Colombia is a country that has had a colorful past, a past that was marred by corruption, poverty and drug violence. These issues have been just exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the highest voter turnout in the nation’s history, the Colombian people made a decision to change their fate. They elected Gustavo Petro as their President and Francia Marquez as their Vice-President. In a historic move the nation takes a turn to the left, starting a new chapter in the region.
Who is Francia Marquez?
Francia Marquez began working as a housekeeper, now becoming the first Afro-Colombian woman Vice-President. She is a 40 year old single mother and a feminist who shocked everyone in the Colombian political scene with her pro-environmental stance, support to the LGBTQIA+ community, etc. She gained the third most votes in the primary election conducted in March 2022 and is the first Afro-Colombian to have a position in the nation's highest office.
With her candidacy, she gives hope to the many people in her country that look like her. In 2018 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for successfully organizing a women's group to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She has braved multiple death threats from various armed groups to get where she is now and promises to make meaningful change in bridging the gap of the inequality that plagues the nation.
Who is Gustavo Petro?
Petro is a former mayor of Bogota, whose 2022 bid marks his third presidential campaign. The 62-year-old ran on a platform that proposes a radical overhaul of the country's economy to combat one of the highest inequality rates in the world. Petro, a former guerrilla fighter, who today preaches reconciliation and an end to violence, has framed his campaign around whether Colombia is ready to elect a revolutionary.
He campaigned on attracting foreign investment in clean energy, new technologies, transportation and telecommunications. Petro received the most votes in the first round held on 29 May but fell short of the 50% required to avoid a runoff. He and Márquez faced the former mayor of Bucaramanga and businessman, Rodolfo Hernández Suárez and his running mate Marelen Castillo in the run-off on 19 June.In the second round, Petro and Márquez won the election by winning 50.44% of the popular vote against Hernández.
What does this mean for Colombia?
Over the last few years, Colombia has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region due to three factors; coal, oil and cocaine. Petro and Marquez are pro environment and have promised to lessen their dependence on the first two as they are not sustainable in the long run. As for the latter, Petro has already put into action policy decisions that decrease the influence of drug cartels in the government. But the growth has not trickled down to the lower sectors of the economy and the wealth remains concentrated in the upper levels of Colombian society.
As a whole, the country is richer than it was since Former President Duque came to power in 2018, however the value of the average worker's annual salary has dropped significantly as the Colombian peso has plunged 40% in value against the dollar since. That situation is only exacerbated by rising inflation and the war in Ukraine. In neighboring Venezuela, Petro has said he plans to re-establish diplomatic relations, even with strongman Nicolás Maduro in power.
During the first three months of this year alone, nearly 50,000 Colombians were forcibly confined as a result of ongoing clashes between armed groups, according to the United Nations. The violence is tied to the country's narcotics production and trafficking, with Colombia's cocaine production having significantly increased in recent years.
The pandemic has coincided with an uptick of criminal activity, with several groups exerting de-facto control over swathes of Colombian territory including the Arauca, Cauca and Catatumbo regions. How to restore state control over those areas -- and fight back the cartels -- is a key conversation in this election, and will prove a formidable challenge for the next president.
Petro has proposed to tackle the problem by legalizing cannabis and partially de-criminalizing the consumption of cocaine and other drugs. He has said that he favors engaging with criminal groups through peace agreements akin to the 2016 peace deal with the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) that brought to an end over half a century of guerrilla conflict between the state and communist rebels.
While Europe seems to be moving to the right, Latin America has turned the opposite direction and the election of Petro brings a ray of hope for the progress of the region. The results of Colombia’s presidential election will also be a source of inspiration for progressive social movements across the world. Petro and Marquez clearly showed that determined grassroots organizing and coalition building can achieve results even against a huge pushback from the right-wing establishment.
All in all, Petro and Marquez’ election victory is not only a win for Colombians but all peoples of the region because it marks the beginning of a new “pink tide” in Latin America – the emergence of a new wave of socialism that puts climate justice at its core, and is ready to transform the ways we live and relate to each other to protect our collective future.
The next four years will not be easy for Colombia’s new government, as it will need to work against a bruised but still strong right-wing establishment that is desperate to take back power. But with the revitalized spirit of the Colombian people and their will to build a better future for themselves, things finally seem to be looking up.
Bocanegra, N., Griffin, O., & Vargas, C. (2022, June 19). Colombia elects former guerrilla Petro as first leftist president. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombians-head-polls-tightest-election-recent-memory-2022-06-19/
Colombia Election: Gustavo Petro Makes History in Presidential Victory. (2022, June 21). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/06/19/world/colombia-election-results
The Guardian view on Colombia's election: a chance for a change | Editorial. (2022, June 23). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/23/the-guardian-view-on-colombias-election-a-chance-for-a-change