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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Leftists may be ready to take power in Colombia for the first time

Former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro won 40.34 percent of the vote in the first round of the Colombian election on 29 May.

Rodolfo Hernandez casts his vote during the presidential election in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
( Associated Press Photo / Mauricio Pinzone)

He will face businessman-turned-politician Rodolfo Hernandez, who secured 28.17 percent of the vote to finish second in the final round on June 19.

These results are surprising for three reasons.

First, if Petro prevails, it would be the first time a leftist candidate would become president in a country traditionally ruled by right-wing, elitist parties.

Second, both the candidates ran on platforms critical of the political establishment.

Third, Uribismo, the major right-wing political movement formed around former President lvaro Uribe, will not be a candidate in the deciding round of elections for the first time in 20 years.

rebel politician

A former member of the M-19 left-wing guerrilla group, Petro began his political career in 1991 after the organization was disarmed as part of the peace process.

Over the past 30 years, he has been a member of Congress (from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2018 to 2022), mayor of Bogota (from 2012 to 2015) and a three-time presidential candidate (in 2010, 2018 and 2022).

Born into a middle-class family in a small town in the Caribbean region of Colombia, he stands apart from the so-called Andean elite who have traditionally dominated the country. If elected, Petro promises to completely revamp the pension system to prevent oil exploration, provide free public higher education for all, and increase coverage, among other things.

His proposals for radical change have made him popular among young and low-income voters, many of whom participated in mass protests in 2021 against the right-wing government of incumbent Ivan Duque, the country’s most recent. Has the lowest approval rating of any president. history.

Protesters Lie On The Ground In A City Square, With Government Buildings In The Background.
Demonstrators lie on the ground in Bolivar Square to protest the killing of civilians during Colombia’s internal conflict in Bogota, Colombia, in August 2021.
( Associated Press Photo / Fernando Vergara)

Petro’s opponents, on the other hand, deny his previous membership in a rebel organization and what they describe as his populist proposals. Critics argue that his term as mayor of Bogota was mired in controversy and that he would seek to maintain that style of governance if he was president.

However, resistance to Petro’s success must be understood in the historical context of Colombia’s elitist right-wing dominance and exclusion of left-wing alternatives.

Colombia’s fear of the left

Colombia has been touted in the past as an example of democratic stability in South America. The country suffered the only military dictatorship in its recent history (1953–57), which was short-lived and relatively benign compared to the more repressive regimes of other South American countries.

Unlike most countries on the continent, populist leaders have not gained power in Colombia. Furthermore, while much of the region was abandoned in the early 2000s, Colombians chose lvaro Uribe, a neo-conservative leader who prioritized the militarization of markets and security.

This apparent political stability has not come without a price. Elite parties – both liberal and conservative parties – monopolized power in the 20th century and thwarted the rise of left-wing parties and dissident movements.

The populist leader George Eliezer Gaten, who ran for presidential elections in the late 1940s, was assassinated in 1948, leading to a dark period known as “La Violencia”, which resulted in the death of thousands of people. Massacre happened. Later, the systematic killing of left-wing leaders, politicians and activists by right-wing paramilitary forces and state agents remained firmly in the hands of the traditional elite.

A Man In A Suit Of Glasses Speaks.
lvaro Uribe speaks during an interview in Bogota in 2009.
( Associated Press Photo/William Fernando Martinez)

During the eight years of Uribe’s presidency, 6,402 people were victims of extrajudicial killings by the military.

Uribe has been a prominent figure in the country for the past 20 years.

He was president from 2002 to 2010; His defense minister and former aide was elected president in 2010; His chosen candidate, Ivan Duque, won his presidential bid in 2018; And Uribe successfully led a campaign against a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group – the FARC – in a 2016 referendum.

The deal was eventually implemented despite negative consequences, and Uribe is now increasingly unpopular among Colombians. Institutional reforms and the 2016 peace deal have also enthused the Left.

After decades of being portrayed as an internal enemy, the left is finally a serious contender for the presidency.

Two Men In White T-Shirts Raise Their Hands In Celebration.
In this 2016 photo, supporters of the peace process with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, celebrate as Colombian president and a top rebel leader sign a revised peace deal in Bogota Did it
( Associated Press Photo/Ivan Valencia, FILE)

future implications

Petro will face significant challenges. First, the scattered left-wing political forces will now unite around right-wing outsider Hernandez, leading a serious bid for the presidency.

Second, Petro’s party, the Pacto Historico, does not hold a majority in Congress and, if elected president, would have to form unstable coalitions with unlikely partners.

And while his promises for radical change have inspired many, similar to those of leftist leaders Gabriel Boric in Chile and Pedro Castillo in Peru, the heightened hopes could soon turn into despair or backlash.

Nonetheless, the consolidation of the Left as a legitimate and viable electoral option in Colombia is critical to the democracy of a country that has faced decades of politically motivated conflict and high levels of socioeconomic inequality.

These elections can be seen as a sign that the left-right divide in Colombia is moving from armed confrontation to democratic dissent.

World Nation News Desk
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