that they are to be complementary, in a system of pillars, because now they are separate. Now you are either in one of them or the other. The majority are in the one that doesn’t provide any pension. That’s where the majority of young people are.
V.D.: Are you recommending that people go to Colpensiones?
G.P.: That’s what’s happening.
V.D.: Really? The mass of people are going there?
G.P.: Some 50 billón pesos (roughly USD $10,477,000,000 at today’s exchange rates). That’s not from right now. That’s been happening throughout the last two administrations, more or less. That’s why the government isn’t broke. But there is a flow. When the people start to notice it, to figure out their accounts, when they see that it’s not a promise now, like in 1993, but rather, now they are definitely starting to realize that they’re not going to have a pension, that’s when the pressure starts.
V.D. If anybody asks where to sign up, whether in Colpensiones or a private fund, what would you say?
G.P.: I’m in a public fund.
V.D.: In Colpensiones.
G.P.: Well, Iwas, butwhenIwasMayorandinCongress,thosehave public funds. But never in a private fund. I voted against that in 1993. I was 32 years old and that’s what they had. Of course, I was young, I was hungry for a private pension fund. That’s when the girls came to seduce a person to go into a private pension fund . . .
V.D.: And you didn’t let yourself be seduced . . .
G.P.: I didn’t let myself be seduced, and it wasn’t so bad. If I would have done that, I would have had serious problems. Well, now the President’s Office has a special system, but I would have had serious problems.
V.D.: You will never touch the money in the funds?
G.P.: The stocks . . .
V.D.: There are billóns (trillions in English) and billóns of pesos.
G.P.: There are almost 300 billón pesos (roughly USD $62,800,000,000 at today’s exchange rates).
V.D.: Health care reform is crucial. Do you still think that Colombia’s health care system is one of the worst in the world?
G.P.: It’s that I measure it by indicators. For example, the rate of maternal deaths. That’s an international indicator of health care system efficiency. Colombia is last in the OCDE (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). So you have a health care system that lets women die. Breast cancer is a problem essentially feminine and there are women that are dying, simply because they have to wait. In Bogotá there is a good or passable indicator. But go to Chocó and La Guajira, it’s the world of exclusion. What is the health system there? Children are dying. So there is a health care system that’s good. . . in Chapinero.
V.D.: What’s important is that you don’t suffer harm in Chapinero either. . .
G.P.: No, we aren’t going to harm the health care system in Chapinero (laughing). It’s working well. But the rest of the country?
V.D.: Are the EPS going to disappear? That has been said lately.
G.P.: There is a coordination process. That’s how we reached the minimum wage regulation; it was coordinated. Business leaders and workers reached an agreement on a 16% increase. I hope that 16% will permit reactivation of the economy in the coming year. It should generate a recovery of purchasing power, above all, for food. The problem is that hunger is coming back now, because of food prices. So we have also undertaken coordination processes for pensions and health care. There will be other items like labor reform, which is another reform we are going to propose, hoping for stability for Colombian workers. In the case of health care, I’ve seen a dialog between the current EPS, the ones still remaining, because there’s just a handful. They’ve all gone broke and they’ve taken the money from the hospitals and clinics. The debt is 30 billón pesos (roughly USD $6,272,000,000 at today’s exchange rates). They call them dead. That’s the result now. There’s a handful of EPS that are compensation funds. Let’s say that we support them as clinics, as hospitals, meaning as IPS. We will look to the coordination process, where it goes. My priority in the reform is to set up an entire system of prevention.
V.D.: Do you go to bed early?
G.P.: It depends. Today, for example, I would like to go to bed early.
V.D.: Iván Márquez in “total peace”? Yes or no?
G.P.: Could be. If he has the capability to influence armed people, which I don’t know, yes.
V.D.: Can you really make peace with the ELN?
G.P.: The ELN have no other option. I already told them. It’s the priest Camilo Torres or Pablo Escobar. Which path do you choose? Look at Buenaventura, it has three months without a killing.
V.D.: How did it go with Maduro? Well or bad?
G.P.: The relationship is normalizing. It’s going slower than I thought. For example, to open the bridge at Tienditas, which is a big bridge; the sanctions there are limiting for a lot of things. There is a negotiation process that we have tried to support, between the Venezuelan government and the United States, and they have made some progress. The United States now has its petroleum company there; that is one of their biggest interests. And I don’t know if that’s the interest of the people there, who need to eat and have a decent life.
V.D.: When will you have a formal meeting with Joe Biden?
G.P.: We are preparing for that. We don’t have an exact date yet.
V.D.: The Ideas for Peace Foundation says that the operating capacity of the Police and the Army has diminished by 70 %. Is that true?
G.P.: We have not seen that. If you measure, for example, in seizures of cocaine, there have been the most in history. Not all of history, but definitely the most in recent months. There have been 10, 14, and 12 tons. If you measure by the rate of homicides, which is a big indicator, there is a reduction in Bogotá and it’s at the point of reaching 10 homicides for every 100,000 residents. If it keeps going down, it’s among the least violent cities in the world. There’s a big success in Medellín where it’s around 13,14, same as Cali, almost half the rate. But in the Colombian Caribbean they are experiencing an increase in the rate of homicides because of the urban violence in their capitals. It’s not that we are having success everywhere, nor failures on every side either. Half the country is working well on the path we want to see; the other half is still in the dark.
