Strong winds are blowing for Álex Char, after the revelations about his relationship with Aida Merlano, condemned by justice, and who insists that he can prove that Char injected 500 million into his campaign for the Chamber.
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Alejandro Char was born in Barranquilla in 1966. He studied civil engineering at the Universidad del Norte, and a master’s degree in project management at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States. United.
He maintains that it did not, although he acknowledges that the relationship did exist and that at the time he confronted his family, to recognize it and fix the mistake. He speaks little about an episode that he considers part of his private life.
The Char , if you think about it, speak little. Arturo, his brother, whose words come out better with music, spent his year in front of the presidency of Congress posing as Marceau in front of journalists. And Fuad, the paterfamilias, increasingly prefers winter quarters to declarations, especially after the one, in 2015, in which he gave Oneida Pinto a hand, when they pointed out nearby “Kiko” Gómez, the nefarious former governor of La Guajira.
Alejandro Char has been in the crosshairs of critics since he began his public life and he has always preferred actions to speeches. As mayor of Barranquilla, he was measured to solve the problem of the streams, he turned education upside down, put his hand and resources on the roads, took the health service out of the ICU, made the Great Malecón of the Magdalena River a reality and lowered poverty rates.
He entered the presidential aspirations ball almost on time, after a debate with his family, who demanded of him, as he did as a child in front of his father, more time at home.
Councillor, twice mayor of Barranquilla, governor of Atlántico and husband of Katia Nule (ex-queen of Carnival), Char, the same man who got two and a half million signatures in a month , is now waiting for the signatures and the likes on networks to germinate votes. That they make him the winner of consultations and, later, of presidential elections. We talked with him in BOCAS about his life, his aspirations and the hectic times he lives in today.
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Let’s start with something that has been made public in the last few hours. It is not easy to face an issue like Aida Merlano’s revelations about the relationship they had a few years ago, especially when you are a candidate and the spotlights are focused on you. How complex has the issue been?
Of course it’s been tough, but I think I’ve had the transparency that an episode like this requires. We are human, we make mistakes. But life is an apprenticeship and I continue, firm, looking to the future. It is something that my family and I have faced and overcome. We are united in this and in everything that lies ahead.
How did you meet Aida Merlano? How did she come into your life?
That was in my campaign of 2015. I met her and I met many people, it is the exercise of a campaign.
What do you say to those who point a finger at you?
Nothing different from the truth: that was a fact from years ago and, although I have no reason to publicize or air it, at the time I discussed it with my family. My life is my life, and what happens within my family is as much ours as what can happen in the families of others. I turned that page a long time ago, and to me that is history.
Relationship is one thing. Another is the charge of financing a campaign and buying votes. That happens?
What head does it fit in! As I have said in all the scenarios, I was mayor on the date she says, 2018. Was I going to finance her campaign? Was she going to be foolish enough to make some kind of contribution to another party, to a Conservative campaign? Every act of mine, every decision as a public servant and as an individual, is in full view of the people and the authorities. Here I am showing my face and I will never do anything other than tell the truth.
Have you thought about giving up the presidential aspiration?
Zero resignations, let’s go forward!
What do you think of Merlano today and what he is doing?
I don’t know what’s going through her head and she’s the one who has to give explanations. She is a condemned, desperate person, in need of saving herself at all costs. But, and although I know that you are a journalist and your job is to ask and not answer, let me answer you with a question that all Colombians should ask themselves: convicted and a fugitive, on trial for a year, why have you only come out with this story until now? and revelations? I have nothing more to say about this. It is case overcome. It is, as I say, the last page, and that she responds to justice while Colombians continue to ask themselves questions that she will not be able to answer. I’m going forward. Last word.
Alex Char is 55 years old. He started in politics when he was a councilor in Barranquilla in 1997 for the Liberal Party and was Governor of Atlántico after the removal of Ventura Díaz Mejía in 2003.
From the last word to the first. What was the first word you said as a child?
Why do you usually say so few words when you grow up?
Because I’d rather listen than talk.
Who do you listen to?
Do you listen to Fuad, your dad?
My old man is a Bible for me.
Of the Bible that is your father, which part do you appreciate the most?
That of the businessman Fuad, that of the disciplined Fuad.
