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Who is Petro speaking to?

The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, during a press conference.RAUL ARBOLEDA (AFP)

The scene was repeated for years in comedy television programs and has had its reissue on networks: a person is walking down the street and someone who crosses him talks to him. The passerby answers, but then blushes when he discovers that they were talking to someone behind him. It is, without the cheap joke component, and very seriously, what President Gustavo Petro is doing.

When Petro touches on the land problem, he is not talking to the same people as always. He does it to the peasants, who come behind, and he is telling them, directly, that they will have them. The way in which he does it will have to be resolved by his administration officials, but that is what he is saying. He does not claim that he will disrespect the right to property. He says that more Colombians will be able to enjoy it.

When Petro travels to the regions and, in the front row, the mayors of poor and small municipalities sit divinely dressed, with designer clothes and expensive watches, they believe that the president is speaking to them. No. He speaks to those in the back rows, who have only known the mark of corruption and unmet needs. Petro’s words pass through the regional leaders and arrive, with great force, at the end of the room.

When Petro finishes a courteous meeting with the union leaders, there is no press conference or photo with everyone. It is that he is speaking to the workers and not to the employers. And he is telling them that he will not lead a corporate government. He is going to respect job generators, those who move the economy, but in a dialogue in which they no longer have a monopoly on dialogue.

When he declares that any police officer can aspire to generalHe is not speaking to the officers, but to those humble Colombians who cannot afford the entrance fees to a high military training school. And by appointing Iván Velásquez as minister, he is once again speaking to the people. He says that he is going to put an end to the corruption in contracts for food, purchase of boots, ammunition and uniforms for the armed forces. In fact, he has not even spoken to the uniformed men to ask them to implement concepts such as Human Security, which today is already part of the discourse of senior officers. Petro has not formally asked them.

His tasks and constitutional functions are respected; what he does not understand is how a clique that enjoys extensive economic privileges rises. The sweep of generals hurts and is expensive (a lot has been invested in their training), but it’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The message: everyone linked to investigations for corruption, false positives or excesses in the service, will go straight from the barracks to the house.

With the new rulers, a change of language usually arrives, more as a shell than a substance. Effective phrases and slogans that are pure varnish. Petro is something else. He will skyrocket the sale of universal translators, because we are hearing, but not understanding. The alphabet is the same; the meaning of the sentences varies. To sharpen the ear, to calibrate it to understand this “language” that now competes with the traditional Spanish that we have used all our lives in Colombia. If we don’t all know the language, we won’t be able to dialogue.

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