The challenges of Gustavo Petro, the first leftist president elected in Colombia | World

The left and center-left joined together, for the first time, so that Petro, who was running for the presidency for the third time, arrived at the presidential palace.

According to analysts, the unprecedented defeat of the right in the country marks a political shift in Colombia, which began with the protests of 2019 and 2020.

The other candidate, construction entrepreneur Rodolfo Hernández of the Anti-Corruption League of Governors, received 47.3% of the vote.

Petro will be the country’s first leftist president. — Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda via BBC

In his victory speech, the president-elect ratified his proposal to reach a national agreement with the different political lines of the country, including the extreme right.

Petro invited Hernández’s voters to visit him in the presidency, called ‘Casa de Nariño’ (read Casa de Narinho).

“Making peace in Colombia means that the more than ten million voters of Hernández are welcome. We will not work to destroy the opposition. All will be ‘welcome’ to dialogue in the presidential palace,” Petro said.

His voters reacted by shouting, “No to war.”

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He understands that only through “dialogue, love and without hate and revenge” will it be possible to carry out the necessary reforms so that the country is more egalitarian and also includes indigenous peoples, people of African descent (like its vice president, Francia Márquez) and who were and are victims of violence.

The Colombian professor of public and international policy at Columbia University, in the United States, José Antonio Ocampo, believes that this “national agreement” is decisive.

“We hope and must support the national agreement (which Petro proposed). The agreement is essential for overcoming the deep social and regional divisions of recent years and of this Colombian electoral process.”

Agrarian reform and no oil

Petro plans to implement land reform, slow down oil and coal production and expand clean energy.

His ideas have the support of his supporters, but also the rejection of the business (and oil) sector that associates his initiatives “to the left handbook of the seventies”, as one of them said.

Colombia is not, like its neighbor Venezuela, an oil country, as Jorge Restrepo, professor of economics at the Javeriana University in Bogotá, has observed, but is, the analyst said, “dependent” on the financial resources generated by the production of fossil fuel. .

This promises to be one of the great debates in Colombia in the Petro-Francia era and one that is already being closely followed by investors and financial markets.

To them, the president has also said that changes will be made through dialogue and “will not expropriate companies” and “will respect the Constitution”.

Petro, however, has said that he is not leftist, but that his politics are “politics of life”. Some sectors define him as being of the center-left or “21st century social democrat”. He says he is a capitalist, but with an awareness of the importance of caring for the environment and the effects of the climate.

For critics and opponents, 62-year-old Petro’s challenge will be to show that his life as a guerrilla is long gonewhen he was young in the 1980s.

Gustavo Petro’s voter celebrates election with the flag of the M-19 guerrilla group. — Photo: Pablo Rodriguez via BBC

Two days before the second round of the presidential election, the traditional magazine Semana, from Bogotá, published on its cover: “Ex-guerrilla or engineer?”, referring to the voters’ choices between Petro and Hernández, who is a civil engineer.

The president-elect reacted to the cover, saying: “I want to remind you that I am an economist”.

A guerrilla of the M-19 group, when he was just over twenty years old, he says that, at the time, he was arrested and tortured. It was when he used the pseudonym “Aurelian”, inspired by one of the characters in the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.

In 2016, Petro supported the peace agreement that led to much of the guerrillas turning over their weapons after 50 years of conflict.

But despite his political trajectory, having been mayor of Bogotá and senator and his degrees in economics with specializations in the environment and business administration, his opponents and critics continue to emphasize that period of his in the guerrilla.

One of the biggest challenges for the new president will be the negotiation he will have to conduct in the National Congress to carry out the changes he plans. The expectation of his electorate is high, analysts observe. Another will be dealing with crime and police violence. In his victory speech, a mother appeared beside him on the podium, carrying a photo of a dead young son.

Francia Márquez is the first Afro-descendant to become vice president in the country. — Photo: Vannessa Jimenez via BBC

Colombia, like Brazil, was a port of intense disembarkation of enslaved people. Petro said that the black population (about 10% of the country), the indigenous (various communities) and the poorest will receive special attention in its management.

In her victory speech, the vice president-elect Francia Márquez, the first Afro-descendant to reach the post, emphasized the new government’s motto of inclusion and said that Colombia, after 214 years, will have a government focused on the “invisible”.

The country’s current unemployment rate is 12%. The economic and social conjuncture includes the growing concern of Colombians with inflation. Until April last year, annual inflation was 1.8%. In April of this year, the index was almost 10%.

Rising prices are among the main concerns of Latin Americans, after the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But even before the pandemic, as occurred in Chile, Ecuador and other countries in the region, Colombia experienced waves of protests that highlighted the dissatisfaction of Colombians.

Dissatisfaction that ended up reflected in the polls, with the exclusion, from the second round of the election, of the traditional right and center-right parties that ruled the country for decades.

Managing this economic legacy left by the current right-wing president Iván Duque will be another of Petro’s great challenges.

Internationally, Petro is expected to resume diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela – the other candidates had promised the same. Colombia is one of the main countries of arrival for Venezuelans and both countries have historically had a strong trade flow.

In terms of foreign affairs, Petro has already said that he will seek a different relationship with the United States, with whom Colombia has a free trade agreement and has shared its anti-drug policy for years.

Petro announced that he also intends to include the issue of the environment in the agenda of the relationship with the United States.

For him, the Amazon (also Colombian) is a regional issue, as is the need for joint policies against climate change.

Colombia’s president-elect thinks Colombians should emphasize that they are Latin Americans and build relationships with their neighbors.

But one analyst pointed out that in Colombia the more favored classes have always been more linked to the United States – and that this is a relationship that should not be changed. Another challenge for Petro, Francia and their team.

‘This text was originally published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-61842345’.

About Abhishek Pratap

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