Petro wins Colombian election, becomes country’s first leftist president

Bogota, Colombia – Colombia will have a leftist president for the first time.

Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and a longtime lawmaker, won Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, prompting voters frustrated by decades of poverty and inequality under conservative leaders to expand social programs, tax the wealthy and With a promise to move away from an economy he has called excessive. dependent on fossil fuels.

His victory set the third-largest nation in Latin America on an extremely precarious path, as it faces rising poverty and violence that has sent record numbers of Colombians to the United States border; high levels of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, a major buffer against climate change; and a growing distrust of key democratic institutions, which has become a trend in the region.

Petro, 62, got over 50% of the vote, while Sunday evening saw over 99% of the votes counted. His rival, Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate who had energized the country with a scorched-earth anti-corruption platform, won just over 47%.

Soon after the vote, Hernandez accepted Petro.

“Colombians, today most citizens have chosen another candidate,” Hernandez said. “As I said during the campaign, I accept the results of this election.”

Petro took the stage on Sunday night with his vice-presidential pick, Francia Marquez, and Petro’s three children. There was silence in the packed stadium, people were standing on chairs and holding phones upstairs.

“This story we are writing today is a new story for Colombia, for Latin America, for the world,” Petro said. “We are not going to betray this voter.”

He pledged to govern with what he called the “politics of love”, based on hope, dialogue and understanding.

According to official figures, more than 58 percent of Colombia’s 39 million voters voted.

The victory means Francia Marquez, an environmental activist raised from poverty, will become the country’s first black vice president to become a leading advocate for social justice.

Petro and Marquez’s victory reflects an anti-establishment fervor that has spread across Latin America, fueled by the pandemic and other long-standing issues, including a lack of opportunity.

“The whole country is begging for change, and that’s quite clear,” said Colombian political scientist Fernando Posada.

In April, Costa Ricans were elected to the presidency by Rodrigo Chaves, a former World Bank official and political outsider, who took advantage of widespread discontent with the incumbent party. Last year, Chile, Peru and Honduras voted for leftist leaders running against right-wing candidates, marking a significant, multi-year shift across Latin America.

As a candidate, Petro energized a generation that is among the most educated in Colombian history, but is also dealing with 10% annual inflation, a 20% youth unemployment rate, and a 40% poverty rate. His rallies were often filled with youth, many of whom said they had felt betrayed for decades by leaders who had made big promises but did not fulfill them.

“We are not satisfied with the mediocrity of previous generations,” said 23-year-old Larry Rico, a Petro voter at a polling station in Ciudad Bolivar, a poor neighborhood in the capital Bogota.

Petro’s victory is even more important because of the country’s history. For decades, the government fought a brutal leftist insurgency, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a struggle with stigma that makes it difficult for a legitimate leftist to thrive.

But the FARC signed a peace deal with the government in 2016, giving it arms and open space for wider political discourse.

Petro was part of a separate rebel group called the M-19, which disbanded in 1990 and became a political party that helped rewrite the country’s constitution. Eventually, Petro became a forceful leader in the country’s opposition, known for its condemnation of human rights abuses and corruption.

On Sunday, in a wealthy part of Bogota, 67-year-old Francisco Ortiz, a television director, said he too had voted for Petro.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had this kind of opportunity for change,” he said. “If things will get better, I don’t know. But if we stick to that, we already know what we’re going to get.”

The victory could also test the United States’ relationship with its strongest ally in Latin America. Traditionally, Colombia has formed the cornerstone of Washington’s policy in the region.

But Petro criticized the United States’ failed approach to the drug war, saying it focused too much on the eradication of the coca crop, the core product in cocaine, and not enough on rural development and other measures.

Petro has said that it will pursue some form of drug legalization, that it will renegotiate an existing trade deal with the United States to better benefit Colombians, and that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would restore relations with the authoritarian government of the United States, all of which could create conflict with the United States.

Nearly two million Venezuelan migrants have fled Colombia in recent years amid economic, political and humanitarian crises.

Petro said in an interview this year that he believed he could do a good job with the government of US President Joe Biden, adding that his relationship with the United States should work together to tackle climate change. particularly to prevent rapid degradation of the Amazon. ,

“There’s a point of conversation there,” he said. “Because saving the Amazon rainforest involves some tools, some programs, that don’t exist today, at least not with respect to the United States. In my opinion, that’s a priority.”

Petro and Hernandez both sent them into a runoff after defeating Federico Gutierrez, the mayor of a former big city backed by conservative elites, in the first round of voting on 29 May.

Describing themselves as anti-incumbency candidates, both men said they were running against a political class that had controlled the country for generations.

Among the factors that distinguished him the most was how he viewed the root of the country’s problems.

Petro believes the economic system is broken, heavily reliant on oil exports and a thriving and illegal cocaine business said to have made the rich rich and the poor poor. He is calling for a change to stop all new oil exploration and develop other industries.

He has also said he would start guaranteed work with a basic income, move the country to a publicly controlled health system and increase access to higher education, in part by raising taxes on the wealthy.

“What we have today is the result of what I call ‘model constraints’,” Petro said in an interview this year, referring to the current economic system. “The end result is a brutal poverty.”

However, his ambitious economic plan has raised concerns. A former finance minister called his power plan “economic suicide”.

Hernandez did not want to change the economic structure, but said it was inefficient because it is fraught with corruption and wasteful spending. He called for the amalgamation of ministries, the dismantling of some embassies and the sacking of incompetent government employees, using the savings to help the poor.

One Hernandez supporter, Nilia Mesa de Reyes, 70, a retired ethics professor who voted in an affluent section of Bogota, said Petro’s leftist policies and his past with the M-19 terrified him. “We are thinking of leaving the country,” she said.

Petro’s critics, including former allies, have accused him of arrogance that drives him to ignore advisers and struggle to build consensus. When he takes office in August, he will face a deeply polarizing society, where elections reflect growing mistrust in nearly all major institutions.

He has vowed to serve as president of all Colombians, not just those who voted for him.

On Sunday, 31-year-old Ingrid Forrero, in a polling booth from a high school in Bogota, said she saw a generational divide in her community, with younger people favoring Petro and older generations favoring Hernandez.

Her own family calls her a “little rebel” because of her support for Petro, whom she said supports him because of his policies on education and income inequality.

“The youth is more inclined towards revolution,” she said, “to the left, towards change.”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: