It's all relative

Colombia presidential candidate says Hitler praise was meant for Einstein

Rodolfo Hernandez, one of two nominees in runoff election, has won an unlikely following with a self-funded social media campaign despite history of off-color remarks

Rodolfo Hernandez, Colombia presidential candidate in Bogota, Colombia, June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Rodolfo Hernandez, Colombia presidential candidate in Bogota, Colombia, June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

A candidate in Colombia’s upcoming presidential election praised Adolf Hitler last year, before walking back the comment, saying he confused the Nazi leader with Albert Einstein.

The 77-year-old populist Rodolfo Hernandez said in a radio interview that he was a “follower of a great German thinker named Adolf Hitler.”

He later said he meant Einstein, and was not a fan of Hitler, but the former mayor has a history of other offensive comments.

The election runoff between Hernandez and his leftist rival Gustavo Petro will be held this weekend. Opinion polls point to a neck-and-neck race.

Hernandez, who has no ties to established parties and no obvious political leaning, is a firebrand outsider real estate mogul who is largely running his self-funded campaign over social media.

The self-proclaimed “King of TikTok” speaks directly to his electorate via the social media platform — where he has almost 600,000 followers — and Facebook broadcasts. His diatribes are sometimes offensive and foul-mouthed.

Besides the Hitler comment, he has made disparaging remarks about women, once calling Venezuelan women a “factory for making poor children.”

He was also known for slapping an opposition councilman during a disagreement on camera in 2018.

He came in surprise second place in a first election round on May 29, denying frontrunner Petro an outright win and beating out the rightwing candidate until then considered the leftist’s main competition.

Hernandez, the former mayor of Bucaramanga in northern Colombia, has run on an anti-corruption ticket with a heavy use of social media to spread his message rather than public appearances. He has steadfastly refused to debate other candidates.

Hernandez has focused his campaign largely on combating poverty, which affects some 39 percent of Colombia’s 50 million people. He has vowed not to raise taxes, to cut VAT from 19 to 10 percent and to boost social spending by shrinking bureaucracy.

Hernandez blames government corruption for much of Colombia’s deep-seated economic inequality, but is himself under investigation for “undue benefits” given to third parties when he was mayor.

He has been accused of promising free housing in poor neighborhoods while running for the Bucaramanga mayorship, then not following through.

Despite failing to deliver on his ambitious promise, Hernandez remains popular among many in Bucaramanga, admired for his brashness and for building sports stadiums in poor areas during his 2016-2019 term.

He donated his mayoral salary to social causes and lived from his self-stated fortune of $100 million.

Hernandez was suspended as mayor for intervening in local elections, and resigned shortly before the end of his term.

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