Supporters of leftist Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate of the Historical Pact coalition, attend a campaign closing rally in Zipaquirá, Colombia.  (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

ZIPAQUIRÁ, Colombia.- A few meters from the first sign that indicates the exit of the north highway towards the municipality of Zipaquirafrom the right hand, the smile of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez they welcome in a giant announcement of the Historic Covenant. It is a first approach to this city about 47 kilometers north of Bogota where not all are Petristas, but those who are not, as they say, “is because Uribeism washed their brains.”

In this zone of the department of Cundinamarca, the brick houses painted one of each color with their tile roofs make up a colonial-style neighborhood that houses just over 130,000 inhabitants. 46.6% of them chose their old neighbor, Petro, in the first electoral round. the skinny boy with the pensive look who lived in his parents’ house on Eighth Street until his first years of university. The city where he grew up was chosen for one of his last campaign events before the May 29 elections.

Supporters of leftist Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate of the Historical Pact coalition, attend a campaign closing rally in Zipaquirá, Colombia. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

“Of course he had that look on his face. And she still has it. It is that he was always very intelligent and that is what he reflects, ”said Jesús Reina, a professor at Colegio La Salle de Zipaquirá, where the left-wing leader completed high school and graduated in 1976 as the best of his litter, told LA NACION. .

“Change for life. petro president, predict a few posters pasted on the windows of cars and on some poles. A tiny number compared to those that abound going up a few blocks to the mountain, in the Bolivar neighborhood 83, where you breathe fight. They are in the windows, on the walls, in the doors behind bars. Of five highways and four streets, almost all the five hundred houses that make up the neighborhood loudly express their devotion to the former mayor of Bogotá, who on Sunday he will seek to defeat in the ballottage the outsider Rodolfo Hernandez. It is that for them he is the messiah, the leader, the young man who, at just 22 years old, mobilized the people and took the land that belonged to the mayor’s office to found this place from scratch.

“He didn’t have money to spare, like us. But you had to move on. Then he would come and meet us, talk to us, and what he told us we told others. And so more and more people joined, all behind him, ”Cecilia Blanca Guernica, 76, one of the few founding women of the neighborhood who still lives there, told LA NACION.

His slow and soft voice is accompanied by a smile that arises when he remembers who could become the first leftist president in the history of Colombia. “It hit us hard. Lasted. But he never gave up and neither did we, because we feel safe with him.” In his youth, Petro was passionate about reading, his old high school classmate Mauricio Cancino tells LA NACION, who remembers him, far from being arrogant, as a modest person who stood out on his own because of his “incompetent abilities”. Same”. He was soaked with the Communist Manifesto of Marx, with the theories of Mao Tse-tung and with the figure of “Che” Guevara.

The first episode in which he proved to be a leader was when he convinced a chemistry teacher to re-evaluate all his failed classmates so he could finish high school, Cancino says.

Cecilia Blanca Guernica and Lidia León observe a photo of the first meetings for the foundation of 83
Cecilia Blanca Guernica and Lidia León observe a photo of the first meetings for the foundation of 83Lucia Sol Miguel

The second was the capture of the mountain on which Bolívar 83 stands today. In 1982, Petro held his position as personero of the Zipaquirá mayor’s office, a position that in Colombia has the function of a servant of the people. The rebellion of the leftist movements that he followed in the books brought him to reality along with a group of young people who announced that they were going to occupy the abandoned lands that belonged to the Zipaquirá church.

“The police were coming for us, but we kept fighting. They took us out on horseback, with gases, some of us were beaten “says Marco Eli Vega, one of the “old” people in the neighborhood, who goes to Cecilia Blanca’s kiosk, where he also lives, to reconstruct his memories.

“This neighborhood has been very struggling. We give thanks every day. The man really helped us. People see that one person helps the other and annoys him, that he is a guerrilla and what not. PBut Petro is a guerrilla fighter for poverty –he expresses between laughs–. it’s a blessing”.

José Ruperto Cincuentis and Marco Eli Vega next to a Gustavo Petro campaign poster
José Ruperto Cincuentis and Marco Eli Vega next to a Gustavo Petro campaign posterLucia Sol Miguel

The acting mayor finally agreed for the neighbors to acquire a lot in exchange for a minimum quota that assured them the right to stay in the place. “The rest was pick and shovel. We brought water from the top of the mountain with a hose. We did the sewage. We formed groups to take care of the land between us. And Gustavo delegated people to collaborate with us. He came to see if what he was doing was working”, says Lidia León, a member of “las viejitas de Petro”, as they call the founders of the neighborhood. Women played a major role in caring for the land while men worked in the city.

By 1984, the left-wing leader had risen to the position of councilor of Zipaquirá and was a member of the M-19 movement in hiding.. “He wrote communiqués and we put them under the doors on some cold nights, at 11 at night,” said Petro himself about his first steps in the urban guerrilla.

“I never imagined Petro, skinny as he was, with a gun. That was impossible, ”confesses Cancino, who assures that he carried out summoning tasks. A year after President Belisario Betancourt declared a state of siege at the national level to control the incessant spiral of violence in the country, in 1985, Petro was arrested for carrying weapons. “Gustavo didn’t carry weapons in his backpack,” says Guernica, “he carried books to read.”

She was also arrested, as was her son. “The Army kicked the door down on me just because they said I had weapons, because I was a friend of Petro. I never had a gun in my life.” José Ruperto Cincuentis was taken to the same police center as Petro. During his two months in prison, he was beaten to the brink of death, he says. “And what do I remember of those months? That he asked the guards to give me food.”

On Sunday, Gustavo Petro will try to face his guerrilla past that his opponents remind him of daily. That same stigma also haunts, even today, those neighbors of Bolivar 83. They feel it when they hesitate to say where they come from, for fear of criticism. They evidence it in the constant rejections in jobs. Like Claudia Alarcom, 45, daughter of Cecilia Blanca, who was told that her work contract in a kindergarten would be questioned if the Historical Pact won the election.

Although his position is at risk, Alarcom carries a pin with the face of the leftist formula in his wallet. It’s that he owes Petro, he says, and it’s his way of thanking him. “The vote for Gustavo is more for everything he has already done than for everything he is going to do. God grant that he wins to have him in this neighborhood soon”.

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