The Colombian Election: An Overview

Written by: Muhammad Mujtaba and Md. Sahariar Faruque Bhuiyan

Gustavo Petro, a former member of the Colombian guerrilla movement, was elected President of the country. The runoff election saw Petro defeat Rodolfo Hernández— a gaffe-prone former mayor of Bucaramanga and business magnate— with 50.47 percent of the vote. Petro will assume office in July amid a number of challenges, the least of which is the growing discontent over inequality and rising living costs. After a massive social revolt against growing inequality in 2021 upset the country’s political elite, social concerns gained prominence and dominated the election manifestos. Following the comparative success of leftists in Peru, Chile, and Honduras, Petro’s election signifies a major shift in Colombia, a country that has never had a leftist president elected before.

Colombia now joins Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Peru in a rising leftist bloc as a result of its political transition. In Brazil, the regional economic powerhouse and former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leads incumbent far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in public surveys. The redrawing of political fault lines, with the overthrow of conservative bastions such as Chile and Colombia, may significantly influence everything from crops and metals to economic policy and relations with major allies such as the United States and China. Colombia will not only have its first leftist president, but also its first Afro-Colombian vice president in history. 

Policies taken by the elected president: 

After taking power, Petro proposed several key policies. The first and foremost was free higher education for the citizens of the country. In addition, he is interested in introducing an approach focused on climate change and agricultural reform. Under this vision, Petro has pledged to restrict agricultural development in forests, establish reserves, and offer carbon credit revenue to fund reforestation. The Indigenous tribes and others will be permitted to extract rubber, acai, and other non-timber forest resources from the reserves. He has also guaranteed state jobs for jobless individuals to combat unemployment. One of his boldest decisions is to stop new oil and gas explorations, even though hydrocarbons account for half of the country’s exports. Petro stated that he would continue the current exploration and production contracts. However, the expansion of other industries, including agriculture, manufactured goods, tourism, and renewable energy, will gradually replace oil revenues. 

Petro, wearing an indigenous headdress, told a crowd in the Amazon city of Leticia during his campaign– 

“From Colombia, we will give humanity a reward, a remedy, a solution: not to burn the Amazon rainforest anymore, to recover it to its natural frontier, and to give humanity the possibility of life on this planet.”

He is taking actions to limit migration into the Amazon, and halt illegal activities such as land grabbing, drug trafficking, and money laundering through property acquisitions. Petro is also prioritizing collective land titles, including Indigenous reservations and landless farmer zones. A budget reform of almost five percent of the GDP is being adopted under his provision to pay for better public health and welfare. To improve state pensions and reorganize the autonomous central bank, he plans to make corporations distribute 70% of their revenues as dividends. His international policies are no less extreme than the domestic agendas. He intends to renegotiate the free trade deal between Colombia and the United States. Petro intends to re-establish diplomatic ties with Venezuela, where the United States does not recognize President Nicolas Maduro and maintains a Venezuelan embassy in exile in Bogotá. Legalizing the drug trade is another major step taken by him, although he claims it is beyond Colombia’s control and will largely depend on drug-using nations.

Implications and Challenges:

The outcome of this election has disrupted the regional political landscape and analysis. While other left-leaning state leaders in the area are exploring the potential of a new bloc, President Joe Biden has stated a desire to maintain friendly relations with Colombia.

“I congratulate Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez for the historic victory in the presidential elections in Colombia,” Maduro wrote on Twitter after the results were announced. “The will of the people was heard, and they came out to defend the path of democracy and peace.” 

The United States wants to retain an open line of communication with Petro. It has prompted one of the fastest calls made to a Latin American official, whose past has been associated with M-19 Guerrilla militancy. The White House reported that Biden looks forward to working with the president-elect to continue strengthening bilateral cooperation, especially in climate change, health security, and implementation of Colombia’s peace pact with left-wing insurgents.

To many analysts, this is a rise of the pink tide. Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales, an icon of the original pink wave, tweeted that Petro’s victory in Colombia signified “social conscience and solidarity that raises the flag of the Latin American left.” Some experts believe that America will be left alone since all its neighboring nations now have leftists in power. Few analysts also think it will be difficult for Petro to implicate his plans as he does not have authority over the legislature, which consists of more right-wing politicians than leftists.

As a conclusive remark, we can say that Gustavo Petro faces several challenges in meeting the aspirations of the Colombian people, which many consider to be utopian. He has committed to fundamental improvements in the country’s economy, politics and foreign policy. But to achieve these goals and protect Colombian democracy, Petro must work with opposition parties, which could upset his followers. However, if he fails to do so, he may have little chance of fulfilling his promises, eventually causing a bigger conflict in the public sphere. The worsening economic imbalance might further exacerbate the inflation problem. He may also experience adversity for being overly accommodating towards Venezuela’s diplomatic relations and excessively critical of the United States. Thus, unlike Maduro, Petro needs to keep a more moderate stance in order to achieve his objectives. As the leader of the nation’s “nobodies” and a proponent of climate change, he must honor the pledges he made in his first address after being elected. In the foreseeable future, Petro’s actions will decide the nation’s fate.

Featured Image Courtesy: Andres Quintero/AP Photo


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