How Gustavo Petro Has Given Life To Colombia’s Left

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Above Photo: Presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is showered with confetti as he addresses supporters after being defeated by Ivan Duque in Colombia’s presidential election, in Bogota, Colombia, June 17, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Colombian candidate Gustavo Petro may not be replacing Santos in the Palacio de Nariño, but he has reinvigorated leftist ideas in Colombia.

Colombia may have just declared right-wing Ivan Duque as its newest president but Sunday’s runoff showed tremendous advances for the left.

Big win for Colombian left:

8,034,189 million people voted for the former guerrilla member, Gustavo Petro – nearly double the number he gained during the nation’s first round at the polls less than a month ago.

“What defeat? Eight million Colombians free and standing. There is no defeat here. For now, we will not be the government,” tweeted Petro when the conservative media outlet, Caracol Radio called his election a loss.

Far from being a loss, Petro’s performance at the polls is closer to a win. After decades of a fractured left, this is the farthest a leftist candidate has made it in a presidential race in contemporary history. The Progressivists Movement contender even beat his own electoral record from eight years ago.

Running in the 2010 elections Petro gained just over 9 percent of the vote, ending his bid for the head of state.

Eight years later Petro is known as the senator who exposed former president Alvaro Uribe’s connections to paramilitary death squads and for being the progressive Bogota mayor who exposed corruption scandals that would have made other politicians waver. Petro has earned the reputation as being the strongest left-wing presidential candidate in Colombian history, enabling him to gain nearly 5 million votes in the first round of this year’s elections and 41.83 percent of Sunday’s runoff vote – historic for a left-wing candidate.

He was also able to emerge as a viable left candidate because for six decades, prior to the 2016 FARC peace accords the right’s rhetoric convinced the country its main problems were Marxist guerrillas and security.

This electoral cycle gave Petro the opportunity to run on a progressive platform based on redistribution and climate change to tackle Colombia’s main problems – corruption and inequality.

Regional Differences

Just as he did in the first round, Petro won the coast where the country’s poorest, Afro-descendent, and Indigenous populations live in the greatest inequality. Just like in May, he couldn’t overcome in Colombia’s highlands.

This regional tendency is in part because poor small farmers in coastal departments find themselves most under attack by paramilitaries paid by those who want to take over their land, and Petro has pledged to protect them and their families. He won by over 30 percent in the Cauca department where the Indigenous Nasa were declared “at risk of extermination” in 2016 having nearly been wiped out by gunmen. Petro’s coastal win mirrors the ‘yes’ vote for the 2016 peace accord, which Petro has vowed to uphold.

Duque on the other had voted ‘no’ against the accords and has outlined how he’ll reverse several of its chapters, which could likely bolster paramilitary murders.

Duque swept the Sierra where the population fears Petro’s promise to redistribute agricultural land in this Latin America country with the worst indices of land monopolization — two-thirds of its arable ground is concentrated in a mere 0.4 percent of the population. Duque also had the support of big business owners in urban areas – anxious that Petro would enforce stricter labor laws and tax increases – who handed out Duque propaganda to employees in the immediate run-up to the runoff.

It was the urban youth and independents that that helped buoy Petro’s numbers in the Sierra, winning Bogota, but in the end, he was only able to take the majority vote in one highland department. The entrenched right-wing machine and ardent support from the alleged murderer, Uribe, helped Duque win the remainder.

Petro’s success was running a transparent and long fought campaign that gained international attention and admiration, elevating socialist policies into the forefront of Colombian politics.