Verónica Alcocer: The Construction of a First Lady | International

Verónica Alcocer always wanted to be an artist. Her father, a conservative lawyer from the Colombian Caribbean, thought that this was not life for her eldest son. To please her, Veronica began her law degree up to three times. Only the last one took it seriously, but it too was short-lived. In the first semester several politicians went to give a talk at her university. She, who was then 21 years old, was impressed by the “intelligence” of one of them, a loquacious man, unconventional. He, 39, asked a friend to send a message to that beautiful woman. Everything went very fast. Three months after exchanging calls, Veronica warned her father: “I’m going to introduce you to a character, but don’t even ask me the name.” Mr. Alcocer, passionate about cooking, prepared turkey stewed with new corn, cassava cracks and rice with coconut. That night in 1999 he opened the door of his house and found himself facing Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla.

Many other dinners followed, now father-in-law and son-in-law. There were topics that were not touched on, although some after-dinner tips were included between laughter, whiskey and tobacco. The right-wing man, an admirer of the conservative leader Álvaro Gómez, ended up loving the left-wing politician like a son who, six months after they met, took his daughter to Bogotá and became his wife. When the lawyer died nine years ago, Petro asked to speak at the funeral through tears. It is one of the few times that he has been seen crying.

Verónica remembers these and other anecdotes looking at the camera for this interview from her apartment in Bogotá. She gestures, she laughs and gets excited as if she had spent her whole life in front of a goal. She in a moment she sings and dances the song Mom, I want to be an artist. She seems very comfortable talking about her life, although in reality the wife of one of the best-known men in the country is a stranger to most Colombians. She now she wants to change that. Her children have already grown up, she doesn’t need her as much, the two eldest are studying in Europe and the youngest is about to turn 14. Her husband leads all the polls for the presidency of Colombia. And she has “a very personal feeling” that the story of four years ago will not repeat itself, when Petro lost to Iván Duque in the second round of the elections. Verónica Alcocer is preparing to act as first lady.

He has opened profiles on all social networks and is looking for his own style, away from the shadow of the politician. “I am passionate about telling the stories of Colombia! Sincelejana, mother and friend”, she introduces herself. The original idea was that her Twitter account would not follow Petro’s, although she does because of a mistake made by someone on her team. Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, Kamala Harris or the Pope are other profiles that she follows, just 43. Since January she has more than 23,000 followers. Petro would not have resented his unfollow if they had wanted to correct that mistake, their tweets reach 4.5 million people. Alcocer acknowledges that he has now understood that being visible not only exposes you, but can also help you. With what she herself calls “the Verónica Alcocer project” she is touring Colombia, a plan that she hopes to maintain whether she is first lady or not. On the one hand, she wants to show Colombian folklore, the positive aspects of a country marked for so many years by war, on the other, she seeks to “build” her name around women and children, fight against violence and abuse.

She was a very young mother. At age 21, on her second attempt to study law in Bogotá, she became pregnant. Her partner asked her not to have the child and she decided to end the relationship. “The topic of sexual education has always been very covered, in my time it was a story to talk about it. Many girls get pregnant due to ignorance, you have to work there”, she says as if writing down in her agenda. Nicolás was born in the capital and Verónica was only accompanied by her mother. Five months later, she returned to Sincelejo with the child, but she stayed with some friends. “My dad did not receive me.” She re-enrolled in law school to regain the affection of her father, who had cooled off with the pregnancy. The grandfather, little by little, was approaching his grandson. “In the end, my son Nicolás was the love of his life.” The classrooms were short-lived again. It was then that Petro crossed her path.

At first I didn’t know who he was. “I did not marry Gustavo for politics, but because I fell in love.” She, too, did not have a very marked ideology, beyond the world that had surrounded her. She had participated as a child in the campaigns of Álvaro Gómez and later in that of Andrés Pastrana, with whom she wanted to travel to Bogotá with the youth of the Conservative Party, but her father refused. She always felt like a very restless, mischievous girl, but deeply marked, for the better, by the traditional and Catholic education that she experienced with her family and in a school run by Franciscan nuns. “At 15 I want to be a nun, then I fall in love, I graduate from school. In the midst of those traditions, I was very liberal when it came to clothing, with backpacks, very relaxed, with a bow.”

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Verónica Alcocer receives EL PAÍS in her apartment in Bogotá.
Verónica Alcocer receives EL PAÍS in her apartment in Bogotá.Juan Carlos Zapata

Alcocer feels that the appearance of her husband today was a “perfect mesh” between what she learned with the missionary sisters of the school and “praxis”. “That service for the other that they were talking about, now I see it in a person of flesh and blood, who exposes his life and gives everything for others. For me, Gustavo’s life has been a life of service. He is the best example of a Christian person and I love it because he ties in with what I experienced as a young girl”.

life and politics

Already married, Petro, Alcocer and little Nicolás, who calls Gustavo “dad”, moved to Bogotá in 2000. He describes the clash as “dark”. Armored windows, permanent security, bodyguards. “It was like being imprisoned.” Life, always alert to her, never abandoned her again in these 22 years. “It is the condition that touched us. This is how we live and so many other people, on one side and the other, it shouldn’t be like that “. The children are the ones who take it the worst, he says, “they almost went to Europe for that.” Security is what has now forced them to live in a nice rented apartment in the capital, during the election year, instead of in their house in the countryside.

His daughter Sofía, 21, a political science student in Paris, is at home for a while. She accompanies her father on numerous occasions, unlike Veronica, who lives immersed in the launch of her project. They are the women who surround the politician who focuses almost all eyes two months before the first round of the presidential elections. Verónica, Sofía and Antonella, the youngest, who is a goalkeeper in a city team and would like to dedicate herself to professional football. Petro, they say, is not very interested in sports. “Gustavo has a feminist wife and daughters, he could never distance himself from feminism. He lives among feminists and warriors, ”says Veronica to deal with the criticism against him for having questioned, on occasion, the feminist movement.

Last Christmas, Sofia gave the politician the book feminism for beginners (“I will read it with pleasure,” Petro said in networks) and on her Instagram she is seen participating this year in Bogotá in the marches in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. Alcocer is very religious (“I have a faith that is not moved by anything or anyone”), her position on the interruption of pregnancy is more ambiguous than the determination of her daughter. “I couldn’t judge anyone. I cast for ahead [en su embarazo]. It is a very personal issue, but I am pro-life, pro-love, although in some cases another decision can be made. It seems dangerous to me that it can become almost a contraceptive method. But since the subject is so sensitive, I try to take a very careful position and not enter into judgment.”

One of the few times that Veronica accompanied the politician in recent months to a public event, she went to the Vatican to meet with the Pope. “I was speechless, I had a light, a tranquility”, she recalls of an experience that she compares to the birth of her children.

As the interview progresses, Alcocer is becoming more comfortable. If she said when she arrived that she didn’t like being photographed, now she poses freely in the living room of the apartment. At that time, Petro is preparing the closing of her campaign in the center of Bogotá, before thousands of people. From the stage she will harangue her supporters: “We are going to overthrow the regime of corruption, that the mobilization is no longer towards the petition, but towards power”. The politician, known for his long speeches, is described in his house rather by his silences. “I’m the one who speaks here,” acknowledges Alcocer, who tries to ensure that the conversation does not always revolve around politics. He lets off steam cooking, she dances.

If she becomes first lady, Alcocer says she wants to be with the people, “not encapsulated in parties.” “I want to be where I have to be, on the street, in the neighborhood, from stratum one to six. Being there for everyone, from those who have the least to those who have the most, because we are all human beings. We all suffer violence”.

– And who are your referents?

– Princess Diana and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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