After ten years in Colombian politics, Jaime Hernandez decided that it was time to step back and take a break in order to design a rigorous and feasible political policy for his country. In September he enrolled in the one-year Master’s programme in Public Affairs at the Sciences Po campus in Paris.
At just 32 years old, you’ve already had a rather impressive career in politics in Colombia. Can you recount the main stages of your career to date?
My political career began in 2005, when I enlisted in a Liberal youth group which offered me the possibility of being elected to go to the National Liberal Congress. I wasn't elected that year, but I met a lot of people and created my own movement called "Los Nuevos Liberales". Not only did "Los Nuevos Liberales" get elected but I was also elected to the National Liberal Youth Executive Committee. At the age of 23 I was the youngest ever national youth secretary. After a two-year term, I was appointed National Political Coordinator for Rafael Pardo's Liberal Presidential Campaign. In that same year I ran for congress in Bolivar, my regional department. I was then appointed political adviser by Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, aiding with the drafting and approval of the Victims Law, the backbone of the present Peace Treaty. I then went on to be Juan Carlos Gossain's Campaign Chief for the governorship of Bolivar and I then worked in Bolivar for a year as High Political Advisor and was temporarily appointed Mayor of the town of Villanueva. In 2013, I was sworn in as Private Secretary to the Presidency of Colombia's Senate, and I was subsequently appointed Chief of Cabinet at the Ministry of Interior in 2016.
Despite this extensive experience, you decided to take a break and go back to university. Why?
I love my work and I am very grateful for all the opportunities I've been given, but three main reasons motivated me to take a year off to study at Sciences Po.
Firstly, the world is moving at an incredible speed and it is important to be informed about the best the world can offer in public service. If I want to be a successful public servant I need to be better informed, and Sciences Po has the most to offer me.
Secondly, after a few years of working inside the bureaucracy, I realised that some things are not right and need to be changed. I believe this change will come from the outside, offering citizens better ways to manage public services and giving them choice. During this year at Sciences Po, I'm not only becoming increasingly well informed, but I'm also getting motivated, to be able to go back and offer Colombia what I believe to be a better set of rules for the public sector.
Last of all, I have many ideas, ideas mostly based on the use of education for improving our living standards in the long term, and it is hard to develop these ideas in the middle of the storm. This year I have the time and tools to develop a political policy that is rigorously studied, and not improvised as is the case for most of what I've seen in Colombia.
What do you expect from this year of study at Sciences Po? Which skills do you need to develop?
I expect, and so far my expectations have largely been fulfilled, to meet people who I can learn from, understand other systems and cultures, broaden my knowledge of the world and further my academic wisdom. The varied nationalities of my classmates and their incredible intelligence have definitely offered me this.
In your cover letter applying to the MPA at Sciences Po, you said that you were planning to return to Colombian politics after your year at Sciences Po. What exactly drives your passion for politics? What would you like to achieve?
I believe I answered most of this question in question 2. But more to the point, I have a strong belief in the capacity of human beings to better ourselves. All humans are basically a product of the information and experiences they received while growing up; that makes the difference between a productive citizen and one that is not; between a civilized citizen and an uncivilized one; between a rich and a poor citizen; and even between an emotionally stable and unstable citizen. There are no magical policies for success, but if we offer children a better environment and improved education, they will grow up to be a better generation than we are, asking for better public services and servants.I believe empowering the people with information will create a positive cycle that can eventually correct the things I strongly disagree with that have driven the development of Colombia for centuries: inequality, exclusion, and corruption. I believe this is something worth working for, and this is why I'm preparing to once again take an active role in Colombian politics.