V.D.: Will you let coal and petroleum exploration and exploitation alone?
G.P.: Petroleum and coal won’t let humanity alone. It can’t sleep because of climate change.
V.D.: Do you think about that every day of your life, really?
G.P.: I went to Europe to study, I gave classes on that at the university.
I’m writing a book, that I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish, on that subject. I’ve taken part in all of the worldwide discussion and not just in Colombia. Here the subject was almost unknown, and I introduced it, and made it the main idea in the Mayor’s Office in Bogotá. It’s a thing that could put an end to life on the planet. It has the potential for extinction, including that of humanity; it’s humanity’s most important problem. The cause is the intensive use of coal and petroleum. So the world has to disengage from it. When is the time?
V.D.: But you are going slower than you would like?
G.P.: I would like to speed it up. Ecopetrol will be moving faster.
V.D.: Will Felipe Bayón be staying or going?
G.P.: There is a process there and it’s being discussed by the board of directors. Let’s leave that for later.
V.D.: There will certainly be a change.
G.P.: Well, we’ll see.
V.D.: Do you like being President?
G.P.: I’m satisfied, although there are things I don’t like.
V.D.: What don’t you like?
G.P.: Changing my personal life, I feel like a prisoner.
V.D.: You do?
G.P.: Of course, because they are sending me here and there.
V.D.: It’s hard to stick to your schedule, is that it?
G.P.: It’s that I get behind, because it’s not an office schedule. If it were, it would be easier. You have to go to La Guajira, then to Cartagena. Sometimes I say, no more, because I don’t have the strength.
V.D.: Is it hard to stick with the clock, getting there on time? Is that difficult for you?
G.P.: It is difficult. But it’s that when you’re traveling around the country in an airplane, in a helicopter, you can’t make sure you will arrive on time.
V.D.: When you can’t get to an appointment with the Justices, or with the military to talk about the changes in the general staff, does it bother you:
G.P.: Yes, but it has more to do with my ailments, because it’s biorhythms. A virus gets in if your defenses are low. And if your defenses go down, you get tired, If you exaggerate the rhythm of your work, your defenses will be lowered.
V.D.: How many hours a day do you work?
G.P.: I try to get started at 8:00 in the morning and finish at 10:00 or 11:00 at night. This is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes they schedule me on Sunday and I cross it out. I say, no, not even.
V.D.: You get tired . . .
G.P.: Of course, because you wear down your biorhythms and you can’t do that because you will end up losing your effectiveness.
V.D.: Have you felt the solitude of being President?
G.P.: It’s like a loss of your freedom.
V.D.: But do you sometimes feel alone being the President?
G.P.: I do. But I have a release when I put my arms around the people. That’s fundamental for me. Then I feel the warmth from the people . . .
V.D.: You’re inspired . . .
V.D.: What do you do at the end of the day? Do you have a beer or a whiskey?
G.P.: No, no, because it knocks me out . . .
V.D.: It does? (Laughing) . . .
G.P.: Yes, and besides, with my reflux problem, it would be counterproductive.
V.D.: Are you doing any sports?
G.P.: I was, but I have to start it again.
V.D.: Have you gained weight?
G.P.: I’m losing weight.
V.D.: Are you eating Christmas treats?
V.D.: What are you asking the Christ Child to bring you?
G.P.: They always give me books.
V.D.: Anything else?
G.P.: We are going to have a big Christmas dinner for the people that live in the street in Bogotá. It will be in these same salons here.
V.D.: You’re going to invite them to the Presidential Palace?
G.P.: Of course.
V.D.: When your term ends, tell me a little about what you hope will be said about you and what give you a feeling of satisfaction.
G.P.: Change. The change is peace. They are synonymous. We can’t make peace without change.
V.D.: And those that are ‘Petroenthusiasts’ and say ‘I’m disappointed in Petro’, like Katherine Miranda or Gustavo Bolívar, who is tightening the screws? Do you bite your tongue when you hear that criticism?
G.P.: That’s obvious coming from a Member of Congress. I was one for 20 years.
V.D.: And that’s very demanding.
G.P.: I know what it’s like.
V.D.: You didn’t concede anything.
G.P.: I was going for political control, by means of very thorough debates.
V.D.: You were a Member of Congress that didn’t go after the kickbacks.
G.P.: I never had any other government position.
V.D.: Did you seek one?
G.P.: I never did.
V.D.: But now you have to be shaking off so many spongers asking for deals. Yes or no?
G.P.: Of course. You have an army of employees, contracts, contractors, interests on the move. Have you had to negotiate with the way politics are practiced in Colombia?
V.D.: Have you had to negotiate the way that politics operates in Colombia?
