The specter of assassination haunts the countryside where the left has a very serious chance of coming to power for the first time in the history of this country, where bullets have often tragically changed the course of political life.
In the 20th century, five presidential candidates were assassinated by opponents, drug traffickers or paramilitaries accomplices of state agents: three from the left or far left, and two liberals.
While armed violence subsided for a while after the signing of the 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Marxists), the country still faces the threat of drug trafficking and a myriad of armed groups operating in more or less isolated provinces.
– “Spectrum of death” –
“The specter of death accompanies us,” Petro said in February. “She never ceases to appear to me like a flash, when I mingle with the crowd, when I am on a stage, in the middle of a crowded place”.
At the beginning of May, the 62-year-old senator suspended a trip to the center-west of the country, his team having received “first-hand information” on a possible assassination plot by local paramilitaries. Two days later, he reappeared at a meeting in Cucuta (north) behind his now essential armored shields.
His escort of 60 bodyguards has since been reinforced, not to mention the security forces deployed during his – numerous – trips to the provinces which have so far contributed to the success of his campaign.
The risk of assassination “is very real,” said Felipe Botero, professor of political science at the University of the Andes. “Not only against candidate Petro, but also if he wins the presidency,” warns the analyst in an interview with AFP.
Francia Marquez, Afro-Colombian ecologist and feminist, running mate of Mr. Petro for the vice-presidency, also reported threats.
And the candidate of the conservative right Federico Gutierrez, rival of Mr. Petro, expressed his concern both for the safety of his opponent as for his own after threats, according to him, from the Guevarist guerrillas of the ELN.
“Pay attention to the safety of Federico Gutierrez”, tweeted ex-president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) who himself escaped an explosive attack in 2002.
– The trauma of 1948 –
The date that changed the history of modern Colombia is in everyone’s mind: April 9, 1948, when the liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was shot three times on an avenue in Bogota. His tragic death set the city ablaze and triggered a bloody internal conflict which, half a century later, is still not over.
Four decades later, communist Jaime Pardo Leal (1987), liberal Luis Carlos Galan (1989) and leftist opponents Bernardo Jaramillo and Carlos Pizarro (1990), all presidential hopefuls, were also assassinated.
Alexander Gamba, a professor at Saint Thomas University, sees at least three reasons for a “possible” armed attack on Petro.
According to him, there are “professionals of violence” in Colombia, such as the twenty mercenaries who participated in the assassination of the Haitian president in 2021. The possible victory of Mr. Petro is presented by his opponents as “a great catastrophe nation” contributing to an “atmosphere” that would almost make an assassination look like “a patriotic action”.
Finally, underlines the sociologist, the country “has not known political alternation” which leaves room for the left, still associated by certain conservative sectors with armed rebellion.
“In a country like Colombia, marked by political violence and which has the record for the homicides of social leaders, we obviously take any threat seriously”, comments an adviser to Mr. Petro, Alfonso Prada, who however refuses “to make it a campaign issue.
“If we aspire to lead the state, we must be able to reassure and manage our own security,” he said.
For the outgoing government of Ivan Duque, Mr. Petro is “one of the most protected people” in the country and the suspicions of an attack have not been corroborated by his services, which enrages Professor Botero: ” To deny credibility to a death threat in a country where hundreds of people are murdered each year for their political beliefs seems short-sighted to say the least.”