How is the Petro government after the internal crisis due to scandal?

How is the Petro government after the internal crisis due to scandal?

petro government

What has been the most critical week so far for the government of President Gustavo Petro ends with the forced departure of his chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, and his ambassador in Caracas, Armando Benedettitwo of the most trusted people for the head of state.

The effects of this crisis on the President’s first ring —which was unleashed by the use of the polygraph with an employee of Sarabia suspected of a theft of silver in her house and who is already in an investigation for illegal punches that splashes the Dijín of the Police – will feel more strongly in four scenarios: the work in the Casa de Nariño, the agenda that is being pursued in Congress, the October elections and relations with Venezuela.

The Executive faces a challenge that cannot be expected: how to rebuild the bonds of trust that must exist between the officials who lead the march of the State? Although the decision to dispense with Sarabia and Benedetti (who were a team even before they came to the government and who ended up in a bitter confrontation) keeps the Executive quiet for now, the wounds are open.

Not only because both have yet to respond to the investigations by the control entities, but because the confrontation brought to light a series of mutual accusations that reveal a broken government team and in which mistrust prevails.

The screenshot of the exchange of text messages between the President and Ambassador Benedetti, published by the latter —by mistake or intentionally— and in which he points to Sarabia as the person who disclosed his irregular trips to the United States, where he has no function, this is how they demonstrate it: “I am silent”, he tells the President before his order to remain silent while “things are solved”. “It’s Laura!” He accuses.

It is not known why Benedetti decided to take screenshots of a private conversation with his boss, the President. But he had previously leaked another from a conversation with Sarabia herself.

The fact is that the political leader starred in a classic episode of ‘friendly fire’ against his protégé for seven years, and whom he congratulated in these terms when he arrived at the Casa de Nariño last August: “She is also my daughter.” . Now, in confrontation, the then Chief of Staff accused him of being behind the leak that allowed the country to find out about the submission of a polygraph test to Marelbys Meza to establish if she was responsible for the disappearance of a suitcase with money that had at home.

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petro government
Photo: The Time

Sarabia said they were dollars. He has spoken of 4,000 and 7,000. No more. “There are 150 million pesos,” Benedetti urged. How to move in a space where such transcendental decisions are made daily that impact the lives of all Colombians if two of the people who made up the first ring of the first president compete like this?

“The scandal has not ended, but it has already left a very rarefied atmosphere,” says Yann Basset, PhD, from the Faculty of International and Political Studies at the Universidad del Rosario. “Laura Sarabia had managed to control the agenda a bit at the Casa de Nariño, with her untimely departure, disorganization can be imposed,” he adds.

Scandal in the Petro government

This teacher also says that the chaotic way of managing the legislative agenda from the Palace will increase. Indeed, since the president buried the government coalition, the opposition in the Legislature has made itself felt. The government and the Pact speak of a “turtle operation”: empty seats in parliamentary committees have become a common scene, the adjournment of debates due to lack of quorum as well. The congressmen, for their part, respond that everything is due to the legislative disorganization promoted from the Executive.

This occurs, to a large extent, because the motor of the congress was Senator Roy Barreras. Since his departure until now, a figure capable of taking the reins that he held has not been chosen. And to complete, this crisis appeared to the opposition parliamentarians, which they have already taken note of. To this day, Laura Sarabia’s summons to the House of Representatives this Wednesday (we’ll see, after her departure) arouses more emotion than the discussion of President Petro’s projects of interest.

“The impact of this crisis is devastating,” says Senator Ariel Ávila, of the Green Alliance Party. “Since President Petro decreed the end of the coalition on Twitter, this has led to a 45-day paralysis of Congress, or semi-paralysis,” he says. And he anticipates that the splinters of the scandal can take away the remaining days of the Legislature.

Before this crisis, skepticism was already felt in Congress, even among members of the Historic Pact. “With time we would not be able to get the three social reforms out and we would have to review how far we can advance at this final moment of the semester,” he acknowledged in dialogue with Time the speaker of the House of Representatives, David Racero.

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After a week of ‘friendly fire’ in the Executive, the head of state pointed out: “My dear and esteemed official (Sarabia) and the ambassador in Venezuela (Benedetti) retire from the government.” Photo: Andrea Bridges. Colombian Presidency

As if that were not enough, the scandal occurs less than five months before the elections. On October 29 in the 32 departments the governors and deputies of the assemblies will be elected and in the 1,101 municipalities their mayors, councilors and mayors of the local administrative boards. Although these are regional elections, the presidents know that if their candidates in the main cities are defeated, it is a direct message to their management and a good anticipation of how they will paint the next presidential elections.

President Petro came to power with the flags of change to vindicate those who have been historically excluded. The militants of the Historical Pact call them “the nobodies”. Today it is under investigation whether there was an abuse of power from the Palace towards a humble babysitter and if, in addition, she and an employee who helped the Chief of Staff with her domestic chores were illegally rammed. A turn with elements as unexpected as the expression of the senator of the Pact Clara López, who asked not to compare the pokes that Petro himself, magistrates and journalists were victims of in the days of the DAS with those that could have affected “a servant”.

The analyst and professor at the Externado Jairo Libreros University assures that the Petro government, with this episode, continues on the path of repeating the same steps of past governments that he had promised to change. And the student leader Jennifer Pedraza affirms: “President Petro, for whom I voted in the second round, created excessively high expectations that were not met, in part, because he surrounded himself with people from traditional politics, such as Armando Benedetti, and the political agenda. of change was bogged down. If that is not rectified, criticism will be present.

And all this happens at a time when a good part of the citizenry puts the work of the President in red. Invamer’s poll shows that his approval is at 33.8 percent, compared to his disapproval of 59.4 percent. According to the same study, 70.7 percent believe that Colombia is doing badly. And that the survey was done before this case starring Sarabia and Benedetti.

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Finally, the President removed the Colombian ambassador in Venezuela, a country that the current government has made its highest priority in foreign policy. The two leaders have had half a dozen meetings and Nicolás Maduro ruled that Petro “was the guarantor” of the internal dialogue in his country.

“It is undeniable that the start of bilateral relations is due to Benedetti, who, due to his way of being, managed to have chemistry with the leadership of the Venezuelan regime,” says Libreros. That, however, had been changing over the months, and many sources in Caracas assure that one of the reasons why Benedetti wanted to return to the country to a high position in the Executive —the route in which Sarabia crossed— it was precisely the ‘cooling off’ of his relationship with Maduro and his regime.

But, what path can Petro take now to reverse what happened in his favor? Gabriel Cifuentes, an analyst and political consultant, says the government has an opportunity to “acknowledge that it is at a turning point.” “Petro must rebuild relations with Congress and with the judiciary. It is a good symptom that the two protagonists of the crisis have been separated, but it is not enough. Things are not working out for the government and it’s not all the fault of the media or their opponents,” he says. This blow, perhaps, is a necessary bell to decide if he wants to invest his remaining years in possible transformations or in the tireless search for scapegoats for every problem his administration faces.

When announcing the retirement of his bishops, Petro was much closer to Sarabia —“my dear official”, he called her— than to Benedetti. But that does not mean that the latter was defeated in the fight. The President and the most radical sector of Petrism, which continues to resent the entry of Roy and the now ex-ambassador to Petro’s Praetorian Guard, are facing a scenario in which, without a skillful political operator like Benedetti, their results in the October elections , especially on the Caribbean Coast, could be, to say the least, bad. And Benedetti also knows it.

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