Colombia became the latest Latin American country to swing sharply to the left with the election on Sunday of Gustavo Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla fighter turned socialist mayor of Bogota, as the next president.
Mr. Petro’s victory paves the way for a potentially major shift in US-Colombian relations and signals an increasingly socialist tilt in the region, where leftists and populists have recently taken power in Argentina, Bolivia, in Chile, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.
The leaders of all these nations applaud Mr. Petro’s victory. There was also the jubilation of the authoritarian regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Mr Petro has signaled his willingness to restore diplomatic relations with Caracas, which Colombia cut off at Washington’s urging in 2019.
“The will of the Colombian people has been heard – they have come out to defend the path of democracy and peace,” said Maduro, who has been characterized by successive administrations in Washington as a dictator due to his imprisonment. extrajudicial opposition. The figures. The openness to Colombia complicates Washington’s efforts to isolate the Maduro regime and promote a democratic opposition group as the country’s legitimate rulers.
Incumbent Colombian President Ivan Duque, a conservative, had aligned himself with both former President Donald Trump and President Biden against Mr Maduro in acknowledging pro-US opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claims to the presidency.
While Mr. Petro’s official stance on Venezuela remains to be seen, the Biden administration sent congratulations on Sunday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the election “free and fair,” saying the administration hopes to work with Petro to “further strengthen U.S.-Colombian relations and move our nations toward a brighter future.”
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But analysts are skeptical as questions arise over the extent to which the socialist will push Colombian politics in ways that challenge the country’s close relationship with Washington, including on trade and the fight against drug trafficking. in Colombia. Some argue that Mr. Petro’s victory encourages leftists in the region to unite against American influence.
Mr. Petro’s demonstration was the latest left-wing political victory in Latin America, fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Honduras and Peru have elected left-wing presidents in 2021. In Brazil, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leads right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the polls for the presidential election this fall. .
“Gustavo Petro’s triumph is perhaps the most disturbing missing piece of this new reconfiguration in Latin America, leaning towards a new wave of leftist governments,” Argentine analyst Agustin Antonetti told Fox News Digital. the Fundación Libertad.
“A region that is experiencing an alarming political and economic decline, in a complex global context, with three terrible dictatorships (Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua) that seem more alive than ever and surrounded by a large number of populist leaders, now in power. … The big question is: will Latin American institutions resist this new wave of governments in a sharp rise of authoritarianism? he said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state is home to a large population of Latino American citizens, criticized Mr Petro’s victory, calling it “very disappointing”.
“The results of this election have been very, very disturbing to people who believe in freedom in the Western Hemisphere,” Mr. DeSantis, a potential Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election, said at a conference. release, according to the Florida Phoenix. “Electing a former narco-terrorist and a Marxist to lead Colombia is going to be disastrous.”
Meanwhile, concerns are growing in Washington that political change in Latin America is widening openings for US adversaries in the region — notably China, which has significantly outspent the United States on development loans in the region. region in recent years.
Mr. Petro now emerges as a polarizing figure, coming to the center of a polarizing moment in the hemisphere.
“Petro’s victory will have far-reaching implications in a region where Colombia has long been an anchor of relative political stability, despite the rising populist wave in Latin America. It is also indicative of the current state of Colombian politics,” according to Ivan Briscoe, program director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group.
“Petro promised to enact sweeping social changes, along with measures such as halting new oil and gas exploration contracts and raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for poverty and poverty reduction programs. improving public services,” Briscoe wrote in an analysis published by Foreign Affairs on Monday. “Many of his proposed policies, including the introduction of so-called ‘smart’ tariffs to protect Colombian agricultural production, may not be well received in Washington.
“To his supporters, Petro is a standard bearer for Latin American progressivism who will usher in a new era of representation and egalitarianism,” Briscoe added. His critics, on the other hand, accuse him of employing the same elite incitement rhetoric that propelled other populist leaders, such as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, to power. And indeed, Petro’s record as a former mayor of Bogotá, his self-portrait as an agent of historical transformation, and even some of his reported personality traits, such as his aversion to being contradicted, suggest to many that ‘a demagogue can hide,’ he said.
Mr. Castillo, Mr. Lopez Obrador and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel were among those who hailed Mr. Petro’s victory on Monday.
“We are united by a common feeling that seeks better collective, social and regional integration of our peoples,” Castillo said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Mr. Obrador expressed hope that Mr. Petro could be a unifying figure in Colombia, which has struggled to achieve reconciliation following the historic peace agreement signed in 2016 between Marxist rebels and the Colombian government after decades of civil war. Colombia also has some of the most unequal rates of wealth distribution in the industrial world, with many countries outside major urban centers suffering economically.
“Today’s triumph can be the end of this curse and the awakening of this brotherly and worthy people,” Mr. Lopez Obrador said.
During Colombia’s brutal half-century civil war, Mr. Petro was a member of the now defunct M-19 movement. He was granted amnesty after being imprisoned for his involvement with the group.
Since then, he has run for president three times. His victory this time as the first leftist to win the Colombian presidency suggests that the long-standing stigma of such groups may have ended in the country.
Mr Petro narrowly beat Rodolfo Hernandez, a political outsider and property mogul in a runoff election that underscored people’s distaste for the country’s traditional politicians.
The election came as Colombians struggled with rising inequality, inflation and violence – factors that led voters in the first round of elections last month to punish centrist and right-wing politicians for a long time and to choose two foreigners for the second round.
Mr Petro appealed for unity during his victory speech on Sunday night and extended an olive branch to some of his toughest critics, saying all opposition members will be welcomed into the presidential palace “to discuss the problems of Colombia”.
“From this government that is beginning there will never be political persecution or judicial persecution, there will only be respect and dialogue,” he said, adding that he will listen to those who have lifted the weapons as well as “this silent majority of peasants, Aboriginals, women, young people.
The vote also resulted in the election of Colombia’s first black woman as vice-president. Francia Marquez, Mr. Petro’s running mate, is a lawyer and environmental leader whose opposition to illegal mining led to threats and a grenade attack in 2019.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.