Rodolfo Hernandez: Who is the Colombian ‘old man on TikTok’ who could become the next president?

The Americas have recently seen a number of populist foreigners upend national politics, and Hernandez is looking to do the same in Colombia. He doesn’t mind comparisons to far-right populist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or former US President Donald Trump, telling CNN in early June: “What I will do is defeat corruption. If they m call ‘the Colombian Trump’ for this, it’s magnificent.”

Hernandez, who is 77, is known as el ingeniero (the engineer) for his degree in civil engineering from the national public university of Colombia – or el viejito del TikTok (the old man of TikTok), for its active presence on social networks.

His presidential campaign eschewed traditional televised debates and political rallies, instead focusing on calling voters via their phones.

The upshot is that, apart from presenting his gaffe-prone style to the electorate – he once called Adolf Hitler a great German thinker and later apologized, saying he meant Albert Einstein – few people really know what a Hernandez presidency would look like. .

His platform contains few specific reforms to be made when he is in office, with Hernandez himself admitting that even he is unaware of all the issues on the government’s agenda.

To describe his presidency, he compared himself to the CEO of an airline, explaining that he may not know how an airplane engine works, but he has the skills to run the business in a profit.

His personal story is one of rags to riches. Born into a lower-middle-class family in 1945, Hernandez made his fortune in real estate in the 1990s, as millions of Colombians migrated from the countryside to urban areas. He then entered politics, becoming mayor of Bucaramanga, Colombia’s seventh-largest city, in 2016.

Hernandez also personally experienced the tragedy of Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict, which claimed at least 220,000 lives. In 2004, her daughter Juliana was kidnapped, allegedly by the National Liberation Army (ELN), one of many left-wing guerrilla groups that have staged insurgencies against the Colombian state over the past 60 years. Hernandez recently revealed that his body was never found.

A series of U-turns

Hernandez’s clearest speech was his promise to “get rid of corruption”. It’s a pressing problem: 80% of Colombians say corruption is widespread in government, according to a recent Gallup poll.

But how Hernandez intends to do that remains a mystery. He pledged to cut government spending by grounding the presidential plane or turning the presidential palace into a museum, for example. However, he offered no legal solution to tackle corruption more broadly – ​​although he told CNN he would invoke a state of emergency to speed up the necessary laws.

Hernandez has had his own issues with corruption allegations — and some are ongoing. By his own admission, Hernandez faces 38 corruption investigations, including one that is expected to go to court next month.

Hernandez is escorted by a security detail before the second round of voting in Bogota, Colombia, in early June.

Hernandez denied the charge, telling CNN that “under current laws, every candidate can be sued by anyone.” If he wins the presidential election on Sunday, the case will likely end, as Colombian law requires congressional approval to try a sitting president.

Much of Hernandez’s political trajectory can be characterized as a series of U-turns.

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In 2016, he revealed that he had voted against the historic peace agreement between the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But in his presidential campaign pledge, he said he would respect the treaty, and even offered “a cut and paste solution” to negotiate with the ELN – the same group that allegedly murdered his daughter 18 years ago.

Speaking on the environment – specifically on the issue of fracking – Hernandez has changed his mind throughout his campaign, first coming out in favor of exploration projects, then appearing in a TikTok video shouting “F**k fracking!”

On foreign policy, his campaign was opaque. One of Hernandez’s closest advisers, Angel Beccassino, told CNN that Hernandez plans to align his administration with leftist leaders like Brazil’s Ignacio Lula da Silva or Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez. But Hernandez himself also said his goal would be to improve Colombia’s relations with the United States.

Continually shifting his stances, the self-proclaimed “King of TikTok” may seem indecisive, but jumping over ideological lines is also part of his mark.

He favors, for example, the thawing of Colombia’s relations with Venezuela and the end of the war on drugs, two important issues for the Colombian left. However, economically speaking, it represents the free market as central to the law of the country.

And on other key issues, including security, tax reform or infrastructure, he said nothing at all.

As the savvy seller that he is, Hernandez managed to sell himself to enough Colombians to reach the final ballot.

But with all of its confusing branding and marketing strategies, it’s still blind selling.


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