What makes Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new president, so special?


The Colombian presidential election was won by former leftist guerrilla Gustavo Petro. After more than 99 percent of the votes have been counted, it comes down to 50.5 percent. He faced right-hander Rodolfo Hernández, who won 47.3% of the vote.

On Sunday, 40 million Colombians could choose between left-wing Petro and right-wing Hernández, also dubbed the “Colombian Trump” because of his bold statements.

The victory for Petro, 62, is quite special. He is Colombia’s first progressive president. “Today is the people’s day,” he wrote on Twitter. Who is Gustavo Petro? And who will really be his vice-president?

former guerrilla

In Colombia, left-wing rebel groups fought mostly right-wing governments for decades. Petro was once a member of M-19, a guerrilla movement founded in 1970 by university students, activists and artists in response to allegations of fraud in the presidential election in April of that year.

Compared to the FARC, for example, the M-19 was a relatively small movement. And unlike the FARC, the M-19 did not operate from the jungle, but in urban areas.

The M-19 pursued a sort of Robin Hood image. Members of the guerrilla movement felt that the Colombian system of governance was not trying to sufficiently close the gap between rich and poor.

Petro joined M-19 as a 17-year-old economics student. For ten years he was a member of the guerrilla movement. Sandra Borda, professor of political science at the University of the Andes in Bogota, the Colombian capital, said The New York Times that Petro was not part of the inner circle of M-19 nor did he participate in military missions. He took care of the storage of stolen weapons.

In 1990, the M-19 laid down their arms and became a political party. Petro became mayor of Bogota and later a senator.

Petro promised that as president he would bring about sweeping economic and social changes. He wants free university education and pension system reforms. It is particularly popular with young people.

During the election campaign, however, opponents accused him of trying to copy the troubled economic policies of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chávez. Petro denies it.

Petro also pledged to fully implement the 2016 peace accord with leftist FARC rebels. He wants to start new peace talks with the ELN rebels, still active in some parts of the country.

A black woman vice-president for the first time

This year’s Colombian presidential election was historic for another reason. Both candidates had a black woman as their running mate.

Francia Márquez becomes Colombia’s first black vice-president. She is a single mother, former cleaner and climate activist from the marginalized province of Cauca.

As vice president, Márquez will lead a new ministry for equality. Its main objective is to help regions plagued by poverty and violence.

In 2018, Márquez received the prestigious Goldman Climate Prize for her activism against gold mining in the municipality where she grew up. At the same time, she received death threats from illegal armed groups.

Right-wing presidential candidate Hernández has now admitted his loss. “I hope Mr. Gustavo Petro knows how to run the country and that he stays true to his anti-corruption campaign,” he said on Facebook Live.

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