Historic turnaround in Colombia with first leftist president

Former urban guerrilla, Bogotá mayor, deputy and senator Gustavo Petro has won the presidential ballot in the Latin American country where power has always been in the hands of the right and violence has been rampant. He promises peace, social justice, environmental protection and vows: ‘Change means putting aside hatred and sectarianism. We want a united Colombia’. With this vote, the ‘pink wave’ became dominant in Latin America and gave a strong impulse to the global left.

Cover photo: Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez, the newly elected President and Vice-President of Colombia.

“In the current dramatic and highly geopolitical moment that is remodelling the world, the left is once again finding its centre of gravity in Latin America.” This is how the Spanish political scientist and politician Pedro Bustindai, one of the founders of the Podemos party, long in charge of its international policy, summed up the global significance of the Colombian election results.

The presidential run-off in Colombia on 19 June, won by 50.48% by the left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro, is a truly historic turn of events with a strong global resonance.

In the Latin American country known for always having been ruled only by the right throughout its more than two centuries of independence, where the left having been harshly repressed and forced to respond mainly with guerrilla actions, where political violence and crime have run rampant while half the population languished in poverty, the head of state is now the former urban guerrilla Petro. A man who has asserted his political stubbornness as a deputy, senator and mayor of Bogotá.

And even more interesting is the vice-president next to him. Francia Marquez is the first black woman to hold such a position in Colombia. She worked as a maid in the homes of the rich, became an activist for workers’ rights. She got a law degree to defend those rights more effectively, paying for her education with her “black” labor…

“A partisan for president and a black vice president… Well, now I can die in peace.” These are words of a tearful, modestly dressed woman, who found herself in the jubilant crowd the night after Petro-Marquez’s victory.

The words were relayed by Juan Pablo Monedero, who was also at the post-election rally in Bogotá. Monedero is a co-founder of Podemos, considered the ideologue of this leftist party now entering the government of Spain.

Every eye in Europe links the exhilarating arrival of the first left-wing government in Colombia’s history with the inspiring (if more modest than desired) result of the new left alliance in France, led by Jean-Luc Melanchon, in the second round of the French parliamentary elections held on the same day – 19 June. And the eyes specifically from Spain have another angle of their own – again on 19 June, the Spanish left suffered an unforgettable electoral defeat in its previous stronghold, the autonomous region of Andalusia, which has always been considered “red” and now “blue” after the triumph there of the conservative Popular Party. This is, of course, the subject of a separate analysis, but it is undoubtedly the consequence of mistakes made by the parties of the left-wing coalition ruling in Madrid between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the Unidas Podemos (an alliance between Podemos and the United Left).

The juxtaposition between the Colombian, French and Andalusian elections is indeed very important for the world left at a cathartic moment like the present. Undoubtedly, more in-depth research is yet to be done and the different perspectives will compete. Whether the Spanish left will see through the nature of its problems and try to learn from the experience of its Colombian and French contemporaries, or whether the Colombians and French will hang an “earring on their ear” so as not to repeat the Spanish mistakes…

All this comes into perspective, but for the moment what is really indisputable is that the biggest breakthrough for the global left has been achieved in Colombia. And that with Petro’s victory there,

the “pink wave” in Latin America seems to be becoming unstoppable and dominant.

The only bastion of the right in the southern continent remains Brazil, still ruled by Jair Bolsonaro, but there too there are presidential elections in October, for which the polls predict a victory for the leftist former president and prisoner Lula da Silva.

Under leftist presidents are such influential Latin American countries as Mexico, Chile, Argentina – and they all have a similar “pink” orientation to Petro. It is close to social-democratic, not as radical as the previous, Bolivarian “left wave” on the continent from the time of the iconic Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. But it carries the very strong and motivating message of regional integration, solidarity and unification, based on social justice and the fight against inequalities.

All of Latin America is celebrating the breakthrough in Colombia today with the victory of Petro-Marquez, because far from being a narrow ideological victory, it is a values-led return of the “Latin American Israel” (as they had proclaimed, that they were transforming their homeland into the hitherto ruling Bogotá, which also filled it with the most American military bases on the continent) into the bosom of the fraternal neighbouring peoples, eager to rebuild their “mother-land” through more solidarity, peace and justice.

Already in his first speech after the victory, Gustavo Petro vowed to make Colombia a “world power of life”, placing special emphasis on environmental policies to protect nature in the Colombian Amazon. He envisaged abandoning polluting energy companies, including transnational ones, with explicit mention of American ones. All in favour of gentle and sustainable development in both industry and agriculture. Plus incentives for the entry of modern, high technologies.

Petro also repeated his campaign promises of peace, social justice, and respect for nature. And he reached out to all Colombians, even his political opponents.

He urged: “Change means putting aside hatred and sectarianism. We want a united Colombia”. He assured that he would build a “government of hope” and of “shared love”. He stressed, “Let Colombia in all its diversity be one for all, not divided in two. We need a politics of shared love, understood as a politics of understanding and dialogue”.

For her part, a very excited Francia Marquez, who was actually the first to speak at the post-election rally in Bogotá with her large family and then gave the floor to Petro, began by thanking the youth of Colombia for their victory. Then she thanked the women, the indigenous peoples, the rural people, her own African-American community.

“After 214 years (that’s how long it’s been since Colombia’s independence – b.p.), we finally have a popular government, a government of the people standing up, a government of those who were considered ‘nobodies’. We are going to reconcile this nation, we are going to move resolutely towards peace, towards dignity, towards social justice, we are going to eradicate patriarchy, we are going to defend the rights of our mother earth,” said the new Vice-President of Colombia.

It is natural that at such a turning point, emotions, pathos and high expectations prevail.

But it is clear that Colombia’s great change is unlikely to be accomplished in just one four-year presidential term – and Petro has warned that he will not run for re-election.

A sober view cannot miss the enormous difficulties and inevitable internal sabotage that this government will face.

But the essential point is still that a decisive breakthrough and reversal in Colombia’s trajectory has been made, which will undoubtedly have repercussions for the entire Latin American and global left.

It is particularly noteworthy that, despite Petro’s careful disassociation from the Bolivarian line during the campaign, when he repeated repeatedly said that “Venezuela is not a model” for him, representatives of this current in continental politics are nonetheless welcoming his victory in the best possible terms. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tweeted: ‘The will of the Colombian people, who came out to defend the path of democracy and peace, has been heard. New times are beginning for this brotherly country’.

This text was first published in Bulgarian on Baricada.

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