Colombia’s Trump, Rodolfo Hernández: ‘Ideally, women should devote themselves to raising children’

The presidential candidate’s sexist comments and attacks of the country’s femicide law have sparked a flurry of criticism, but the 77-year-old populist is no stranger to controversy

A billboard with the image of Rofoldo Hernández in Bucaramanga.
A billboard with the image of Rofoldo Hernández in Bucaramanga.Mario Caicedo (EFE)

Rodolfo Hernández cannot hide his sexism. In an attempt to clarify a phrase that drew criticism a few days ago, the candidate to become Colombia’s next president ended up making it worse. “Ideally, women should devote themselves to raising children,” he said in radio statements on Tuesday.

Hernández, 77, was seeking to set the record straight on what, according to him, the media had taken out of context. A week earlier, also on a radio station, he had answered with a resounding “no” to the question of whether it is a good idea for women to have a role in politics or in managerial positions. “It is good for them to make comments and to provide support from their home. But people don’t like to see women involved in government,“ he stated at the time. And he went on: “Because they see her as being invasive, because she’s not the one they voted for, they voted for her husband. If there is something that Socorro, my wife, has to tell me, she is going to tell me about it at home.”

These are not the only controversial statements by this wealthy businessman and former mayor of Bucaramanga who has shaken up Colombian politics with a surprisingly strong performance in the first round of presidential elections last Sunday. Hernández, who will face off with leftist candidate Gustavo Petro at the runoff on June 19, is also known for statements affirming that he admired Adolf Hitler, although he later said that it was a slip of the tongue and that he was actually thinking of Albert Einstein; he is also on record with misogynistic and xenophobic remarks about female Venezuelan migrants.

Dubbed Colombia’s Trump, Hernández favors a populist rhetoric and he reaches out directly to followers through social media while avoiding face-to-face debates with other candidates. His simple message attacking the corrupt elites has gone down very well among citizens fed up with traditional politics.

Regarding the figure of the first lady and the place she usually occupies in the presidential residence, the Palace of Nariño, Hernández said that “she should not be in there with a car, with a chauffeur, with advisors, spending taxpayers’ money.” His words caused such a flurry of criticism that Hernández felt compelled to speak up about women again this week. By then, however, he had already become one of the two candidates who will become the next president of Colombia after securing 28% of the vote on Sunday.

Hernández represents the “macho” Colombia, which can only see women as housewives and not as individuals who can also have a position or a job outside the home. According to him, the only reason women have had to work outside the home is because society is ruined. “Women had to go out to work to contribute to cover household expenses,” he said. Hernández added that while he was mayor of Bucaramanga, a midsize city in eastern Colombia, office, women held almost 70% of the positions. “They were excellent workers,” he said.

The vice presidential candidate who is running with Hernández is a woman, 53-year-old Marelen Castillo, in an apparent bid to show that he is not as sexist as he seems. Castillo has defended Hernández and said that he is a “respectful” man. But Hernández’s sexist statements are nothing new. This week, a video was released in which he discussed Colombia’s femicide law, which has existed for six years following the brutal murder of Rosa Elvira Cely in 2012. “The government makes up crimes to solve problems. For example, a woman politician decided to make a flag of femicide, which is a homicide of a woman, and introduced a law, and I think the law was passed, although it is my understanding that the courts threw it out, but this politician became a senator thanks to it. What that senator did, turning a homicide into a femicide – did it stop the violent attacks leading to the death of women? No, it’s not over, it’s still the same or worse.”

Rodolfo Hernández does not know that the crime of femicide does exist and was not overturned by any courts, but this Tuesday a trend was created on Twitter under the hashtag #ElFeminicideSiExiste to remind him.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS