Colombia: Gustavo Petro, former guerrilla and first left-wing president

Historic vote in Colombia.

Colombia: Gustavo Petro, former guerrilla and first left-wing president

Historic vote in Colombia. Gustavo Petro became on Sunday the first left-wing Colombian president in history, with the ambition to "change" a country in crisis and which has never known such an alternation. Old veteran of Colombian politics, ex-guerrilla, mayor of Bogota then senator, Gustavo Petro who still considers himself at 62 as a "revolutionary", beat in the second round on Sunday June 19 his unclassifiable rival but supported by the traditional right, Rodolfo Hernandez, who admitted defeat.

"We are committed to real change, real change," said the victorious candidate. "The government that will take office on August 7 will be that of life, peace, social justice and environmental justice", listed the next head of the Colombian state, alongside his family, his relatives and his wife. running mate, the Afrodescendant Francia Marquez.

Petro will have to reassure the conservatives, businessmen, big landowners and soldiers, who fear a "leap into the void" with this victory for the left and who have vainly waved the scarecrow of "communism" or the example of Neighboring Venezuela "socialist Bolivarian" plunged into crisis. His adversaries attacked him on his past within the M-19, an urban guerrilla of the extreme left which signed a peace agreement in 1990. But the Colombians recorded his desire for "change".

He describes himself as a "progressive" rather than a "leftist", aware of the rejection that the term can cause in a country martyred by six decades of conflict with various guerrillas. He nevertheless still embodies a classic Latin American left, heiress of the 60s and 80s, slightly out of step with a new generation more concerned with ecology, feminism and anti-racism represented by his running mate, the charismatic Afro-Colombian Francia Marquez. The theme of "inequalities and the distribution of income, led him to study the works and often quote the French economist Thomas Piketty", underlines the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo which describes the next president as "a leader who leads the masses and who repeatedly made the public agenda revolve around him."

The revolt of middle-class, priest-educated Gustavo Petro is rooted in his rejection of Chile's 1973 military coup against President Salvador Allende, as well as alleged "electoral fraud" at the same period against a popular Colombian party.

Admirer of the Nobel Prize for Literature Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he had adopted during his clandestine period the name of Aureliano, a character from One Hundred Years of Solitude. But he was always a "mediocre" fighter, said his comrades in arms. "The armed group recruited a mastermind, because Petro at the time was weak and already suffered from severe myopia," details the Spanish daily El Pais.

Before being arrested and tortured by the army, then imprisoned for a year and a half, he became a "social leader by invading, with hundreds of families, a land where he founded a neighborhood, Bolívar 83", says the Bogota correspondent of the Spanish newspaper. “I will never forget those days because they forever linked me to the world of the poor,” writes the new president in his memoir, One Life, Many Lives.

He also acknowledges that he never had a "military vocation" (...) "what I wanted to do was revolution". A label of "revolutionary" that he has never ceased to claim, with his concern to help "the poorest". Today, he has swapped his revolutionary costume for that of a politician.

He is also a great orator who gave no less than 100 speeches before the first round of the election, reports El Pais again. And after scouring the country with a hundred meetings, he has tried in the past three weeks to be closer to ordinary Colombians, anxious to correct his image as a man of too much speech, too authoritarian or with messianic tendencies according to his opponents. .

Trust will be difficult to win with the soldiers who will have to swear loyalty to him and accept the peace negotiations he wishes to relaunch with the rebellions which are still active, as well as the offer he intends to make to drug traffickers to submit to justice.

Deputy, senator, then mayor of Bogota from 2012 to 2015, Gustavo Petro was forced into a three-year exile in Europe after death threats and was one of the most protected politicians in the country. It will be even more so since Sunday. Before this victory to take the head of the country, he presented himself twice already in the presidential election, and did not let go despite his defeats.

As a parliamentarian, he denounced the links between far-right politicians and paramilitary groups. But his time as mayor of the capital left a mixed memory, the image of an authoritarian man, a mediocre manager. One of his advisers at that time, Daniel Garcia-Peña, criticized his "despotism" and his "difficulty working as a team", while acknowledging his knowledge of the country. Others accuse him of a form of messianism, of believing himself to be a destiny with a little too much ego.

Passionate about geography, Gustavo Petro is married and father of six children by several women. In a recent interview, his teenage daughter Sofia was pleased to "consider her father as a man in deconstruction, a great victory for feminism".

Despite his "stubborn" character, as his daughter told El Pais, Gustavo Petro promised to open a dialogue with his opponent's supporters. "The supporters of Rodolfo Hernandez will be able to come and talk to us whenever they want (...) The opposition, whatever it is, will always be welcome to talk (...)", assured the future head of the State.

"There will only be respect and dialogue, this is how we can build the great national agreement and integral peace," he added, also committing to Colombia being " leading the fight against climate change" around the world.

This election took place in the context of a deep crisis in the country, after the pandemic, a severe recession, harshly suppressed anti-government demonstrations and an increase in violence by armed groups in the countryside.

Gustavo Petro has finally pledged to strengthen the state, to reform the pension system and taxes to make the richest pay. Its first measure will be to suspend oil exploration and begin the energy transition as quickly as possible.

He will also have a lot to do to govern with a divided Parliament, which remains a usual stronghold of the Conservatives and the Liberals. He will also have to overcome the reluctance within the army, of which he becomes the supreme leader, to face inflationary pressure and weak and politicized institutions, according to this same analyst.

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