Ahead of the second round of the presidential elections in Colombia, Pressenza invited Katherin Gómez, Camilo Espinosa and Francisco Rubio Pérez, young Colombians currently living in Córdoba, Argentina, to talk about their expectations, their dreams, their demands, their relationship with politics and the dilemma and opportunity that this June 19th represents.
By Javier Tolcachier / Camera: Ana Sofía Tolcachier / Editing: Walker Vizcarra
Pressenza: First of all, a personal question that perhaps says a lot about the general situation in which many young people live: Why did you leave Colombia?
Katherin: I left my country in search of opportunities. Colombia is a country where study is a luxury, not a right. If you want to study in Colombia you have to acquire debts that are unpayable. We are a society that has been violated and we live in a culture of terrible violence, so I decided to change and leave the country in search of a better life and opportunities.
Camilo: I think that the common objective of Colombians who have to leave and go to other countries is to look for more opportunities and it is clear that the focus is basically on education. I think that also, like Kathy, one of the main triggers that led me to think about changing context and country, is the context of violence that has transcended me and my family for many generations, understanding this violence as structural, which encompasses many aspects beyond the economic one.
Pressenza: Let’s talk about peace and non-violence, a practically unknown situation for a country torn apart by the concentrated power of the oligarchy and imperial geopolitical interests. What do these elections have to do with the just desire of the Colombian people to live in a less violent society?
I feel that we are at a very transcendental point. As you mention, I think the violence and the whole context in Colombia has marked us in a very abrupt way. Most of us have grown up in a violent context and I think that the programme we are having today on the presidential election makes very clear the struggle of the oligarchy, of the concentration of power to continue maintaining it and to continue perpetuating this violence, which is structural and includes a number of social components beyond the economic one.
I believe that this process we are going through marks us as Colombians. We have a scenario with two positions that are basically very divided and very well characterised. The campaign represented by the Historical Pact represents the union and the struggle of many sectors and I believe that the opposing or contradictory programme represents precisely a focus of violence that has been going through many sectors and regions. This oligarchy also bears a large part of the responsibility for the violence and social injustice.
So I believe that in this process this struggle is at stake: the struggle of those who have always been marginalised against the struggle of those who continue to want to concentrate power at the cost of everything, at the cost of life, and this is the focus on which we have united and we are uniting more and more as Colombia, to think that the centre is precisely life and everything that makes up our humanity.
Pressenza: Let’s talk about the future: for the youth of Colombia, today mostly unemployed, precarious or exploited, surrounded by a consumerist environment without limits and the imposition of meaningless and worn-out models of life, a situation that undoubtedly explains the broad youth protagonism in the popular rebellion against the Duque government and the bet of young people in the first presidential round: What changes if Petro wins? Does anything change if Hernández wins? What do they demand from the new president?
Francisco: With regard to the three questions, you asked me, Colombia has been in a totally negative decline in recent years – I am not talking about the last ten, but the last twenty years – in the vast majority of cases, rights have never been respected, there is no equality. There are a host of negative things that led last year to a social outburst and this has caused the whole country to revolutionise, to change its thinking and obviously to want change.
This change is linked to Petro and Francia, who in this case would be the main and optimal candidates to be able to take another direction and to be able to generate equality and respect for rights.
In the case that Rodolfo wins, it will be a little complicated because it is a continuity that he has been generating and even more so now that the ultra-right has lost and joined Rodolfo Hernández’s campaign. There are no clear proposals, there is no direct change, nor is there any spirit or desire to think about the people for a moment.
So, what we hope for this 19 June is simply that we all vote with consciousness, that a real change is generated and that hopefully, if everything goes well, Petro and France will win for the wellbeing and good of the country.
Pressenza: Let’s talk about the situation of women. Colombia is a macho and patriarchal society, the different types of violence have been raging, the same or worse than in other parts of Latin America and the world against women, especially against young women and girls.
However, it is remarkable to see women’s progress in demanding rights, participation and opportunities. Where do you see the contending candidates in this second round, in terms of the possibility of women’s liberation from the different forms of oppression?
Katherin: In the current context in Colombia and the two options we have for the presidency, it is notable that the proposal of the Historical Pact recognises women as a main actor in politics as well as in the daily life of our society.
Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez – an Afro-descendant, which is historic – have wanted to give her in their government proposal that protagonism and relevance that women do not have today. They want women to be able to defend their rights, to be a main actor in politics, offering almost 50 percent female participation in a historically patriarchal government.
This sets a precedent to see that change is on the way. Recognising the work of women dedicated to caring for the home, giving them the possibility of having a dignified pension are acts that dignify life, that empower women; recognising communities that have always been forgotten, Afro-descendant, Raizal and Palenquero women, women who have suffered violence with the most impressive rigour and who are recognised as an important part of this process of change, this is the Historical Pact.
On the other hand, the engineer’s campaign denigrates women. An openly chauvinist and misogynist man who has no proposals for women in his government programme, despite the fact that we are an enormous force in Colombia and that every day we demand more participation and many more rights and respect for life. It is clear in both scenarios what is there and it is clear what change we want as women.
