Gustavo Petro: the first left-wing president faces a tough challenge in Colombia | Colombia

H.He spent 12 years of his youth in the ranks of an urban guerrilla group, taking the pseudonym of revolutionary general from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Later, he would serve as the progressive mayor of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, and as a senator. He has run for president twice unsuccessfully, unable to overcome the conservative wall erected nearly two centuries ago around the Colombian presidency.

But on Sunday, Gustavo Petro, 62, was finally able to tear down that wall and was elected president, making history as the South American country’s first left-wing head of state.

“We will not betray the electorate who shouted at history,” Petro said in a triumphant victory speech in Bogotá on Sunday evening amid ecstatic applause. “It is that Colombia is changing from today.”

Petro’s journey from the ranks of the M-19 guerilla movement to the presidential palace in Bogotá also included an arrest for possession of weapons when he was younger. He also said he survived the torture. M-19 demobilized in 1990, with some of its members signing Colombia’s current constitution. Other members were killed, including Carlos Pizarro, his presidential candidate, that year.

Petro’s victory over Rodolfo Hernández, a business magnate and gaffe-prone former mayor of Bucaramanga who once referred to Hitler as a “great German thinker”, has been greeted with street parties by supporters across the country. . He will take office in early August.

Elections in Colombia: Gustavo Petro elected first president of the left – video

“Petro has a completely different vision because he has focused his attention on the most defenseless people in the country,” said Andres Felipe Barrero, who voted for Petro on Sunday evening. “And that includes the people who live in the marginal neighborhoods of the big cities of Colombia, as well as the black and indigenous communities.”

As mayor of Bogotá he has earned a reputation for bullying and combative attitude towards his critics, also implementing a harm reduction program for the city’s homeless, as well as attempting to reform waste management.

Petro’s vice president will be Francia Márquez, the first black woman to hold the post. Márquez, a single mother and human rights defender from the Colombian-oppressed Pacific region, won the prestigious Goldman environmental award in 2018.

“After 214 years we have reached a government of the people, a people’s government, people with calloused hands, a government of the people standing, nobody of Colombia,” said Márquez during the celebration.

Despite the euphoria on Sunday evening, Petro’s tenure is likely to be extremely busy. Not only does his 50.47% vote share give him a slim mandate, but he is viewed with extreme suspicion by a significant part of the country, which identifies him with rebel groups and leftist strongmen in the region.

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“In a traditional right-wing conservative country, some Colombians fear how much it will change with a left-wing government,” said Silvana Amaya, senior analyst at global risk consultancy Control Risks, ahead of Sunday’s vote. “Some Colombians compare the left to Chavez and Venezuela’s socio-economic misfortune. Others believe that a country that has experienced an internal conflict for more than 60 years led by left-wing guerrilla groups should not allow such an ideology to govern Colombia ”.

His plans to reorganize Colombia’s economy away from fossil fuels and towards agriculture risk scaring markets.

Gustavo Petro’s supporters celebrate his victory in Bogotá. Photograph: Perla Bayona / LongVisual / ZUMA Press Wire / Rex / Shutterstock

Despite the trepidation of Petro’s victory, election day went without violence or allegations of fraud, surprising some in a country that has long enjoyed a reputation for political bloodletting.

“Today we celebrate Colombian democracy and their peaceful elections,” tweeted Brian A Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, on Sunday. “We look forward to working closely with the Petro administration to promote common goals for the Colombian and American people.”

Also at the top of Petro’s agenda will be the country’s fragile peace process with left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which was signed in 2016 and formally ended five decades of civil war that it killed more than 260,000 people and caused more than displaced people. 7 million.

That deal was falteringly implemented by the outgoing government of President Iván Duque, who was accused of deliberately slowing its launch. Farc dissident factions that have not demobilized and other rebel groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) continue to agitate campaigns and profit from drug trafficking and racketeering operations.

“The candidate who has promised the most, and in more detail, to implement the 2016 peace accord has been elected,” said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America. , a US-based thinktank. “A key element of Petro’s plan is to increase governance and basic services in abandoned countryside where armed groups and coca continue to thrive, and this is a fundamental commitment of the peace agreement. Much of his electoral base is in these historically conflicting areas, which voted overwhelmingly for him. “

Edinson Bolaños contributed reports from Bogotá.