Colombia held the first round of presidential elections on May 29. Center-left candidate Gustavo Petro won in a landslide, with 40.32% of the vote.
The candidate who came in second place, with 28.15%, is an extreme-right demagogue named Rodolfo Hernández, who has proudly referred to himself as a “follower” of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Hernández, a real estate mogul with an estimated $100 million in wealth, ran using a far-right “populist” strategy, insulting prominent politicians and pledging to fight corruption and crime.
Hernández is notorious for physically attacking people who disagree with him politically. In 2018, he got in an argument with a councilmember of the city where he served as mayor, and Hernández slapped him on camera.
A far-right hundred-millionaire real estate mogul who praised Hitler, Rodolfo Hernández, won second place in round one of Colombia’s presidential elections.
He'll compete against left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro in a runoff vote in June.
— Multipolarista (@Multipolarista) May 30, 2022
Colombia holds presidential elections in two rounds. If one candidate does not get more than 50% of the vote in the first vote, it goes to a runoff a few months later.
The left-wing candidate Petro will therefore compete against Hernández in the second round on June 19.
In the first round, the right-wing vote was divided between two main choices. The candidate who came in third place, with 23.91%, was Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez.
The former mayor of the city of Medellín, Gutiérrez represented the ultra-conservative movement that has dominated Colombian politics for decades, known as Uribismo.
Uribismo takes its name from one of the most powerful and elite politicians in Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010. Uribe and his family are closely linked to drug cartels and paramilitary death squads.
Gutiérrez conceded defeat and immediately endorsed Hernández on the night of the first round.
Gutiérrez’s loss does represent a significant blow to Uribismo. But this hardline right-wing movement was not defeated by a more moderate candidate, but an even more extreme one.
Rodolfo Hernández, who is 77 years old, beat Gutiérrez by running as a far-right “populist,” criticizing the traditional political class and denouncing prominent politicians as “drug addicts” and “thieves.”
Hernández made a fortune in Colombia’s notoriously corrupt real estate sector, and has an estimated $100 million in wealth.
He offered no coherent economic program other than budget cutbacks and austerity. But he promised in his presidential campaign that he would dedicate himself to fighting corruption.
Hernández even called his political party the Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción: “League of Anti-Corruption Governors”. This is despite the fact that Hernández has been under investigation on series charges of corruption.
The multimillionaire’s hypocrisy doesn’t end there. As part of his “populist” marketing strategy, Hernández has rebranded himself as an opponent of Uribismo.
But as recently as 2019, Hernández praised Álvaro Uribe in an interview with Colombia’s TV network Cosmovisión.
“He helped me, Uribe,” Hernández said. “I have a debt of gratitude [to Uribe]”.
“He appreciates me. I think that he loves me,” Hernández said of Uribe, whom he affectionately referred to as “Doctor Uribe.”
El multimillonario corrupto Rodolfo Hernández actúa como si fuera parte de la oposición al uribismo, pero en 2019, dijo: "Él me ayudó a mí, Uribe"
"Yo tengo una deuda de gratitud", dijo Hernández. Uribe "me aprecia. Yo siento que él me quiere"
— Benjamin Norton (@BenjaminNorton) May 30, 2022
In 2016, when Hernández served as mayor of the northern Colombian city of Bucaramanga, he set off a national scandal by praising Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
“I am a follower of a great German thinker, who is named Adolf Hitler”, Hernández said in a live video interview with the Colombian media outlet RCN Radio.
“Listen! Listen!” he continued, when the hosts tried to interrupt him. Hernández urged listeners to follow the “recommendations that he [Hitler] gives”.
“Don’t think that things will change if we always do the same”, Hernández continued. “The greatest blessing that can happen to people, cities, and countries is crisis. Because crisis brings progress. It is in crisis that the great problems of humanity are resolved”.
“Those who transcend crisis transcend themselves without being conquered”, he added.
When Hernández started campaigning for president in 2021, however, he backtracked and claimed that it was a “slip of the tongue“, and he had not actually meant to praise Hitler.
Hernández has also raised eyebrows with explicitly misogynist and racist comments, especially demonizing people from neighboring Venezuela.
In 2018, Hernández showed he is more than willing to use violence against those who disagree with him politically.
When he got in an argument with a city council member from Bucaramanga, Hernández hit the man in the face, on camera.
The Office of the Inspector General of Colombia responded by suspending Hernández from his post as mayor for three months.
Hernández remained completely unapologetic. In an interview at the peak of his presidential campaign in 2022, he stood by his decision to attack the city council member, without a hint of regret.
The Latin American media has frequently compared Hernández to far-right former US president Donald Trump. He is also very similar to Brazil’s extreme-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who has praised Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet and called for restoring an authoritarian military regime.
For his part, the candidate who came in first place in round one of Colombia’s presidential elections, Gustavo Petro, is a senator from the center-left Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) party.
A former mayor of the capital Bogotá, Petro ran on a progressive platform promising social-democratic policies, peace, and stronger support for women and marginalized communities.
In his youth, Petro fought with a revolutionary socialist guerrilla group, called M-19. But he later left and significantly moderated his political program.
In recent years, Petro has harshly criticized the existing socialist governments in Latin America, in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, and run on a more establishment-friendly, social-democratic program.
But in Colombia, whose political system has been dominated by far-right oligarchs for decades, even a center-left progressive like Petro is seen as a huge threat.
Petro’s running mate, vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez, is a grassroots activist from the Afro-Colombian community. She has criticized the US government for meddling in her country’s election on behalf of the right-wing, while calling for reparations, land reform, and an end to the drug war.
Voters in Colombia will now have to decide if they want their country to move in a progressive direction or lurch even further to the extreme right.