Wednesday , July 6 2022

Scenes from the polls as Rodolfo Hernández and Gustavo Petro cast their ballots.

Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate-and former mayor who has emerged as a surprise candidate in Colombia’s presidential election, has been largely absent from public life in recent weeks.

He has refused to attend debates and held no rallies, favoring live streams assembled by his social media team.

But on Sunday, as polls opened, Mr. Hernández stepped out of a white car in Bucaramanga, his hometown, surrounded by body guards, and into a roaring crowd of voters.

“Long live Rodolfo!” screamed supporters, many scrambling to get a glimpse of the candidate as he walked into his polling station.

Mr. Hernández pushed through the pack with a broad grin. His opponent, Gustavo Petro, a longtime senator and former rebel who is trying to become the country’ first left-wing president, cast his ballot more than 250 miles to the south, in the capital of Bogotá.

In Bucaramanga, the midsize city where Mr. Hernández built his fortune and once served as mayor, his candidacy has created a political fervor and a deep regional pride among voters who say they believe he represents them.

Carlos Gamboa, 42, businessman, was among the pack of voters waiting in line when Mr. Hernández arrived to vote.

“Most of us are with Rodolfo,” he said, adding that he didn’t trust Mr. Petro, in part because of the candidate’s time as a member of the insurgent group M-19.

Mr. Hernández has run on an anti-corruption platform, despite being indicted on corruption charges, accused of pushing subordinates to award a city contract to a particular company, a deal that could have benefited his son.

He has said he is innocent.

At the polls in Bucaramanga, many voters did not seem troubled by the accusation.

“No one who will rise to power here is clean,” said Gilma Beserra, 58, “but Rodolfo is the least corrupt.”

In Bogotá on Sunday morning, Adriana Martínez, 24, was already lined up outside a high school in the working-class neighborhood of El Sosiego.

She had just finished the night shift as a health administration assistant and had gone straight to the voting station by bus.

Ms. Martínez said she was supporting Mr. Petro, and that the decision was influenced in particular by his choice of Francia Márquez for vice president, who could become the country’s first female Black vice president.

Ms. Márquez is an environmental activist who has risen from poverty to become a national phenomenon, speaking during the campaign about race, class and gender in a direct manner rarely heard in the highest echelons of Colombian politics.

“She is a person who comes from where we come from,” said Ms. Martínez, “she had to fight to get where she is.”

Ms. Martínez said she gave little weight to the argument that Mr. Petro’s policies would result in the same kind of economic, humanitarian and democratic crisis that has occurred in Venezuela.

In Colombia, “you don’t have enough money to buy a potato. In that sense we are already in extreme poverty” she said.

At the same polling station, Ingrid Forrero, 31, said she saw a generational divide in her community, with young people supporting Mr. Petro and older generations in favor of Mr. Hernández.

Her own family calls her the “little rebel” because of her support for Mr. Petro, whom she said she favors because of his policies on education and income inequality.

“The youth is more inclined toward revolution,” she said, “toward the left, toward a change.”


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