¿ You discovered that businessman Fuad at what age?
Like 14, when I realized how demanding he was.
No, with himself. He criticizes himself every day, looking to get better and better and better. For me it’s the greatest thing there is.
There, when you’re 14, you argue a lot with your parents…
Sure, and we argued, because I’m anti-establishment and I like the debate when I can’t find answers. But I still have a cool debate with my dad.
What was the main reason for the discussion at that time?
I demanded more time at home. And he told me: “I’m working, I’m working.”
Now that you’re a father, do you repeat the story?
My children entered university a few days ago, in Bogotá, and I came to bring them, to accompany them. Alejandro is 20 and has completed two careers, Economics and Administration; he is in the sixth semester. And Mariana, also at the Universidad de los Andes, started Law last semester. I’m with them whenever I can!
Are they the future of the family business?
They are the future of my home.
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Did you listen to her mother too?
Despite the fact that my mother left us for a cancer 25 years ago, I still remember our conversations. It was from her that I learned a taste for politics, understood as a social action, a genuine concern for others. The fiber of the public comes from her, because my father was more psycho-rigid in those areas. He was very, very people. He had a jewelry store, Moderna, which still exists, with 70 years of activities. She belonged to her father and she started working there when she was 14 years old, when she was in third year of high school, and my grandfather put her to sell. She was very short, like me, so she attended behind the counter, climbing on a stool. From 14 to 50, when she died, she stood behind that counter. She sold, but more than selling, she helped people in her trouble, because her true vocation was to solve problems for others. He placed people, he got money for those who were screwed, he gave a ring to the one who was going to get married and had nothing, he looked for hospitals for the sick, he fought for places in universities…
¿ Where did you meet Fuad?
At family gatherings, because they were first cousins. That’s why I’m twice Char: her name was Adela Chaljub Char. My dad’s dad is my mom’s mom’s brother. The Chaljub is Lebanese, from Beirut, and the Char is Syrian, from Damascus. My grandparents are displaced; they were catholics and the holy war surrounded them. Both families came to Colombia separately and met in Lorica, where my parents were born. Don Fuad and Doña Adela are from Saudi Lorica! He was 26 and she was 19 when they got married. None of them went to university.
And why did you end up in politics, apart from your mother’s example?
I’m still doing my thing, because I got into politics to build a town. My mom didn’t see anything I’ve done in my public life, but I owe her here and now. In 1993 I finished studying at Georgia Tech, a very Berraquist engineering university, where I did a master’s degree that she paid me for, and they offered me a job in the United States, in the largest construction company in the southeast of that country. But I adored my mom, to the point that I slept holding hands with her in her last years. I missed it a lot. In a time without cell phones, or any of this technology stuff, she faxed me the news! I came back because I wanted to spend more time with her and I set up my company, Alejandro Char y Cia., with thirty million that my mom lent me and that helped me start building twenty apartments in the El Prado neighborhood. I came back because I wanted to be with her and she died a year later.
Was I with her when the ordeal of cancer began?
I lived with her. I accompanied her to the doctor, because she had a cyst in one breast. They did the biopsy and she was next to her when the doctor told her: “Adela, you have cancer.” He took her away in four months.
How is she doing with her stepmother?
With Merce? wonderfully! She is a spectacular woman, very intelligent, and she has made my dad open up more, she integrates.
The latest polls showed that Alex Char and Federico Gutierrez lead the voting intention in the referendum of the Equipo por Colombia coalition ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.
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The history of this country is a long succession of scandals. How is money stolen in Colombia?
In all possible ways, because not doing it is another way of losing public money. With so much poverty and need that we have, not doing is wasting.
Before you became mayor of Barranquilla, who stole?
Everyone, everyone, everyone! ! Do you have in your head the photo of Barranquilla in 2007? A dead city, without hope, without dreams. Look at it today: Formula 1 is even coming!
There are those who do not applaud this project so much…
Wait until the engines start to roar and the name of Colombia resounds in the world whole.
Do you have anything to do with this Formula 1 thing?
It’s totally Mayor Jaime Pumarejo, who has decided to make it real. He told me at some point and we had a meeting with President Iván Duque. “There can be no better news than that,” I told the mayor. What it means for the country, the economy, visibility… motorsports is not an industry, there are a thousand industries! That the brake, that the tire, that the rim, that the spoilers, that the shock absorbers. We cannot give it as a fact, because there are some procedures and requirements, but I hope that this materializes. This is a country project and it’s good that the president has fallen in love with the issue.
