In the crowded campaign for the presidency of Colombia, with more than twenty candidates, even the one who leads all the polls, Gustavo Petro, has noticed the presence of an atypical candidate who has managed to attract attention in that sea of Names. “A figure like Rodolfo Hernández is ascending, the discourse is that of anti-corruption, which is what we have fought for, he has not. But now he appears as an anti-corruption candidate, we are allowing ourselves to remove the flags by a communication team that has become more effective than ours, “warns the leftist Petro in a video recorded during an assembly of his political movement that has sought to make his own viral mentioned, the former mayor of Bucaramanga who has taken advantage of his social media strategy despite being the oldest candidate.
Hernández, an engineer with a short political career, still unknown to a good part of Colombians – in the polls less than half of those consulted know him -, he does not define himself as being on the right or on the left, although several observers consider him a populist phenomenon to be taken seriously. Born in Piedecuesta, 20 kilometers from Bucaramanga, he considers himself a son of public education, and made his fortune as a construction businessman before being mayor between 2016 and 2019 of the capital of the department of Santander, a city of more than half a million of inhabitants in eastern Colombia. He speaks openly, with a popular language that does not shy away from insults and rudeness. He has distinguished himself by his broadcasts and videos on Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok, some exercising to show that health is not a problem at 76 years old. He has also met with youtubers and influencers, and does not stop blaming the “political mafia” for having Colombia mired in poverty. Without a political party, it has positioned itself as the outsider on the long way to the Casa de Nariño, the presidential palace.
“His speech does not represent any ideological edge, he has said that he admires former president Álvaro Uribe and has also said that in a second round in which he is not present, he would vote for Petro. This shows that it is a difficult phenomenon to pigeonhole, which attracts support based on a shared emotion of boredom for the corrupt, from the entire political spectrum, “summarized the political portal The Empty Chair. His mayor’s office was peppered with scandals such as the slap he gave to a councilman – which earned him a suspension from office – or an investigation into irregularities in the hiring of the garbage service involving one of his sons. His detractors recall several episodes loaded with xenophobia or misogyny.
The presidential campaign is heading towards a coalition pulse, with three large blocs. The leftist Gustavo Petro, at the head of the so-called Historical Pact, forged to suit him, is the rival to beat; Sergio Fajardo, Juan Manuel Galán and Alejandro Gaviria compete in the Centro Esperanza Coalition, while Team Colombia, more heeled to the right, includes Enrique Peñalosa, Federico Gutiérrez and Alex Char, former mayors of Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla, respectively. These three alliances will choose their sole candidate for the first round of the presidential elections, on May 29, 2022 in consultations that coincide with the March legislative elections. In that crowded field there are two orphaned coalition candidates, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of a government party in low hours that still asks for a clue in Equipo Colombia, and Rodolfo Hernández, who has chosen to remain outside those blocks that compete for a place in the second round. “I have no plans to ally myself with anyone. I got engaged the day I signed up to collect signatures that I was going independent. That of making inquiries is a trap ”, he reiterated in a recent interview with the newspaper Time.
While the continuing right bears the burden of the loss of prestige of President Iván Duque, former President Uribe – his political mentor – and patronage, “what Rodolfo Hernández represents in the campaign is the non-continuing right,” says the analyst and columnist Álvaro Forero Tascón, who considers it “a populist political project from the court of Donald Trump.” All populism, he points out, offers in essence to defeat the corrupt elites that are in power, and Hernández copies the Trumpist model of the “rich businessman who does not need to steal”, despite the questions. “He cleverly does not want to let himself be located anywhere because the key is to be that lone ranger without debt to anyone,” he adds about a phenomenon to which he attributes the potential to pick up the right if none of the Team Colombia candidates takes off. .
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“In recent years, different studies have shown a growing feeling of boredom and saturation with the political system, framed in the anti-establishment line that is seen in various parts of the world. Rodolfo is the one who is picking up on this sentiment beyond the right-left dilemma, ”says Andrés Segura, a public affairs consultant. “His colloquial, confrontational and denouncing speech is easily articulated with the image of being anti-establishment.”
Rodolfo, as his followers know him, has been on the rise this December. The National Consulting Center gave it second place in a survey for the magazine Week, which brought to its cover an illustration of the former mayor riding a rocket, an idea that the candidate himself took advantage of to make animations on his networks. 25.4% of those surveyed in this study were inclined to vote for Petro, 11% for Hernández and 7.3% for Fajardo, who usually appears in second place. Another Yanhass poll repeated that podium by giving Petro 25%, Hernández 13% and Fajardo 8%. In both measurements, however, the sum of the candidates who are part of the Centro Esperanza Coalition – which includes Fajardo – far exceeds Hernández. In all the first-round scenarios contemplated by pollster Invamer with unique coalition candidates, Hernández falls to third or fourth place.
If a trend consolidates that places Hernández as a serious opponent of Petro, it could displace the candidates on the right. The engineer has benefited from the confusion, he had the advantage of being able to concentrate on his campaign while other candidates were exhausted in negotiations to make their respective coalitions solidify, but the conformation of these blocks can now become his disadvantage. “The consultations generate a turbo for the winning candidates,” explains Segura. “Rodolfo’s challenge is to maintain his anti-politicking discourse, in the alternative channels he uses, to maintain the idea that his opponents represent the institutionality that has saturated the country.” Coverage and debates are already focused on alliances, diminishing its visibility in a career in which the reach of the networks, in which it has been so successful, is still uncertain.
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