The alarm bells are — sort of — ringing, Bloomberg reports, in Colombia’s most “fashionable neighborhoods of Bogotá and Medellin.” Colombia’s newly elected progressive president has just proposed a wealth tax, on his first day in office no less. In Latin America, the world’s most unequal region, an egalitarian move like that would normally have a nation’s most privileged enraged and frothing. And some of that frothing certainly is showing up since Gustavo Petro, Columbia’s first left president, proposed his new levy on grand fortunes. A top exec with Colombia’s largest financial conglomerate now even says he sees “a significant risk” the nation’s stock market “will practically disappear” under Petro’s reign.
On August 7, 2022, Gustavo Petro and his running mate, Francia Márquez, were inaugurated as the President and Vice-President of the Republic of Colombia. This was one of the most historic events in Latin America for at least a century. For the first time since the liberation of Colombia from Spain by Simón Bolívar, Colombia now had leaders who promised to radically transform Colombia, and with it, all of Latin America. I was fortunate enough to be present at the inauguration ceremony which was just as exciting as one could have hoped for. As I was told by Colombians while in Bogotá, this was the first time in memory that throngs of people came to Plaza Bolívar to celebrate the inauguration of a new President and Vice-President.
On June 24, the candidate of the Historic Pact of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, officially became president-elect of the country. Among the political decisions that Petro promised to implement is the official reestablishment of diplomatic ties with the constitutional government of Venezuela, a link that was broken when Colombia, under former President Iván Duque, recognized the fake government of Juan Guaidó, a plan devised by Washington, and helped organize an invasion attempt, disguised as a “humanitarian intervention,” through the Colombia-Venezuela border in 2019. Consequently, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela announced the end of relations with Colombia. After a lapse of three years, the relationship between the two countries has taken a new direction. Let’s examine some aspects that are already being worked on for mutual benefit.
The top Latin America advisor for US President Joe Biden, Juan Sebastián González, threateningly said of Colombia’s new left-wing president: “40 years ago, the United States would have done everything possible to prevent the election of Gustavo Petro, and once in power it would have done almost everything possible to sabotage his government.” González is the Western hemisphere director for the US National Security Council (NSC). He previously worked in the State Department and NSC in the Barack Obama administration. González made these incendiary comments in Spanish in an interview with the Colombian media. Obliquely acknowledging the long history of US meddling in Latin America’s sovereign internal affairs, González added, “Those are the policies of the Cold War, that to a certain point today for some people are a justification from revisionist perspectives that characterize the policy of the United States in the context of a local manifestation of an empire.”
Colombia - The Vice President of Colombia, Francia Márquez, symbolically took office in her homeland, in the department of Cauca, where she announced that this week the creation of the Ministry of Equality, which she herself will lead, will be filed in Congress. The formation of this new portfolio will be made to “take on the greatest challenge that Colombia has: inequality”, in the words of the vice-president. In this sense, “the agreement was to create a Ministry of Equality, and this project will be submitted to the Congress this week” and they hope it will be approved urgently”. In the municipality of Suarez (Cauca), the vice president also celebrated being “the first Afro-descendant woman vice president of Colombia and the second Afro-descendant woman vice president in Latin America (…), a daughter of this people”.
Mexico City, Mexico – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro celebrated the inauguration of Gustavo Petro as president of Colombia, with leaders pledging to rebuild the long but fraught relationship between the two Caribbean countries. “I extend my hand to the people of Colombia, to President Gustavo Petro, to rebuild fellowship on the basis of respect and love between peoples,” said Maduro on Sunday. For his part, Petro called for Latin American governments to leave aside their political differences and work toward regional integration. “It is time to leave behind the [political] blocs, the groups, and the ideological differences in order to work together. Let us understand once and for all that there is much more that unites us than what separates us and together we are stronger,” said Petro during his inaugural address to his country from Bogotá’s Bolívar Square.
