Colombia’s Petro and the poetry and prose of political change


When a spectator stand at a bullfight in Espinal, a city in Colombia, collapsed, I curiously watched for the first comments of the country’s newly victorious president-elect Gustavo Petro. At least four people had been killed and hundreds injured. The bull had apparently escaped from the plaza hosting the spectacle and caused a panic on the city’s streets. It would be comical if it weren’t tragic.

What would Mr Petro say?

He had a poetic spirit, as a former guerrilla fighter who had taken his nom-de-guerre Aureliano Buendia from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

He had been in the rough and tumble of national politics for decades, articulating his big ideas in prose.

What would Mr Petro say about an accident involving a bullfight in 21st century Colombia, particularly in a part of the country known for its music and the arts?

Mr Petro made an unusual statement. He urged local governments “to not authorise any more spectacles involving the deaths of people or animals”.

It was obvious that he wanted his countrymen to reason their way forward.  Rather than using the unthinking formulaic phrase – “thoughts and prayers” – that American politicians routinely trot out every time there is a mass shooting in the US, Mr Petro spoke in a deliberate and considered way.

Mr Petro, who wants to trigger a scientific revolution in Colombia, has previously said that “Magical realism comes from the heart while my scientific proposals are from the brain. To rule you need them both”.

And a bit of luck to make it a magical combination.

We’ll see what happens after he is sworn in on August 7.