Does Colombia need a first lady? The millionaire expenses of Veronica Alcocer, wife of Gustavo Pietro, raise controversy

Does Colombia need a first lady?  The millionaire expenses of Veronica Alcocer, wife of Gustavo Pietro, raise controversy

Veronica Alcocer usually appears next to her husband Gustavo Pietro in the foreground, every time the first leftist leader of contemporary Colombia appears on the balcony of the Casa de Nariño. It's the postcard of the presidential couple. Her vision contrasts with that of other first ladies who preceded her. She was surrounded by controversies, and was not at all reserved. His extraordinary activism and political influence inflames feelings about a figure many consider outdated.

In a hyperpresidential country, the incumbent's partner does not have clearly defined tasks; his or her role conforms to customs and practices. Officially, she is not a public servant, has no budget and cannot be called upon to take political control, although she usually runs ministries, so her expenditures are a source of controversy. Veronica Alcocer, as an investigation conducted by him revealed this week Empty chair, a leading political portal, “used his power to obtain an entourage that cost the state more than a billion pesos” (about $250,000) in the year and a half that Petro was in power. The entourage that usually accompanies her on her travels includes her best friend, a photographer, a personal make-up and wardrobe artist, and a personal advisor, appointed by three different public bodies at a salary that exceeds that of ministers.

These findings run counter to the government's narrative that it constantly appeals to the people and pursues – at least rhetorically – a certain degree of austerity. President Pietro's family has been his weak wing, and his third wife is no exception. The recent controversy has once again raised the debate about the need for a First Lady figure in Colombia.

Gustavo Pietro and Veronica Alcocer, in February 2023.Chiba Beltran (Getty Images)

Criticism has intensified, and not only from the right-wing opposition. “No one told us that ‘change’ in Colombia would come with our own version of Marie Antoinette: abuse, extravagance, undue political influence, and blatant favoritism of friends,” said Rep. Catherine Govinau of the progressive Green Alliance party. “Titles in a democracy are an outdated legacy when they are linked to the person and not to the job, let alone the responsibility,” as MP David Risero, from the ruling Historic Pact Party, asserted, for his part, when he claimed that in the past he questioned the First Lady, which he considers “An Anti-Republican Legacy.” He explained on social media: “If there is controversy over this number, let us take it seriously, regardless of who the person or the current president is.”

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There is a legal vacuum about what the first lady's responsibilities are, says analyst Eugenie Richard, a professor specializing in communication and communication. marketing Politician from the Externado University in Colombia. Therefore, it is difficult to hold him accountable. “This debate about whether the figure of the First Lady should disappear is complicated, because she is herself a ghostly figure, and does not have a very specific legal status. It all depends on tradition, the president in turn, and the character of the First Lady. Some are interested in being very discreet and others are interested in That they should be heroes. He adds: “Although this is not constitutionally necessary, it always unleashes love and hatred, and is easy prey for opposition.” He is clearly responsible for the affairs of the home, childhood, or malnutrition, but if he raises his status, he begins to Attracting criticism A frame that perpetuates gender stereotypes.

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

The volume of discussion increased with Alcocer, which has had a noticeable role since the campaign itself, with mass baths in the public square and the visit of Pope Francis. The noise around him was continuous. At times he had greater political power than Vice President Francia Márquez, who had a popular mandate and was a diplomatic representative of the government on several occasions. He even led the Colombian delegation to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

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The Colombian press attributes several appointments in public administration to Alcocer – something difficult to prove but debatable. His neighbor Concepcion Baracaldo, who had been director of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare for a semester, declared at the time that it seemed natural to her that she was the one who had offered him the position. They also attribute to him a close relationship with the Deputy Minister of Culture, Jorge Zorro, who remained the responsible minister for an entire semester. Zoro denied to this newspaper that the First Lady had any influence in the Ministry of Culture.

For analyst Monica Pachon, this influence on appointments is exceptional in the Colombian context. This professor from the University of Los Andes says: “It is very strange that the friends of the president’s wife are champions of public policy, this is an anomaly.” “She plays an important political role, according to investigations conducted by various media outlets, without having any relationship background The politician adds.

Veronica Alcocer takes a photo with a supporter of Gustavo Petro at the rally in support of the president on June 7.Natalia Angarita

In what may be his most controversial appearance, Alcocer appeared unexpectedly at night last March at the congressional facilities, a few meters away from Nariño Palace, while a meeting was underway with several ministers and members of Congress who were seeking to facilitate the legislative process. Of the health reform, the most resistant among the government's major social reforms. Pietro was traveling to the United States. The unfortunate visit spread like wildfire on social media, and was interpreted in many ways as unwarranted interference.

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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 in the area there are other mirrors that cast a clearer reflection. In Mexico, the wife of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, writer and historian Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, has always rejected the title of “First Lady” and rejected the traditional position of head of the National System for the Comprehensive Development of Families. However, he was a diplomatic representative of the government on more than one occasion. Among other things, she was responsible for attending the inauguration of Gabriel Boric as President of Chile.

Chile is specifically a special case. Buric and his partner, the anthropologist and feminist Irina Karamanos, had proposed in their campaign to cancel this number. Months after coming to power, and after a barrage of criticism for the delay, they began the process of transferring the traditional duties of the first lady to the relevant ministries, which in the southern country means automatically taking over the management of six institutions, regardless of protocol. Tasks. At the end of 2022, the First Lady's office in La Moneda was closed permanently. Last November, Buric confirmed the end of his relationship with Karamaros. In Chile, there was a precedent, because in the first government of Michelle Bachelet, between 2006 and 2010, these tasks had already been delegated to people who were paid for their work. She was the first woman to assume the presidency, an achievement that Colombia has not yet achieved.

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Aygen Marsh

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