Dubbed “Colombia’s Trump”, millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernández faces leftwing Gustavo Petro in a presidential race this Sunday. Although Hernández paints himself as a maverick outsider, Pablo Navarrete explains why he’s a dangerous reactionary who’s firmly part of the rich and powerful establishment.
Dubbed ‘Colombia’s Donald Trump’, millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernández came second in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections held in late May. He now faces Gustavo Petro, a leftwinger and former guerrilla, in the election run off set for the 19th of June.
The 77-year-old Hernández has created an image of himself as an anti-establishment outsider rallying against the corruption of the traditional political parties. In reality, however, he is a conservative with ties to the country’s discredited establishment and a history of misogynistic and racist outbursts. A Hernández victory would be a major setback for those struggling for a Colombia with peace and social justice.
Standing in Hernández’s way to the presidency is Gustavo Petro, who won the first round with 40.3% of the vote. If Petro wins the run-off it would be the first time that Colombia, known as the US government’s enforcer in Latin America, elected a leftwing president since it was founded in 1810. The stakes are high, and Washington is sure to be following events very closely.
In the run-up to the first round of the election, Hernández escaped any serious scrutiny of what he has said and done in the past. However, just a few examples paint an extremely troubling picture of the type of person he is.
In 2018, when he was mayor of the city of Bucaramanga, Hernández slapped a councilmember he was having an argument with. This was caught on camera. Two years earlier, while mayor, he caused a national scandal when he declared in a live video interview that he was a follower of Adolf Hitler who he called “a great German thinker”. In 2021 when he started his presidential campaign he backtracked and claimed that what he said had been a “slip of the tongue”.
Hernández’s party is called the “League of Anti-Corruption Governors”. A little ironic, given that Hernández has been under investigation on corruption charges. This will go to court in July this year -, conveniently, after we know whether Hernández has beaten Petro to become Colombia’s next president.
As for his relationship to former far-right president Alvaro Uribe, who oversaw some of Colombia’s worst human rights violations, Hernández praised Uribe in a 2019 television interview. “He helped me, Uribe,” Hernández said. “I have a debt of gratitude”. Uribe still casts a dark shadow over Colombian politics and, while the candidate he endorsed didn’t make the election run-off, there’s no doubt Uribe will be doing everything he can to make sure Hernández becomes president.
Despite these damning and violent outbursts, Hernández is in a strong position to win the election. While he came second in the first round of the election with 28.2% of the vote, more than 12 points behind Petro, it is expected that the votes of the third-placed candidate Federico Gutiérrez, who was endorsed by Uribe, will likely go to Hernández in the run-off. Uribe may yet have the last laugh.
Hernández can also count on the unofficial support of Colombia’s mainstream media, who have historically demonised the left and been a cheerleader for the country’s rightwing establishment. A video has emerged of Hernández being forewarned of questions by the host of a nationally televised election debate with other candidates before the first round. This is symptomatic of the way in which the establishment media in Colombia, as in most countries, plays a political role in favour of the right. So Petro can’t count on a fair hearing from the media.
If he is to beat Hernandez on the 19thof June, he will need to mobilise some of the 45% of the electorate that didn’t vote at all in the first round. The result is expected to be very tight, but let’s hope voters see through the façade and get to see the real Hernández.
Preventing this dangerous reactionary from becoming Colombia’s next president will be a major victory for progressive politics everywhere.
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