Does Colombia need a first lady? The millionaire expenses of Gustavo Petro’s wife Veronica Alcocer have sparked debate

Veronica Alcocer usually appears in the foreground next to her husband Gustavo Petro, each time the first leftist leader of contemporary Colombia appears on the balcony of the Casa de Nariño. This is a postcard of the presidential couple. Her visibility is different from other first ladies who came before her. Despite being surrounded by controversies, she always remains composed. His unusual activity and political influence inflame emotions around a man many consider obsolete.

In a hyper-presidential country, the current president’s partner does not have clearly defined functions, his or her role corresponds to customs and practices. Formally, she is not a public official, having no budget nor can she be called upon for political control, although she usually manages ministries, so her expenses are a source of controversy. Veronica Alcocer, as revealed by an investigation this week empty chair, a major political portal, said Petro “has used his power to create a party that has caused the state to lose more than a billion pesos” (about $250,000) in the year and a half he has been in power. The entourage that usually accompanies him on his trips includes his best friend, a photographer, a personal makeup and wardrobe artist, and a personal consultant, all employed by three different public entities at a salary higher than that of a minister. goes.

These revelations conflict with the narrative of a government that consistently appeals to populists and – at least prudently – adopts a certain degree of austerity. President Petro’s family has been his weak point and his third wife is no exception. The recent controversy has once again sparked debate about the need for the image of the First Lady in Colombia.

Gustavo Petro and Veronica Alcocer in February 2023.Chepa Beltran (Getty Images)

Criticism has intensified, and not just from the right-wing opposition. Catherine Juvinao, representative of the progressive Green Alliance party, said, “No one told us that ‘change’ in Colombia would come with our version of Marie Antoinette: abuse, waste, undue political influence and overwhelming support from friends.” “Titles in a democracy are an obsolete legacy when they are linked to the person and not to the job, much less to the responsibility,” David Resero, a representative of the ruling Historical Pact, confirmed for his part, when he claimed that in the past He has questioned the First Lady’s what he considers her “anti-Republican legacy.” He clarified on his social networks, “If there is going to be a debate about that figure, let’s do it seriously, no matter who the person is or the current president.”

Analyst Eugenie Richard, a professor and expert in communications, says there is a legal void about what the first lady’s responsibilities are. Marketing Politician from the Externado University of Colombia. Therefore, it is difficult to hold him accountable. “The debate over whether the figure of the First Lady should disappear is complex, because she is a ghostly character in her own right, with no very specific legal status. It all depends on tradition, the personality of the President and the First Lady. Some people are interested in being very discreet and others are interested in being heroes,” he admits. He further added, “Although it is not constitutionally required, it always highlights love and hate, this opposition It is well observed that he is in charge of domestic affairs, childhood or malnutrition, but if he raises his profile he begins to face criticism. A framework that perpetuates gender stereotypes Maintains.

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Alcocer accompanies Queen Letizia of Spain during her visit to Cartagena (Colombia) on June 13, 2023.Carlos Alvarez (Getty Images)

The amount of discussion has increased with Alcocer, who has had a notable role since the campaign began with mass bathing in a public square and a visit by Pope Francis. There is constant noise around him. At times he has more political power than Vice President Francia Márquez, who has a popular mandate, and has been the government’s diplomatic representative on several occasions. He even led the Colombian delegation to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

The Colombian press attributes to Alcocer several appointments in public administration – which is both difficult to prove and debatable. His neighbor, Concepcion Barakaldo, who had been director of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICFB) for a semester, announced at the time that it was so normal for him that it was he who had offered her the position. They also credit him with the close relationship he developed with the Deputy Minister of Culture, George Zorro, who served as minister-in-charge for the entire semester. Zorro denied to this newspaper that the First Lady has any influence in the Culture Ministry.

For analyst Monica Pachon, this impact on appointments is extraordinary in the Colombian context. “The president’s wife’s friends are heroes of public policy, it’s very strange, it’s an anomaly,” says this professor at the University of Los Andes. “According to investigations conducted by various media, it plays an important political role background Political,” he adds.

Veronica Alcocer takes a photo with a Gustavo Petro supporter in a march in support of the president on June 7.Nathalia Angarita

In possibly his most controversial appearance, Alcocer appeared at night and suddenly last March at the congressional facilities a few meters away from the Casa de Nariño while a meeting was underway with several ministers and congressmen who sought to close down the legislative process. Was doing. Health reform was the most opposed among the government’s great social reforms. Petro was traveling to the United States. This unfortunate visit spread like wildfire on social networks and was interpreted as an inappropriate interference from many different sides.

There are examples of powerful first ladies. In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was first lady before becoming president, and in the United States, Hillary Clinton was also first lady before becoming a presidential candidate. But there are other mirrors in the area that produce more intense images. In Mexico, writer and historian Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, wife of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has always rejected the title of “First Lady” and the traditional position of head of the national system for the comprehensive development of families. However, he has been the government’s diplomatic representative on more than one occasion. She was, among others, in charge of attending the inauguration of Gabriel Boric as President of Chile.

Chile is indeed a special case. Boryk and his partner, anthropologist and feminist Irina Karamanos, proposed eliminating this figure in their campaign. Months after coming to power, and after a barrage of criticism for delays, she began the process of transferring the traditional functions of the First Lady to the relevant ministries, which meant, in addition to protocol in the southern country, the direction of the six foundations would be automated. Had to handle from. Work. In late 2022, the First Lady’s Office in La Moneda was permanently closed. Last November, Boric confirmed the end of his relationship with Karamaros. There was a precedent in Chile, because in the first government of Michelle Bachelet between 2006 and 2010, these functions were already handed over to people who were paid for their work. She was the first woman to become president, a milestone that Colombia has not yet reached.

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(Tags to translate)Colombia(T)America(T)Latin America(T)Government Colombia(T)Gustavo Petro(T)Women’s Politics(T)Politics(T)First Lady

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