How is Duque doing in his political career?
If you get to read the polls, he’s not doing well. That is the feeling and it is the pulse of the people. For me, his mistake was to start the race without Congress, with the consequent delay of all projects and development plans. His campaign speech on the “jam” greatly strained that relationship with the legislature, he distanced them. It always worked for me, from the beginning, to work on politics with the councillors, with the deputies. What you do not design, plan and budget in the first six months of government, you will never see in the rest of the four years! Of course, future terms are needed, but everything has to start in the first semester.
What does the president recognize as an achievement?
Vaccination, highlighted internationally , and the economic reactivation coming out of the pandemic. He has achieved it quickly and nobody can take that dance away from him.
What do you propose if you reach the Palacio de Nariño?
I want Colombia to look like Barranquilla: a city that did not believe in anything or anyone and went from despair to being a dreamer city, which feels that nothing is too big for it. Barranquilla residents are empowered today. Let’s not forget that the rulers of the past said that Barranquilla had to be moved, because the streams had no solution and, furthermore, we should forget the Magdalena, that only the industries should be there. Route 40 was pure factories and to see the Magdalena you had to get on the Pumarejo bridge or be on a tower. We managed to get our chests into the streams and made the river something close to the people with the Malecón, visited by millions of tourists and the scene of the love of Barranquilleros for their city.
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Despite hard episodes like the one with Aida Merlano, which you are facing now, you are doing well in the “fishbowl” of your Barranquilla, where he plays at home. How do you think things will be outside the “fishbowl”?
When I toured the country, being in the High Council for the Regions, I confirmed that everywhere the problems are almost the same as those solved in Barranquilla. It is that a president has to be a kind of great national mayor. That people feel as close to the president as to the mayor. I’m going to be where the people are, because I don’t plan to shut myself up in the Palace to wait for the 1,070 mayors to arrive there and spend half their budget traveling, sleeping four nights in Bogotá.
Is it true that, as mayor, didn’t you go to the office?
I never went. Only three times, in this last government: to take the oath, to lend a bathroom to a visiting president and to receive an ambassador who had 18,000 bodyguards. For the rest, he was out on the streets, solving small problems. The big problems in this country are the product of small problems that have not been resolved.
His wife has been fundamental at his side and has been a generous person who has been able to forgive bad moments of her Does her candidacy really ring a bell?
She helped me a lot in the Mayor’s Office. In the city we had 12,000 mothers who were heads of households with close to 24,000 children, and she took it upon herself with a program to train them in some trade, so that they could have a hairdresser’s, a salon, a manicure, on their block. a restaurant… one thinks that this is not important, but it generated very solid economies and from there more than 8 thousand small businesses were born. She is one hundred percent committed to this campaign and to what is to come.
You demanded time from her father. Didn’t his family think the same?
I spent many years in public service, unable to give them quality time, and I promised to settle that debt when I left office. I did it. Incredibly, the pandemic helped us make the most of our time and we practically lived on top of each other, because my children, who study in Bogotá, left for Barranquilla. Before November of last year we had a deep discussion about my future. My son was reluctant, especially because of the way they treat the people who enter the campaign and their loved ones; my wife, very happy, and my daughter has always been hurt by what happens in the country. And we reached consensus. That’s why I made the decision at the last minute, 24 hours before going to the Registrar’s Office.
What did Fuad say?
Happy, just like Arturo, my brother, who I received a lot of messages on the street to encourage me. He told me: “you have to believe in yourself more”. The truth is that he did believe, but he had that family commitment. Without the approval of my family, he would never walk in these.
When we go to bed, we all think about things that torment us. Before closing your eyes, do you remember issues such as the Mega water tank or the Campo Alegre neighborhood and its landslides?
No, because they are things that, despite the difficulties of the case, were processed and went well . The Megatanque is working and, in Campo Alegre, the State has finally determined where things can and cannot be done.
Do you see Odebrecht far or near?
Away, of course. Review with a magnifying glass the contractual processes of my administrations, all recognized in terms of transparency, and you will find the answer.
