By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2808

Gustavo Petro elected as president after a vote for change in Colombia

Petro was a guerrilla fighter in his youth—but has long since become a mainstream politician, whose election this week was welcomed by the US
Issue 2808
Colombian president Gustavo Petro sits in a smart suit

Is Gustavo Petro wing or a friend of the establishment? (Picture: Gustavo Petro Urrego on Flickr)

Left-leaning Gustavo Petro has won the presidential race in Colombia after beating right wing business tycoon Rodolfo Hernandez. His win is a sign that the Colombian people desperately want a change from right wing presidents that have come to dominate the country’s politics.

Petro—who promised land reform, a transition away from fossil fuels and raising taxes on some of Colombia’s wealthiest families—received 50.5 percent of the votes. In the first round of the presidential election, Petro won some of the poorest regions.

While a mood for change is to be celebrated, it is right to be wary of Colombia’s new leader. In his youth Petro was a part of the guerrilla group of the 19 April movement, but his politics today are decidedly less radical.

For decades, Petro has worked inside and within the political establishment and served in congress and as Mayor of Bogota. And Petro is no worry for the US, which counts Colombia as a close ally. Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said that he was “looking forward” to working with Petro. 

“We are going to develop capitalism in Colombia,” Petro told supporters on Sunday.  Development is needed to overcome the “feudalism” and “pre-modernity” from which Colombia still suffers, he said. But Colombia is already a thoroughly capitalist country.

Protests last year shook Colombia after former president Ivan Duque planned to raise taxes on essential items. The demonstrations were so massive that they forced Duque to concede some reforms.

This appetite for change has brought Petro to power, but the Colombian people cannot stop there. In the last year several left wing leaders have been elected in Latin America, including in Peru and Chile.

This shows that across the region, ordinary people have a shared feeling that amid economic turmoil and rising poverty, they need change at the top. But more than that, they need a movement on the streets and workplaces.

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