Ex-rebel fighter and former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, has become Colombia’s first leftwing president. He defeated the construction giant Rodolfo Hernandez in presidential runoff elections on Sunday, 19 June. Petro earned 50.5 % of the votes, while his rival received 47.3 %. This result marked a drastic change in the course of history for Columbia, which was led by rightwing for decades.
In another historic achievement, a prize-winning human and environmental rights activist Francia Marquez will serve as the vice-president. It is the first time for a black woman to fill this position in Colombia.
The election happened amidst prevalent unrest due to economic and political crises in the country. Last year, dozens of people died in anti-government protests.
First Leftwing President Plans to Transform Colombia
Colombia, a deeply unequal country, has long marginalized the leftwing for its perceived association with armed conflict. The first leftwing president was once a rebel himself who led the M-19 guerilla combat organization. It became a political party in the late 1980s after giving up its weapons and receiving pardons.
In a country marred by civil conflict, critics fear that given Petro’s history of rebellion, his economic plans would be disastrous for the country. However, Colombia resonated with his idea of inclusion and stance on addressing poverty. Petro has pledged to end inequality with free university education, high taxes on unproductive land, and pension reforms. Moreover, He has also promised to make peace with still active rebels from other factions like FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army).
Celebrations in Columbia
During his victory speech, Petro called for unity and extended an olive branch to some of his most unforgiving critics. He claimed that all opposition members would be welcomed to discuss the nation’s problems at the presidential palace. He also said that under his government, there would be no “political or legal persecution” as there would only be “respect and dialogue”.
Petro said that his regime would be a “government of peace” and will never use power to “destroy opponents”. He defined peace as social justice as well as environmental justice. A strong critic of oil and gas exploitation has also been talking about ending hydraulic fracturing, a process of injecting high-pressure fluid into the earth to open fissures and force out gas and crude oil.
Several videos on social media showed the country celebrating the victory of its first leftwing president on the streets. His supporters believe it is time for “real change” in Colombia.
New Pink Tide Taking Over Latin America
The victory for the first leftwing President in Colombia adds the Andean nation to a list of other Latin American countries starting to elect leftists in recent years again. During the 1990s and 2000s, a political wave called “Pink Tide” led many Latin American democracies to shift from the neoliberal economic model to more economical and socially progressive policies. However, in the early 2010s, another political phenomenon called the conservative wave emerged as a direct response to Pink Tide.
Then a new generation of Pink Tide surged in 2018 with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of leftist party MORENA as Mexico’s president. Argentina was the next to elect centre-left Alberto Fernandez in 2019. Then Leftist Luis Arce won Bolivia’s presidential election in 2020. Similarly, Peru, Chile, and Honduras elected Pedro Castillo, Gabrial Boric, and the first female president Xiomara Castro, respectively, all in 2021.
Next is the Brazil election in October 2022, in which leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leads the polls against his rightwing opponent Jair Bolsonaro. However, the leftists from the new Pink Tide are very different from their predecessors, like Hugo Chavez. They are experts at gaining more influence from the youth through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They also adopted trends like feminism, environmentalism, and the inclusion of minority groups to attract young voters.