Do you admit that you have made mistakes in your management?
Of course , but I have as a rule to always work with people better than me, each one in their field. That minimizes the possibility of committing them. Why does Barranquilla work? Because not everything rests on a person, on a savior, on that messiah who has the last word, but on a team.
he was Mayor of Barranquilla in the period 2008-2011, as well as in the period 2016-2019.
Did you ever promise Álvaro Uribe that you were not going to run and that you would support, for example, his candidate?
Never. In our group we work on the policy of having a free country, where entrepreneurship and business are the fundamental driving force.
Has the time of Uribismo passed?
President Uribe made a move that at the time was what Colombia needed. And when he thinks in the sense of things that are a success for the country, we support him. I am not one of those who veto and close the doors just because.
Are you a saint?
What I am is Colombian!
Was Germán Vargas Lleras at some point the one to solve the problems of the country?
It always will be.
Gustavo Petro is doing very well on the Coast…
The Colombian is bored and demands to be attended. We are experiencing a kind of generalized protest, but it would be worth seeing in three months how those polls come out that today show a very strong Petro.
Should the country fear Petro?
I wouldn’t talk about fears. I would say that the solution that he proposes to Colombia has openly failed in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. A country with as many problems as Colombia cannot suffer the same fate.
Is Lidio García your bridge with César Gaviria?
My father was one of the first people who supported Luis Carlos Galán in the Caribbean and, since that time, we have had a very good friendship with former President Gaviria. We were part of the New Liberalism and we are liberals at heart.
Was Enrique Peñalosa a better mayor than you?
If you look at the statistics of how Bogotá rated him and how he Barranquilla qualified me, it went better for me, but he was a tremendous mayor. He is a guy who has it clear.
Is David Barguil right in his fight with the banks?
What do you think of Federico Gutiérrez?
He is a warrior. I admire him. I would even have him as my complement.
How do you see Rodolfo Hernández?
You have your music!
What is yours?
Cuban salsa. Los Van Van, NG la Banda, Isaac Delgado, la Charanga Habanera, Paulito FG, the “Salsa doctor”, Alexander Abreu…
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What does Cuba sound like when you are there?
Sadness. You talk to people and they tell you: I don’t have toilet paper, give me some soap, I haven’t tried protein for a month! One day I started chatting with a lady, skinny, skinny, and I asked her how many were like her and she told me: “everyone!”.
You, always so reserved in your statements, are you? how did you end up on TikTok opening the doors of the home?
For my children. I talk to many with them and they know that this is how they get to the “peeled”. When I made the first video, my children told me that their friends asked them when I was going to make the next one. And it works: in less than a month 30 thousand people followed me. I’ve had videos of one million three hundred thousand views!
Football or baseball?
Sport! When I was little, eight years old, my dad took me to see softball one day when he was playing, he was a first baseman. And sport has been fundamental for me ever since.
Were you moved by the signing of Luis Díaz?
A lot. Here we can have about three thousand more Luis Díaz, but we do not receive them, nor do we train. He and his family arrived at the Barranquilla Fútbol Club, even with malnutrition problems, and it was my brother, Arturo, who came to him. I think Diaz slept closer to my brother than his wife. I am glad that he has arrived at Liverpool and that many Colombians, supported by the private sector, achieve similar triumphs. And that the public sector tie those pants also in the task of supporting them.
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What does Alex Char think about abortion?
Applied rigorously wherever those in arms are, wherever criminals administer.
¿ Adoption of homosexual couples?
Always open to complaints, but without vandalism.
The peace of Santos?
Peace is accompanied, but with justice, truth and reparation.
That it respond to Colombia, and make a line!
We are still in this country without knowing why he always wears a cap …
For the same reason that you wear Beatles t-shirts: because you like them, because you feel comfortable. I don’t do my hair much and, since in Barranquilla there is a lot of breeze and sun, and I don’t go to offices, how would I be without it! The hat brings me closer to people who, when they see how I dress, don’t say “Doctor Alex.” Simply Alex. And that’s where everything starts! Immediately, and with real confidence, comes the ‘do this, help us with this other’. The cachucha is the protagonist of the dialogue I have with the people of Barranquilla, and that is the dialogue I want to have with Colombia.