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A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

We shouldn't pin our hopes on words like love or even "so much" of it, but on the actions that prove it. If my wife leaves me a fortnight after I lose my job and break my hip, I then have sufficient grounds to doubt her love.

Degradation of democracy

In politics, we all know of the abyss that separates politicians' words from the reality of their actions once in office. Bolsonaro, the 'tropical Trump,' and the original Donald, presented themselves as defenders of democracy and vowed to make their countries great again. Their words became a different reality: a degradation of democracy and of public confidence in the future of the two richest countries of North and South America.

That kind of greatness is nothing short of a riot!

Both leaders provoked two of the gravest crises in their countries through terror-style rioting on the Washington capitol and in Brasilia (which were but a translation into deeds of their utterances).

Words like "greatness," when stated by them, really meant their own greatness. I'll have my greatness, and if "they steal it from me" through "fraudulent" elections, my followers will win it back by all means necessary. That kind of greatness is nothing short of a riot!

Image of an indigenous woman walking in a makeshift camp in Bogota, Colombia on May 9, 2022.

Embera indigenous communities start leaving the makeshift camp in Bogota, Cundinamarca, Colombia on May 9, 2022.

Chepa Beltran/ZUMA

Back to reality

The abuse of big, emphatic words, and epic comments on Twitter that generate waves of "likes," is inevitably confusing and ultimately disappointing. The promise to "Stop Now" the killings of community leaders in Colombia sounds great, but we have had 66 more killed just since the current government, led by Gustavo Petro, took office.

The next morning, we're back to our usual nightmare.

Obviously, the government didn't do it but while intentions matter, words have no magic power and do not automatically become action. Nobody has the perfect formula for turning a desire (stated verbally) into reality. "I'll write the best novel in this country." Watch out for any writer saying that, only to do what they always do — churn out another novel. I'm the president and I said no child should go hungry: so I demand to know why children are still dying of malnutrition!

In rhetorical terms, expressions (prized by our ambitious president here in Colombia) such as "total peace," making our country a "global power for life," making "prisoners work instead of rotting in jail," "plain-talking" politicians, "clean and renewable energy for all" can fuel magnificent, futuristic dreams.

But the next morning, we're back to our usual nightmare: with sinking roads, trucks spewing their filth into the air, and mobsters from Gang A gang murdering those from Gang B. The government may have vowed many thing, but let's just see what it does.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After The War, After Abbas: Who's Most Likely To Be The Future Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked bitterly: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Photograph of Palestinian artists working on a mural that shows the  jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghout. A little girl watches them work.

April 12, 2023: Palestinian artists work by a mural shows jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza.

Nidal Al-Wahidi/ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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