A delegation of the Colombian government, headed by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán, visited Cuba on Thursday, August 11, and was received by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez in the capital Havana. The purpose of the visit was to establish contact with the leadership of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest leftist guerrilla group active in Colombia, in order to advance towards peace negotiations. Following a meeting between the Colombian government’s delegation, the ELN leaders, and the Cuban government’s representatives at the El Laguito Protocol Hall, Colombian Foreign Minister Leyva announced that the government will resume peace talks with the ELN in Havana. Leyva also confirmed that Cuba and Norway would be guarantors of the peace dialogues, which were interrupted in 2018 by the former conservative president Iván Duque.
On Thursday, Colombian environmental defenders rejected a decision whereby the Council of State facilitates oil exploitation through hydraulic fracturing (fracking). "The decision disregards the environmental precautionary principle and the risk of serious and irreversible damage that this experimental technique represents for human environment, health, and integrity," the Fracking Free Colombia Alliance (ACLF) stressed. “Fracking is dangerous in the context of the climate crisis and openly inconsistent with the international commitments acquired by Colombia,” it recalled. The ACLF also recalled that the implementation of this technique will increase risks to the lives of environmental defenders and Indigenous peoples in Magdalena Medio, "a territory that has suffered oil exploitation and armed violence for more than a century."
The night before the elections, Gustavo Petro participated in a ceremony in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, where indigenous spiritual leaders--Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogui, and Yukpas peoples--from the "navel of the world", tuned him with ancestral and natural powers to be president. After the dynamic duo of the “Historic Pact”, Petro for President, and Francia Márquez for Vice President, obtained the highest number of votes in a first round in all of Colombian history, on May 29, with 8.5 million, the road to the final election turned into three weeks of high tension, of contending wills and sharp suspense. Immediately, the Colombian corporate media began a campaign in favor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernández. They presented him as the possible winner despite having obtained 2.5 million less than Petro, adding his 6 million to the 5 of Federico Gutiérrez, a right-wing candidate who quickly supported Hernández in the second round.
An alliance of Indigenous organizations in Ecuador have held daily demonstrations after sharp increases in the costs for fuel and food. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) began their general strike actions on June 13 after huge price hikes crippled the capacity of rural and urban communities to access transportation and food for their households. In response to the demonstrations and an assortment of other forms of resistance, President Guillermo Lasso has declared a state of emergency in several provinces of the South American state. The order reads in part that: "To declare a state of exception due to serious internal commotion in the provinces of Azuay (south), Imbabura (north), Sucumbios (east) and Orellana (east).”
Gustavo Petro’s victory in Sunday’s Colombian Presidential election, marking the first time Bogotá has elected a left-wing head of state, was not the only far-reaching geopolitical event to recently take place involving Latin America. A week prior to the former guerrilla fighter’s electoral success, President Nicolás Maduro of neighbouring Venezuela paid an official two day visit to Iran where he signed an official 20-year cooperation agreement with Iranian head of state Ayatollah Khameini – a deal intended to counter the wide-ranging US sanctions targeting both Caracas and Tehran. With one of Petro’s Presidential aims being to develop further relations with Venezuela however, his incoming Presidency has undoubtedly already been placed in the sights of the regime change lobby, wary that friendly relations between Bogota, Caracas and Tehran, will undermine US-NATO hegemony from South America all the way to the Middle East.
On August 7th a new left of center government will take power in Colombia. Many questions remain to be answered but one thing is clear: this historic election marks a break with a long Colombian history of State violence and monolithic conservatism. On June 19, Gustavo Petro beat his rival, the businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%, after 100% of the country’s polling stations reported their results. Both his opponent and current president Iván Duque recognized the results, congratulating Petro. Despite an information war and decades of violence against the left, over 11 million Colombians successfully mobilized and voted for the historic change. La Unión Patriótica (UP) was one leftist political party that suffered from this political genocide.