G.P.: I know what it’s like. I have tried, and we’ll see if it works or not, to have what was an individual negotiation be done by the parties. If it’s collective, you get away from the phantom of corruption which is customary when you start to negotiate individually. What are they negotiating there? Well, it’s the money. Not here. Negotiations for policy and influence in the administration. Those who defend democracy believe that it’s good to have parties. I can’t destroy them, I have to protect them. And also protect and care for the opposition. Up to now, that’s been working. I won’t be able to say that in six months when the elections start.
V.D.: What will you do when Gustavo Bolívar and Roy Barreras leave?
G.P.: There will be others.
V.D.: Do you care that Bolívar criticizes the administration’s coalition?
G.P.: Criticism always keeps you from making mistakes or decreases them. That’s how you make progress, if your thinking is unanimous, you’re dead.
V.D.: How has it been going with the press? I remember an interview you did in the campaign where you said that it would be a stormy relationship. How has it gone?
G.P. Relatively well. In addition, we have improved in public opinion, it’s gone well with the administration’s policies. If we’re able to continue with favorable public opinion, the strength of society is what permits transformations. If we don’t have the public behind us, our transformations will be weakened. I think we have to stimulate, beginning in the new year, a routine space for exchange with the press where everything can come out. Many problems come because they don’t understand the proposals, like in the case of the 100,000 young people and the million pesos.
V.D.: Now they’re saying that you want an election guarantee here.
G.P.: What allowed me to beat Rodolfo in the election was that a million young people, 18-30 years old, came out and voted. The 100,000 are just 10 per cent.
V.D.: Are you going to keep the honeymoon with ex-President Álvaro Uribe going?
G.P.: Well, any time he wants to stop by, the doors are open here.
V.D.: But did you imagine that you would have such a good relationship with him, in spite of years of differences and confrontation?
G.P.: Yes, I always thought that.
V.D.: There is a kind of respect between you two . . .
G.P.: Yes, of course. He has leadership. He was a very strong leader then.
V.D.: And you acknowledge that.
G.P.: Of course, a person becomes a leader of a part of the society, not just for the sake of it. That is worth something.
V.D.: And he respects you . . .
G.P.: Yes. When there are no entrapments, you know it. You get here, I get here. You understand that we’re talking frankly and that is fundamental in a democracy. Even in those diplomatic relationships where they always tell you ‘don’t talk, don’t say anything, you have to keep quiet, and so on’, I try to be frank.
V.D.: Like with Ortega.
G.P.: We have a disagreement with Ortega.
V.D.: Isn’t Ortega acting like a dictator?
G.P.: I don’t like what’s going on. That generation that accomplished the Sandinista revolution was a friend of M-19. A lot of people in M-19 went to fight in Nicaragua against the dictator Somoza. There were empathies and the majority of those people are in prison. Ortega put the command staff that made the revolution in prison. Obviously, I asked him to release Dora María Téllez, for example. The Court in The Hague said we had to have a dialog about the subject of the ocean and we have to do it. But I sent a petition for the release of the people that were imprisoned, and Ortega paid no attention to it.
V.D.: Is he very deaf?
G.P.: I can’t get that far into it, but it’s that power is a drug. I imagine many of those Presidents that get here, seeing those golden chairs and the Gobelin tapestries and the luxurious lamps and the carpets. So they are wrapped in it and are enticed; they feel that this is what power is.
V.D.: They go crazy . . .
G.P.: And power is a drug, it takes away the perspective of reality, it deforms you and you turn into an addict.
V.D.: And you, how are you managing this drug?
G.P.: I already had that experience when I was Mayor. I saw some of my colleagues transformed. When I placed them in a position, they changed, and I didn’t like it. I have had an antidote and that is taking root with the people, that’s sleeping in the homeless shelter, or walking through the puddles in the barrio.
V.D.: Not stopping being the person you have always been, where you come from.
G.P.: What I’ve always been, not losing my roots, the origins of my political activity. That keeps me in reality.
V.D.: You aren’t dazzled . . .
G.P.: I’m not dazzled, no. I don’t like it, so I escape from here.
V.D.: Mr. President, they’re telling a lot of stories about Francia Márquez, that you’re quarrelling, alienated, that you don’t like her, you’re disregarding her. Is all of that true?
G.P.: That’s all bunk.
V.D.: Why are they doing that?
G.P.: In order to fracture the administration. It’s a way to weaken it. If you break it apart, you create the divisions. So it’s not that division exists, it’s that they want to produce it. So they fabricate the news. We have a good relationship with Francia. Now we are signing the bill creating the Equality Ministry, which is a commitment. She will be the administrator.
V.D.: Mr. President, I now say good-bye. I repeat, do you think people will want to watch this interview.
G.P.: I think they will.
 In October 1997, AUC paramilitaries massacred 17 campesinos at El Aro (Antioquia Department).
 ICBF, Colombian Institute for Family Welfare
 Bienestarina is a local-production- based dietary supplement for use in emerging economies. In Colombia, ICBF furnishes this free to poor families.
 Colpensiones is Colombia’s public pension agency.
 Chapinero is an affluent sector of Bogotá.
 EPS means Health Promotion Entity. It’s a kind of government-sponsored health insurance.
 IPS is a health center in Colombia.