Opinion: Petro is a politician, not a statesman

Prensa Petro Presidente

Gustavo Petro is not a statesman. He is just a plain, more-of-the-same politician. And this is why, his administration will be of little significance.

Churchill, De Gaulle, Roosevelt and Mandela were statesmen. Angela Merkel is a stateswoman. Uruguay’s Pepe Mujica and Zelenskyy from Ukraine, are statesmen. Not Petro. Not by far.

A statesman transcends the simple contest for power. He engages nations in the pursuit of a clear set of beliefs, and without a distinction of good or evil.

Statesmen have visualized and led a transition toward democracy, fought to defeat tyranny, restored greatness and pride among their citizens, worked to abolish slavery, defended an island nation from Nazism, or end apartheid.

They are personally committed to ideals, to defining the superior vision of a nation and dedicating themselves to achieving this vision.

These ideals unite nations in projects that might help them rise to greatness or sometimes to sink into tragedy; but anyhow, great transformations are brought about by linking the hearts of millions to a set of ideals, to beliefs and to a vision. And to action.

Politicians are obsessed with their own glorification. They bring people together through thirst of revenge or of power, through greed, fear, or hatred.

A statesman is an educated individual. He/she is deeply and firmly committed with principles. They have thought out their ideas; tested beliefs; and challenged perceptions. A statesman is first an intellectual, in the full sense of the word.

Politicians are only loyal to themselves and to persons who can promote their career towards power. Their ideals are built by political strategists. Their visions are created by marketing experts.

Statesmen appear when a nation is facing disaster, when there is much to be lost, or when much has already been lost. A statesman will surface when the country is falling apart, when the world is up in flames, when all hope is lost.

The problem for Colombia, is that the last time we faced such dire circumstances was 200 years ago when fighting the war for independence against Spain. Colombia has always lacked a considerable crisis to reinvent itself. Mediocre stability seems to be more pernicious than devastating episodes in history.

President-elect Petro has given us much information throughout his political career of the sort of person he is.  Just weeks after his election victory, he has confirmed most suspicions.

Roy Barreras, his choice for president of congress, is not much more than a political hired gun, as are his other close allies Armando Benedetti and Luis Fernando Velasco. They are more of the same, professional politicians on the outlook for the prevailing winds.

All his candidates for the role of Minister of Finance were bureaucrats of administrations past and who he (Petro) labelled as corrupt or outdated. Cecilia López, at 79 years of age is still tied to the failed political policies of the sixties that kept Latin America in slow economic growth rates through isolationism and protectionism. She now will head the Ministry of Agriculture.

Petro’s alliance with César Gaviria and the Liberal Party is a painful irony. Gaviria, as President (1990-1994), worked with economist Rudolf Holmes along with arch-rival Álvaro Uribe to create the labour, pensions, and health systems that Petro so openly despises, and has vowed to overturn.

His draft for a tax reform is in every shape and form a remake of prior projects: raise taxes for a few very wealthy individuals, close loopholes, widen the taxation on the middle class and offer the tax authority the tools to enforce compliance and collections. It sounds too much as a tax reform cliché: in any country of the world.

Petro is showing his weakness by trying to satisfy every political group that is willing to jump on his boat. Even the Conservative Party is declaring itself in support of Petro’s legislative agenda. He even met with Uribe to project “consensus.” But true leadership needs not befriend everyone. Leadership demands opposition.

Petro has shown no commitment to any principle, any ideology or belief. One day he calls himself a liberal, the next he is a capitalist, and even though convenient amnesia calls for it, he did once declare himself a loyal follower of Chávez and his 21st Century Socialism. He is everything… and nothing. He is failing to build a vision of an egalitarian Colombia.

Petro will not bring about great transformations, good or bad. He will not help raise the country to prominence, but he will not sink it into disaster. He will pass as one more mediocre character that managed to get elected for his own vanity and thirst for power. He will join the ranks of dozens of Latin American presidents who missed their chance in history because their self-love did not permit them to create ideal-based visions of better nations.

Getting elected makes Petro a skillful and perhaps admired politician. But to be called a statesman, he would need a structured set of principles and beliefs, an engaging vision of a better Colombia, and deep personal commitment to these ideals and visions. And that, he lacks completely.

About the author: Jorge Ortiz is a lawyer and MBA. He is also a consultant to management.