“We are committed to a real change, a real change”, proclaimed Gustavo Petro in the big auditorium of Bogotá, Sunday 19 June, where the campaign team and supporters of the left-wing candidate celebrated the victory. “I’m happy, it’s a victory we’ve been hoping for more than 40 years,” said a Petro supporter who was celebrating the victory in the streets of the capital that night, like many people.
A former guerrilla in power
The future Colombian president, whose past in the ranks of the guerrilla M-19 seems to be sticking to his skin, recalled that “The opposition, whatever it is, will always be welcome to the presidency to dialogue on the future of Colombia.” Gustavo Petro is above all a long-time opponent of the Colombian right which kept sticking to him the label of “communist”. The former mayor of Bogotá sat in the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006, where “he denounced in Congress the links between the paramilitary militias and the country’s political class” according to Ricardo Garcia, the former director of the University of Bogotá.
Since Colombia’s independence in 1819, Colombia has never had a left-wing president. “The government that will take office on August 7 will be one of life, peace, social justice and environmental justice,” said Gustavo Petro on the night of his victory.
“We are not going to betray this electorate that has cried out for the country to change”
Often described as the candidate of “change”, he prefers the term “progressive” to talk about his project. The first project for the one who intends to put Colombia “at the head of the fight against climate change in the world” is the defense of the Amazon forest. For the moment, his commitment to climate challenges remains only verbal, and the first months of his presidency will be important to see how Petro intends to “consolidate capitalism” and “fight against” climate change.
In the list of great “changes” in Colombia, there is also free access to university, public health systems and pensions. The ex-guerrilla member also wants to reengage negotiations with armed groups after the peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government in 2016, marred by the mandate of Ivan Duque since 2018.
Francia Marquez, the symbol of “those who are nothing”
The figure of Petro is not everything in this victory, as the candidate’s running mate, Francia Marquez, an Afro-descendant, environmentalist and a feminist, has seduced many voters. This single mother of two children from a poor family wished to dedicate this victory to “those who are nothing”, this victory is for “… women, the young, LGBTIQ + people, indigenous populations, farmers, workers, victims, my black people … ” she tweeted on the evening of the results. The 40-year-old has a history of activism against illegal gold mining in the Northern Cauca region of Colombia, for which she received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize. The victory of the left in Colombia puts an Afro-descendant woman in the role of vice president for the first time.
“Building […] integral peace” beyond borders
This victory is more broadly the victory of the left in Latin America, where 51% of Latin Americans (about 345 million people) are now governed by the left. On the geopolitical level, we can expect a rapprochement with Venezuela, which until now had been in confrontation with right-wing and center governments in Colombia. The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, tweeted to congratulate Gustavo Petro and declared that “new times are coming for this brother country”.
For the United States, Colombia is a strategic ally, but the election of a new president from a left-wing party that does not maintain good relations with the United States does not augur well. Even so, Gustavo Petro wants to prove that the left-wing government is capable of ensuring stability and continuity with the politics of his predecessors.
The Uruguayan political scientist, Gabriel Pastor, deciphers Pastor’s desire to have a more horizontal relationship with the United States, placing the issue of climate change “at the center of discussions with the United States”. The objective is to make the world’s leading power responsible, unlike previous discussions between the two countries on the issue of drug traffickers, where “we are the cause of the problem” and the United States “imposes ways to solve it,” summarizes the political scientist.