On the first floor of the Saborati restaurant in downtown Bogotá, volunteers huddled with their candidate, former M19 terrorist and leftwing extremist, Gustavo Petro. They discussed campaign contributions and the strategy needed to collect the required signatures to become an official candidate.
Petro, a leftist populist who favors more regulation of business and higher taxes, has found most of his support among the country’s poor. This has complicated fundraising efforts for the candidate. He is estimated to need 150 million pesos ($50,000) just to fund his campaign to acquire sufficient signatures to be on the ballot. He has already gathered 10,000 signatures to date, but needs 1 million.
Asked about the meeting at the restaurant, Jorge Rojas, Petro’s former secretary of social integration during his tenure as Bogotá’s mayor, was confident in his response.
“We came to discuss how we will organize ourselves in order to govern the country”, he said.
In Petro’s meeting, most attendees were loyalists who worked for him in Bogotá’s mayor’s office. Those spotted in attendance included María Mercedes Maldonado, Aldo Cadena, Lisandro Duque, Gloria Flórez, Eduardo Noriega and William Fernando Camargo. Though some had resigned their posts during his tenure, their loyalty has remained. But sticking with Petro also means facing his plethora of legal problems.
Among the group, Nelly Mogollón was the most affected by Petro’s problems with the law. She is facing 50 legal enquiries, both the prosecutor’s office and the procurator’s office. It was Mogollón who was responsible for implementing one of Petro’s most controversial acts as mayor of Bogotá, his modification of the city’s trash collection scheme.
Mogollón remained quiet for most of the meeting as she sat on the restaurant’s terrace, waiting for her meal and then eating only a small portion of it. Despite her legal complications, she remains committed to Petro and said that she was there to do whatever was necessary to get him elected.
The campaign’s biggest challenge will be not be legal issues but resources. Sources say that if Petro is struggling to raise the $50,000 USD that he needs to fund his signature gathering campaign, he will find a run in the general election to be even more formidable.
Campaign sources say that Petro will use a strategy learned from his days with the M-19 underground terror organization and other communist movements in Latin America.
“You know, every peso counts. If one organizes a raffle, a poetry reading event or a bingo, all of it counts. But don’t forget, what works are pies, so everyone, let’s make some pies”, the source said.