Colombia elects leader Gustavo Petro (Opinion)
Opinion piece by: Julian Ochoa
In a historic election result, Colombia turns left by choosing Gustavo Petro as president and feminist Afro-Colombian Francia Marquez.
On May 29th Gustavo Petro and his party’s historical pact (Pacto Historico) won enough votes to reach the second round to contend for the presidency. What was not expected was that Rodolfo Hernandez would be his contender, Hernandez considered a political outsider reached the second round of elections as an independent, and used social media to reach out to younger voters with politically incorrect statements, while duplicating Petro’s platform but with chauvinistic overtones.
In the second round of elections, Petro beat Hernandez by 700,000 votes. It is estimated that in this second round of votes 2 million more people went out to cast their vote. This time 11.281.002 million people voted for Petro, and 10.580.399 voted for Hernandez, this was a historic turnout of voters. It Is no surprise that the turnout was of such high numbers, as the country is in economic turmoil and social crisis. This result is no different from elections in other democracies around the world, in times of difficulty, people turn to more progressive parties to help fix problems that conservatives tend to create through corruption and mismanagement.
Hernandez conceded defeat against Petro and told Petro via social media to keep his anti-corruption promises and not defraud the people that voted for him.
Alvaro Uribe who has been Petros political nemesis since the early 2000s when Uribe was President and Petro was senator twitted conciliatory remarks asking his followers to respect democracy, recognizing Petro as president, and stating Colombia first should be our guiding emotion.
Petro’s victory speech was full of hints of what will come during the next four years. He began by reminding people that this election result is historic and that such a result in itself is a driving force for change, a real change to the machinations of the country’s political system. He spoke of Love as part of the political process and healing and emphasized that his administration won’t take revenge for all past occurrences by the ruling elites and other political actors. This is important as conservative elites especially supporters of Alvaro Uribe were nervous to see him elected as they fear a political witch hunt for war crimes and connections to drug trafficking.
He reminded the crowds that this election was about giving a voice and recognition to minorities such as the Afro-Colombians, the Indigenous communities, union leaders, student leaders, human rights advocates, and social justice and climate justice in general.
The elites fear that he will introduce land reform laws that would strip away land from rich and powerful landowners and hand it to the poorer farmers. But Petro stated that he will embrace capitalism to ensure that it works right for all, that capitalism is needed to get rid of the current feudalism and old forms of slavery that still exist in the country in new forms such as slave labor, poor working rights, and social inequality.
As he spoke about reconciliation and dialogue with opposing camps in the country, the crowds chanted no more war. In spite of the 2016 government peace agreement with the left-wing guerrilla group FARC, the conflict continues.
He thanked the campaigners and all the people that partook in the campaign to get a left-leaning leader to become president. He thanked those that died fighting for a better country, the disappeared students, the political dissidents, and all the activists past and present.
He spoke about climate change and promised to make Colombia a climate change leader and called the U.S. to sit down with him to talk about greenhouse emission reductions. As the U.S is a major world polluter and Colombia having a piece of the amazon rain forest absorbs a lot of the carbon emissions. Petro emphasized that the fight for climate change is the fight for climate justice.
He called on Latin American countries to sit down and unite in dialogue to reduce reliance on coal and oil exports and invest in sustainable technologies. This was a hidden message to Venezuela which relied on oil to the point that it neglected all other industries. He also indicated that Colombia could become a regional leader and that Latin America could become a force of good in the world.
U.S. Secretary of state Anthony Blinken congratulated Petro on his election.
It is yet to be seen how Petro`s election will influence U.S foreign policy in Colombia and the region. A left-wing and bold Colombia is something the U.S has always worked to prevent since the introduction of the Monroe doctrine 200 years ago.
Left-leaning countries in the region are likely to welcome the change as Colombia historically has led the pro-American and neo-liberal agenda in Latin America.
American foes such as Russia and China will see this election result as an opportunity to open greater relations with Colombia and to destabilize a country that has been a close ally to the U.S for the last 200 years.
What must be seen is how the U.S and the Colombian traditional elites will react to Petro. Colombians and the region will now wait to see what Petro will do next as president, will he continue the status quo of neoliberal politics and plunder or will he keep his promises and usher in a new period of prosperity for the country, prosperity that has never been seen before in Colombia.
- CNN en Espanol, (2022), “Resultados de las elecciones en Colombia 2022, en vivo: Guztavo Petro gana a Rodolfo Hernandez,“ CNN, https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2022/06/19/resultados-elecciones-presidenciales-2022-colombia-petro-rodolfo-segunda-vuelta-boletines-orix/ (2022).
- DW (2022) “Colombia Elections: Ex-Guerrilla leader Gustavo Petro wins,” DW, https://www.dw.com/en/colombia-elections-ex-guerrilla-leader-gustavo-petro-wins/a-62182308 (2022).
- T13 (2022) “Gustavo Petro da primer discurso como presidente electo de Colombia,” T13 En VIVO Noticias de Chile y El Mundo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pr_oiYzTLw (2022).