Pressenza: A very present sensitivity in the agenda of the new generations is that of environmental care and the relationship of greater empathy with animals. Both candidates, as is obvious, promise economic and social development, which not infrequently masks an overexploitation of natural resources and the common heritage. Do you see different nuances in this respect in the agenda of Petro and Francia from that of Hernández and Castillo?
Katherin: There are quite marked nuances, starting with a very important one: the Historical Pact defends the signing of the Escazú Agreement, which is vital for the sustainable development of the Caribbean and Latin America, while the “engineer’s” campaign does not even know what the Escazú Agreement is.
The historic pact has an agenda on animal protection, where the relationship that a society should have with animals, with nature, is made visible. The engineer’s campaign does not have a single animal protection proposal. Ending animal exploitation for people’s amusement and creating laws that protect animal life, that take care of our fauna and flora, is vital for the sustainability of any nation.
In relation to the fracking tests, the Historic Pact is categorically closed to it, fracking will not be practiced, they do not want it because they know the consequences on our ecosystem. The engineer is totally unaware of it and on the contrary is in favour of fracking, it is placing money and economic interests over life.
Pressenza: Let’s talk about discrimination. The great support received by the formula of France and Petro in regions with a strong Afro-Colombian and indigenous population indicates the hopes that these millions of people, the most subjugated and vulnerable in Colombia, place in their victory. There is no doubt that the presence of Francia Márquez as vice-president of Colombia would represent an enormous humanist advance, a cultural triumph, a civilising leap.
However, it is also reasonable to think that this will arouse suspicion and resistance in other population groups due to the socio-economic and cultural patterns in which Colombian society has historically been moulded. What message do you have for them? Beyond the political situation, what needs to change in each and every one of us in order to feel the enormous richness of human diversity?
Camilo: As you rightly say, I think you make a very good point that refers to the change we need in each one of us, beyond thinking about delegating or about the work that others and others have to do. This is a construction that we need to get on track, continue to direct and allocate resources to. It is a construction of the self, of what we have within us, something that from my perspective and from the perspective of many, is clearly only possible when we prioritise education, when we prioritise our formation.
The construction of culture from an educational approach is something that Gustavo Petro’s proposed leadership is precisely prioritising, favouring and allowing access to higher education for the entire population, obviously focusing on the young population.
I believe that it is there, in the focus on education, where the transcendental point of what is the change, we need and what we have to do lies. We are at a very specific and critical moment for Colombian society where we need to be able to connect with ourselves as people, as individuals, and to become aware of how we are facing a scenario where there is a person who is exposed and whose rejection of all diversity, his rejection of new questions and a whole new construction is evident.
It is clear that the panorama that the whole world is showing us today requires change, it requires new actions, it requires us to question ourselves in a number of aspects, which is precisely what we are trying to bring with the Historical Pact and with the people who are working to build this idea, and I think that we connect with this sensitisation. That is the biggest job we have today as Colombians and as individuals, to raise awareness about this new cultural and social construction that we are, I think, almost obliged to decide.
Pressenza: Finally, the Colombian people need urgent and profound changes, and they have made this felt at the ballot box in the first round. What then is the option for real change on 19 June and why?
Camilo: This question, which is very broad, can be answered simply by saying change is one or change is another. It is as simple as that because it has become clear the support and the quality of the people who have united to continue trying to concentrate power at the cost of violence.
I think that the most real change is to think about the specific needs that the Colombian people have, that each person has, and that transcend multiple dimensions. We have to be able to listen and understand the position of the different scenarios.
Gustavo Petro’s position is based on a vision of humanist development, a development that respects life and that prevails over any other dimension. To be able to guarantee the dignity of each person by the simple fact of being a person. I believe that this change is being reflected in this Pact, a historic pact led by people who have built, who have fought constructively in different scenarios and who have always prioritised social justice.
I believe that the change today, in the context of Colombia, is marked by thinking about our need for social justice and removing power from those who have always had it and who have been responsible for continuing to impoverish and exploit so many resources in an irresponsible way.
Francisco: Regarding these two questions, the response is practically the same. Obviously we all want the president to be Petro and the vice-president to be France. We need real change and real change is with them. Everything was demonstrated in the first round, there were more than eight and a half million votes, never before in the history of the country had a presidential candidate in the first round received that number of votes.
Unfortunately, we didn’t reach that 50 percent but it was very close; that means that everyone wants change, everyone is thinking about the future of the country, thinking about the people and well, we all hope that this 19 June will be a day for change, for celebration, because in reality that is what all of us friends are longing for.
So, we hope that this will happen and that all Colombians will have the consciousness to vote.
Katherin: It is a historic moment and the option for change in Colombia is in our hands. We have to vote responsibly. Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez propose to govern respecting the 91 constitution and creating a government for the people, taking care of the environment, being an inclusive government. So this is the only option we have, a change for life, real and serious proposals. On the other side we have a trampling of the constitution, there is no serious government plan and it would mean continuism.
The no to the peace plebiscite was given by the engineer Rodolfo. This shows us that it is continuism, he wants war and Colombia wants peace. The only peace is in change and the Historical Pact is the way out.