The government-opposition party scheme was the overcoming of three decades of the scheme of the National Front which, de jure and de facto, Barco promoted and defended. A formidable gesture of independence with its own political past and with the prevailing political culture. It was looking for the most difficult way to govern. Barco clearly saw that sectarianism was a thing of the past and that it was time to recover the democratic game. He maintained the scheme but this was not an obstacle to teaching about the Government and due respect for the opposition, whatever it was. He promoted consensus that led to the plebiscite and the constituent Assembly. The sense of political responsibility in serious matters allowed continuity between the Barco and Gaviria administrations.
The relationship with the media was not well valued. Another example of his commitment to independence. Barco himself specified: “The government’s relations with the media have not been cold and distant, but respectful of the independence that a journalist must have in a pluralist democracy.”
Journalist Leopoldo Villar Borda describes: “The antipathy of the media towards the Government and, specifically, towards President Barco caused various perverse effects that exceeded the media sphere. One of them was to convert the Secretary General of the Presidency, German Montoyain one of the favorite targets of narco-terrorism, by creating the impression that in him – and not in the president – resided the decision-making power of the Government”.
For being ambassador to washington and a member of the World Bank, not a few considered that it would be and docile in the face of their policies. Two testimonies reveal the independence with which he faced politics: Luis F. Alarcon emphasizes that “…despite the coincidence in certain fundamental aspects, the opening began despite the World Bank and not due to its pressure… (the opening) began despite the obstacles imposed by the Bank, which negatively valued the approach gradual…”.
The idea of social progress was always present. But at the same time, I think he gave his own meaning to the notion of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. In other words, a new deal, a different way of doing things, another way of governing, another style of building a different future! And that’s what Barco did: in key sectors he shuffled again. Can you imagine a greater redistribution of power in the process that led to a new Constitution? And didn’t the government-opposition party scheme perhaps redistribute the burdens of political life? And the steps that were taken for economic opening? The program to eradicate absolute poverty? A whole new scenario for the most vulnerable. Only the conviction and commitment of the maker, impatient but careful in designing the paths to take. Impatient but calculating, farsighted and attentive to the barriers that could frustrate his purposes. Idealistic but without vain illusions. Willing to take risks and suffer setbacks without being tempted by the flattery of popularity. He knew that success would come from the clarity of his purpose, the firmness of his decisions and the contribution of a loyal team, empowered to fulfill the task entrusted to him. Barco, in a way privileged, cared and sincerely cared for the poor.
In international relations, Colombia assumed divergent attitudes from those of the majority of the UN Security Council. Another episode was the strong controversy in the Permanent Council of the OAS, due to the release from prison of one of the most well-known drug lords. President Barco gave precise instructions to Ambassador Lemos that produced a joint resolution between the United States and Colombia.
President Barco projected his independence on the expectations he harbored for his collaborators: dedication, expertise and, of course, independence. The essential thing was to carry out the assigned task without distractions. He sought to give game to his young collaborators. That is why he could delegate enormous responsibilities to them. Once he knew about their training and their ethical qualities, he simply summoned them, demanded them, directed them, but leaving them a wide margin of freedom.
Barco, always aware of the possible, always prudent, was not afraid of audacity when circumstances called for it. How about the government-opposition party scheme, or the peace agreement with the M-19 or constitutional reform through a Constituent AssemblyOr the gradualism for economic opening against the World Bank’s senior executives or the war it declared against illicit drugs or the choice of its ministers and so many decisions and events?
He was very careful with his texts, which he corrected over and over again. With the help of Sylvia Moscovich de Vasco he added what he called “musical notation”. For the delivery of those speeches he was impeccable, despite the fact that he was not recognized as a great speaker. His speech at the UN Special Assembly in New York is considered one of the best delivered on the floor. Prioritizing his time was key. What was important superseded everything else. Despite his tenacity, we must underline his flexibility, his ability to adapt to a new situation. As in his schedule, there was room in his mind for the unexpected.
How did President Barco leave so many legacies of great significance? He always ordered previous studies and always prioritized. Working for work was not his style. His great achievements are old-fashioned, either because he conceived them years before his achievement or because he tried them and failed. On social policy issues, he stubbornly insisted on promoting policies then viewed with skepticism, but which are now recognized as visionary: the alliance with indigenous peoples to protect the Amazonthe eradication of absolute poverty as a goal and the promotion of participatory democracy, a fundamental principle in the 1991 Constitution.
Who could have imagined on August 7, 1986 that, without him being on his government platform, he was going to take the fundamental steps to replace the 1886 Constitution? That he would have to devote a lot of energy to combating the brutal threat of drug traffickers? No wonder Professor Deas subtitled his study: “The Life and Events of a Crucial President, and the Violent World He Confronted.” A ruler respectful of the work of his predecessors. He believed in continuity. And so it happened when Cesar Gaviria succeeded him in the presidency.
Harsh critics claimed that his government had no peace policy. Quite the contrary. The process was institutionalized, the ceasefire was maintained, the treatment with the UP was respectful, and the first Peace Agreement was achieved, after the National Front. The M-19 and other groups joined his or Gaviria’s government. It was no small thing that the process continued after the murder of Carlos Pizarro and that Navarro Wolff he was then one of the three presidents of the Constituent Assembly. Although anticlerical, he was the mayor who prepared Bogotá for the Eucharistic Congress, appointed a Franciscan as palace chaplain, and visited John Paul II.
Finally, after several decades, a well-deserved tribute is paid to a leader who should serve as an example from councilors to presidents. It is the exaltation of a citizen who saw his true vocation in public service and in the materialization of his unwavering commitment to the general welfare.
Malcolm Deas answered his own question about how he would describe the person of Virgilio Barco: “In a word, and in the full sense of that word, admirable.”
FERNANDO CEPEDA ULLOA*
SPECIAL FOR WEATHER
*COURTESY VILLEGAS EDITORS