by Manuel Anuel Rueda | The Associated Press
BOGOTA, Colombia – Fabian Espinal helped organize a concert in the streets of Bogota last year as young people protested police violence and the government’s plan to raise taxes on low-income Colombians. Now, as his country approaches its presidential election on Sunday, he walks the streets of the capital’s working-class areas and paints murals in support of Gustavo Petro, the front-runner candidate for Colombia. First the Left can become the head of state.
“Young people are trapped in this country. We hope Petro can change that.” said Espinal, who lost his job as an event planner during the pandemic and received no compensation from his company. “We need an economic model that follows that model.” Be different from what has been failing us over the years.”
Colombians will choose from among six candidates in a vote to be held amid a general feeling that the country is heading in the wrong direction. The latest opinion polls show that Petro, a former rebel, could garner 40% of the vote, a 15-point lead over his nearest rival. But the senator needs 50% to avoid a runoff election in June against a second-place finisher.
If Petro wins outright on Sunday or a potential runoff contest next month, the leftist anti-incumbency candidate will usher in a new era of presidential politics in Colombia. The country has always been ruled by conservatives or moderates, while the Left was sidelined due to its perceived association with the country’s armed struggle.
Yann Bassett, a political analyst and professor at the Universidad del Rosario, said: “The Left has been marginalized recently due to the existence of a guerrilla who, like the FARC, claims to be leftist due to the weight of the armed conflict in Colombia. ” Referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said. “Change comes with a peace deal, which takes away little of this hostage for the Left and promotes a different agenda with social issues suspended by the conflict.”
His main rival through most of the campaign has been Federico Gutierrez, the former mayor of Medellin, who is supported by most of Colombia’s traditional parties and operates on a pro-business, economic development platform.
But populist real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernández is edging up the polls and could challenge for second place in Sunday’s vote. He has little ties to political parties and says he will cut extravagant government spending and offer rewards to Colombians who condemn corrupt officials.
Petro has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy as well as to change how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. His agenda is largely focused on fighting the inequalities that have plagued the people of the South American nation for decades and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has promised government jobs to those who can’t find work, free college tuition for young Colombians, and subsidies for farmers who are struggling to grow crops he says he wants to support for wealthy individuals and businesses. Will pay by increasing taxes on corporations.
His agenda also touches on issues that could shake Colombia’s tight ties with the United States.
Adam Isaacson, a defense policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank, said there would be “more disagreement and distance” between the two countries if Petro wins the election.
Petro is looking to renegotiate a free trade agreement with the US that has boosted imports of American products such as powdered milk and corn. And instead favor local producers.
He also promised to change how Colombia fights the drug cartels that currently produce about 90% of the cocaine sold in the US. The senator often criticized US drug policy in the hemisphere, saying it “failed.” Because it focuses so heavily on eliminating and arresting illegal crops. The kingpin he wants to promote help for rural areas, giving farmers options to grow coca, a plant used to make cocaine.
Isaacson said coca elimination targets may be a priority for the Colombian government under the Petro administration, as well as the speed at which drug traffickers are arrested and sent to the US to face charges,
The election comes as Colombia’s economy struggles to recover from the pandemic and frustrations with the political elite grow.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month said 75% of Colombians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and only 27% approve of conservative President Ivan Duque, who is seeking re-election. Can’t fight A survey last year by Gallup found that 60% of those questioned were having trouble with their household income.
Sergio Guzmán, a political risk analyst in Bogota, said the pandemic and the 2016 peace deal with the Colombian rebel group’s Revolutionary Armed Forces have changed voters’ priorities.
“While previous elections focused on issues like how to deal with rebel groups, now the main issue is the economy,” Guzmán said. “Voters are concerned about who will deal with issues such as inequality or lack of opportunities for youth.”
If Petro or Hernandez should win the presidency, they would join a slew of left-wing leaders and outsiders who have been handling Latin American governments since the pandemic began in 2020.
In Chile, left-wing lawmaker Gabriel Boric won the presidential election last year, leading a progressive coalition that promised to change the country’s constitution and make public services such as energy and education more affordable.
In Peru, voters elected rural schoolteacher Pedro Castillo to the presidency, although he never held office. Castillo defied political parties that have been embroiled in bribery scandals and the impeachment trial of the president and complicated the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ecuadorians bucked the leftist trend last year, but still chose an outside opposition candidate, Guillermo Lasso.
In regional matters, Petro seeks to re-establish diplomatic relations with the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Colombia severed diplomatic ties with Venezuela in 2019 as part of a US-led effort under pressure from sanctions to isolate Maduro and hold new elections.
Some observers believe that Petro may be in a position to repair bridges between Maduro and some areas of Venezuelan opposition.
“It is in Colombia’s best interest to resolve the Venezuelan political and economic crisis,” said Professor Ronal Rodriguez from the University of Rosario in Bogota.
Sandra Borda, professor of international relations at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, said the petro may not have enough leverage to make significant changes to Colombia’s foreign policy.
He said efforts to renegotiate a free trade agreement with the United States could be thwarted by legislators from both countries. And when it comes to security, the Colombian military will be reluctant to give up on cooperation agreements with the US that include joint exercises, intelligence sharing and jobs for Colombian military instructors in US-funded courses in other Latin American countries.
Borda said Petro’s ability to change Colombia’s foreign policy could depend on whether it wins an outright victory in the first round. If it is to flee, she said, it will have to deal with parties at the center, which can support its domestic reforms in exchange for greater control over security and international relations.
“Their priority will be to undertake domestic reforms aimed at reducing inequality and overcoming poverty,” Borda said. “Petro understands that if he does this he has a great chance to strengthen his political movement.”