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Does Colombia need a first lady?Gustavo Petro’s wife Veronica Alcocer’s millionaire spending sparks controversy

Whenever the first left-wing leader of contemporary Colombia appears on the balcony of Casa Nariño, Veronica Alcocer usually appears next to her husband Gustavo Petro. This is a postcard of the President and his wife. Her popularity contrasts with that of other first ladies before her. She was anything but cautious in a controversial situation. His unusual activities and political influence stirred feelings for a figure many considered outdated.

In super-presidential countries, the partner of the sitting president has no clearly defined function, his role corresponds to custom and convention. Officially she is not a public official, has no budget and cannot be summoned for political control, although she typically runs ministries, making her spending controversial. Verónica Alcocer, a survey this week showed empty chairLeading political portal Petro “used his power to have an entourage that cost the country more than one billion pesos” (about $250,000) during his one and a half years in power. The entourage that usually accompanies her on her travels includes her best friend, a photographer, a personal makeup artist and costumer and a personal consultant, who are employed by three different public agencies and earn more than a minister’s salary.

These revelations conflict with the government’s ongoing appeal to the public and pursuit of (at least discursively) a degree of austerity. President Petro’s family has always been his Achilles’ heel, and his third wife is no exception. The recent controversy has reignited the debate over whether Colombia needs a first lady figure.

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

Criticism is intensifying, and not just from the right-wing opposition. “No one told us that Colombia’s ‘change’ would come with our own version of Marie Antoinette: abuse, waste, undue political influence and blatant favoritism for friends,” Rep. Catherine Chu of the Progressive Green Alliance Party Catherine Juvinao said. David Racero, a representative of the ruling party’s Historical Convention, reiterated that “when titles in a democracy are tied to individuals rather than functions, let alone responsibilities, they are an outdated legacy.” He has questioned this in the past. The first lady, whom he considered an “anti-Republican legacy.” He clarified on social networks: “If there is going to be a debate about this number, let us take it seriously, no matter who this person or the current president is.”

Analyst Eugénie Richard, an expert in communications and communication, said there is currently a legal vacuum regarding the first lady’s responsibilities. marketing Politician from the University of Extenado, Colombia. Therefore, it is difficult to hold him accountable. “The debate over whether the image of the first lady should disappear is complicated because she is a ghost figure in her own right and has no very specific legal status. It all depends on tradition, the president, and the personality of the first lady. Some people are interested in keeping it cautious, while others are interested in becoming protagonists,” he opined. “While it is not required by the constitution, it always breeds love and hate and is easy prey for the opposition,” he added. He is known to be responsible for family matters, children or malnutrition, but if he raises his profile he starts to attract criticism. A framework that perpetuates gender stereotypes.

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

The number of discussions has increased with Alcocer, who has played a prominent role since the campaign, conducting mass baths in public squares and visiting Pope Francis. The din around him went on and on. At times, he wielded more political power than Vice President Francia Márquez, who did have a popular mandate and served as the government’s diplomatic representative on several occasions. He even led a Colombian delegation to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Colombian media blame Alcocer for numerous appointments in the public administration – something that is both difficult to prove and debatable. His neighbor Concepción Baracaldo, who had served for a semester as director of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICFB), declared at the time that it seemed normal to her to offer him the position. They also believed he was close to Culture Undersecretary Jorge Zorro, who served as minister in charge throughout the semester. Zorro denied to this newspaper that the First Lady had any influence at the Culture Ministry.

For analyst Mónica Pachón, this impact on appointments is particular in the Colombian context. “It’s very strange that friends of the president’s wife are the protagonists of public policy, it’s an anomaly,” said the professor from the University of Los Andes. “According to investigations by different media outlets, it plays an important political role, but there is no evidence that it plays an important political role. background Politics,” he added.

Verónica Alcocer poses with supporters of Gustavo Petro during a march in support of the president on June 7.Natalia Angarita

Last March, Alcocer made perhaps his most controversial appearance when he made a surprise appearance at a congressional facility just meters from Casa Nariño, where he was meeting with several ministers and congressmen seeking to unblock the legislative process. MPs meeting. Health care reform is the most resisted of the government’s major social reforms. Petro was on his way to the United States. The unfortunate visit spread like wildfire on social networks, with many different parties interpreting it as inappropriate interference.

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 first lady before becoming a presidential candidate. But there are other mirrors in the area that cast a clearer reflection. In Mexico, author and historian Beatrice Gutierrez Mueller, wife of President Andres Manuel López Obrador, has long refused to accept that “first lady ” title and declined the traditional position of head of the National System for Integrated Family Development. However, he served as the government’s diplomatic representative on several occasions. She attended the inauguration of Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

Chile is a special case. Boric and his partner, anthropologist and feminist Irina Karamanos, propose in their campaign to abolish the number. A few months after coming to power, and after facing considerable criticism for delays, they began handing over the traditional functions of the First Lady to relevant ministries, which in the South meant automatically assuming the direction of six foundations, in addition to protocol. At the end of 2022, the first lady’s office in La Moneda will be permanently closed. In November, Borik confirmed the end of his relationship with Kalamaros. There is precedent in Chile because during Michelle Bachelet’s first government, between 2006 and 2010, these functions were devolved to paid individuals. She is the first woman to become president, a milestone Colombia has yet to reach.

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