Latin America: Colombia joins the third Pink Wave

After Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru and Chile, Petro’s victory in Colombia has been seen as part of a leftward turn in Latin America.

Gustavo Petro

On 19 June 2022, after a runoff election, Gustavo Petro, senator and former mayor of Bogota, has been elected as the next President of Colombia. Petro ran on a position of land reform, universal health care, and expanding social services. This is the first time in Colombian history that far-right candidates have not won the Presidency. In Colombia, far-right politicians support big business and landowner interests, draconian policing, and continuing the brutal war against leftist insurgents. Petro, by contrast, stands for expanding healthcare and other social services, environmentalism, and following up on peace deals made with insurgents to bring peace to Colombia.

Colombia stands apart in Latin America as being one of the few countries never to have a declared socialist head of state before. While the left movement in Colombia was always very strong, a combination of strong intervention by the United States, and a network of extremely violent right-wing militias funded by the Colombian elite, have made all forms of mobilization almost impossible until now.

Petro’s victory comes on the heels of massive protests in Colombia during the COVID-19 Pandemic, where access to healthcare and other social services, wealth inequality, and police brutality drove the protests. Petro’s win comes as a reaction to years of state indifference boiling over in periods of crisis.

Protests during Covid 19 pandemic in 2020.

Who is Gustavo Petro?

Gustavo Petro began his career in politics at age 17 as part of the M-19 movement. The M-19 was a Guerilla movement that came up in response to the corrupt elections of 19 April 1970. The 19 April election was the first election in Colombia after years of military rule, but many Colombians saw it as a sham. The M-19 movement accused the elections of having been rigged against Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the former President of Colombia who contested and lost.

The M-19 movement was a nationalist movement that declared that big businesses and the wealthy elite are ruining their country. American companies, like Coca-Cola and Chiquita, worked with the Colombian government and para-military militias. M-19 was the second-largest guerrilla group after the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Petro was arrested in 1985. After his release, he founded the M-19 Democratic alliance with former M-19 members and began to contest elections. He served as a senator as part of the Alternative Democratic Pole. He left the party after a failed bid for Presidency in the 2010 Colombian election. In 2011, he formed the Progressive Movement, later becoming the Humane Colombia.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is where the rich use public transportation.” – Petro

As part of Humane Colombia, Petro ran for mayor of Bogota. His mayorship became famous worldwide for the application of the Integrated Public Transport System in 2012, which brought together a combination of Rapid Bus Transit, Bus, and Gondola lifts systems to create one of the best public transport systems in the world.

The Integrated Public Transport System was proposed by Petro’s predecessor, but it initially was not run very well. Petro streamlined the system for the user, and made the system expansive and efficient, reducing the average commute time in Bogota and improving the quality of life in the city.

In 2018, Petro ran again for President, coming in second to the winner Ivan Duque, however, the mishandling of the COVID-19 Pandemic led to a loss in popularity for Duque, culminating in a victory for Petro this year.

Francia Marquez

The election was also noted for the appointment of Francia Marquez as the new Vice-President. Marquez will be the first Afro-Colombian to be Vice-President of Colombia. Marquez is a human rights and environmental activist and lawyer. She began her political career at age 13 when she took part in protests against the construction of a dam that threatened her village in the Cauca Department. She came from a family of miners. As she grew older, she took part in the anti-mining struggle, fighting against illegal mining and mining by international companies. Her work has been dangerous, with members often threatened by local mafias and militias.

In 2018 Elections, Francia Marquez as the new Vice-President. Marquez will be the first Afro-Colombian to be Vice-President of Colombia.

Famously in 2014, Marquez organized a 350-kilometre march from Cauca to Bogota, consisting of 80 Afro-Colombian women, to bring attention to illegal mining. The campaign was successful leading to the creation of a national task force to remove illegal mining. An anti-mining task force was unprecedented. In 2022, she announced her plans to run for the Presidency on a platform to stand for women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples and others who have been excluded. She ran against Petro, coming in second in the primaries. After securing his candidacy, Petro nominated Marquez as his running mate.

Left swing in Latin American

After Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru and Chile, Petro’s victory in Colombia has been seen as part of a leftward turn in Latin America. This is reminiscent of the late 1990s, and again in the early 2010s when many Latin American countries began to elect left-of-centre popular governments. With the upcoming Brazilian elections, there is a good chance Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvia’s Worker’s Party will win. Colombia and Chile’s movements to the left are unprecedented, as both countries have had a long history of military rule, reactionary or ineffectual leadership or internal strife.

Current issues facing all of these countries have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rescuing the public health care systems, welfare schemes, and social services is an important priority. Wealth inequality, which reached new heights during the pandemic, also is a concern. The inequality is also linked with extreme forms of corruption and crony capitalism in these countries. These new leaders also have taken ecological destruction seriously.

The new form of leadership is not radical in the way of previous generations. Many of them stand for implementing basic rule of law, modest regulations on corporations, conciliatory foreign policies, and reducing the destruction of the environment. Petro stands as part of a new generation of leaders concerned about issues of gender, race, environment, liberty and the destructive powers of capitalism, and his victory comes after struggles raging for over 60 years to bring some concern of the Colombian people to the Colombian state.


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April 2024


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