Rodrigo Lara Sanchez he is the running mate of the conservative candidate Federico “Fico” Gutierrez for the Colombian presidential elections. The polls place them in second position, only behind the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro, so both would go to the second round, which would be held on June 19. A surgeon by profession, in 2010 he made the leap to politics as a candidate on the list of independents led by Serge Fajardo. Lara – son of the former Minister of Justice of Colombia Rodrigo Lara assassinated by order of Pablo Escobar in 1984 – has been mayor of the coffee-growing city of Neiva, in the center of the country, a job he is very proud of. On a visit to Madrid, he attends LA RAZÓN to talk about his greatest challenge as a professional politician.
What exchange rate does Colombia need?
People in Colombia are asking for a substantial change. After the pandemic, poverty levels increased. There are seven million people in my country who suffer from extreme poverty. Unemployment, the stagnation of the economy, corruption and violence are other arguments that motivate a transformation. We collect a feeling of something that has always been relegated in the country, which are the regions. Colombia has to be built from the local and not from a centralist government that governs from a distance. The great potential of Colombia is its diversity and multiculturalism and a territorial approach that allows the participation of citizens and generates trust in the public, even to say “no” when it is not possible. An open dialogue is needed from the regions and to build a different solution in each part, because the problems are very different in each area. In some parts there are illicit crops, in others extreme poverty, in others mobility problems.
Both you and Federico Gutiérrez were mayors. Does that help them to better understand the problem of the interior areas?
Both Federico and I have been mayors in regions and we understand the clamor that there is for this population to be served. Colombia has great potential to solve its problems with a territorial and local approach. That gives us a strength. The problems will not be solved in four years, but the change in the way of governing will mark a path that will reduce this detachment in the most neglected areas, which face the most complex problems with illicit crops, violence and extreme poverty. We govern in mayorships without corruption scandals and with the participation of the people.
Do you really believe that the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro would lead Colombia to a situation similar to that of Venezuela?
I don’t think that the way out of Colombia is populism. My country needs a broad dialogue, with all sectors of society, and then a strengthening of the country’s economy and growth, to seek resources that can solve economic difficulties. You have to build trust and maintain freedoms. There will always be that fear that a model like this will end up being a dictatorship because there are other examples around, such as Nicaragua and Venezuela.
But Colombia is a very stable and institutionalized country.
Yes, Colombia is a more democratically stable country over the years, with few dictatorships and great presidential power. But today a disagreement fueled by resentment and hatred that in the midst of the debate emerges as an option for some candidates to generate greater indignation in order to obtain political gains. The country has built a democratic fortress. If Colombia were corruption, patronage and a failed democracy, I would never have been able to become mayor with the highest vote in my city. That change cannot mean a leap into the void.
Why are there still so many deaths in Colombia after the signing of the Peace Agreements with the FARC?
In the first place, because drug trafficking persists. We have almost 200,000 hectares of coca planted, it is a fuel in many areas where the conflict persists. Second, the State did not reach the former territories occupied by the FARC, which gave rise to groups of criminals associated with illegal mining and drug trafficking occupying those areas. The country improved after the agreement, there is no doubt, but those points persist like stains where poverty, exclusion and drug trafficking congregate with the absence of the State. But it is necessary to advance faster in the application of the agreements, there are still no sentenced. The FARC they have to comply and the victims have to always be the center. We must close that page of the conflict and move on.
What is your opinion about abortion?
I am a doctor and I have a conscientious objection. I am a Catholic Christian but I am respectful of the decisions of the Constitutional Court (which decriminalized abortion in February). I believe more in reinforcing sexual education in Colombia, in the prevention of teenage pregnancy. It is a public health problem that must be addressed. It is a very complex issue for women, but I believe that the State has to guarantee the lives of citizens.
Are you in favor of reestablishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela?
The first thing we are going to do is open the border with Venezuela, it is a problem that has to be resolved on August 7 and allow commercial exchange on the border, something that has been taking place illegally and that has no reason to exist. We have to have diplomatic attention in Venezuela to serve the thousands of Colombians who live there.
How did Federico Gutiérrez convince you to join the candidacy?
Because we are friends, since we were mayors we have shared a lot, I know him, he is a great human being, he has always been the same, authentic, simple, without any ancestry, he does not belong to any political caste in Colombia. Sometimes they show him as someone from the “establishment”, others tell him that he is from the extreme right, but he is not. He believes in democracy, institutions, freedoms and the right to protest, but also in the right to property. He and his family have been threatened for fighting against criminal gangs, such as the Clan del Golfo.
Would your father be proud of the work he has done as a politician?
It is a very ambiguous question for me. One feels proud when a son does things well. I have not sold my principles, I have been in politics with decency and transparency, I have fought against corruption and for the people who need it most. That is something a parent can be proud of.