Colombia experienced this Sunday a political earthquake with unpredictable consequences. For the first time, a leftist won the presidential elections, breaking a taboo that made the country an exception in Latin America. For the first time in 134 years, in a strongly centralist country, a candidate from the Caribbean Region will sit on Bolívar’s throne. For the first time, in a country traditionally run by a racist and classist elite, an Afro-descendant woman of humble extraction will be vice president. And, for the first time in this century, the winner has not been the one anointed by Álvaro Uribe, the powerful former president who has dominated the Colombian political scene for the last two decades (Juan Manuel Santos was also appointed by Uribe, although he later fell out with his mentor on account of the peace agreement with the FARC). There are those who see in the electoral result the beginning of the end of Uribismo.
But perhaps what most surprises many Colombians is that Gustavo Petro was able to win. Analysts suspected that the most reactionary sectors of the establishment They would not accept in any way that a “guerrilla” – as they continue to describe someone who abandoned the armed struggle three decades ago and since then has maintained an impeccable commitment to democracy – became president. That they would prevent it in any way, even reaching the assassination if necessary, as had happened in the past with several leftist candidates. However, after a virulent campaign, in which Petro’s ranks were infiltrated for eight months and hundreds of hours of conversations were published in certain hostile media, election day proceeded with admirable normality and the Historical Pact candidate proclaimed his victory over the populist Rodolfo Hernández. It was a hard-fought win: he had already stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in two previous elections, the last against Iván Duque in 2018.
The result of the elections marks the end of an era in Colombia, which some analysts date back to the beginning of republican life, and the beginning of another, full of questions. Already in the first round of the elections, Colombians had sent the message that they were fed up with traditional and corrupt politics, by opting mostly for the two candidates who promised change.
The representative of continuity, who was supported by the powerful electoral machines, Federico Gutiérrez, stayed on the road. Following the saying that a king is dead, a king is in place, the machinery turned in the second round with Hernández, but they did not achieve their objective. In what have been the elections with the most participation in the history of Colombia, Petro obtained a record vote of 11.2 million votes, 700,000 more than his rival. Hernández accepted the result and, in an appearance of less than two minutes, wished Petro “that he knows how to lead the country, that he fights against corruption [tema que Hernández tenía como bandera de su campaña pese a estar imputado en un escándalo de corrupción] and that he does not disappoint those who trusted him.”
What’s next? In his speech after the victory, before several thousand enthusiastic supporters, Petro stated that his priority objective is to seek reconciliation among Colombians after decades of confrontation, for which he will invite those who have been his fiercest rivals to dialogue, beginning with Rodolfo Hernández and former President Uribe. He will also put the accelerator on the implementation of the peace agreement, which President Duque has torpedoed during his four-year term. He recalled the young people “murdered by the government” in the social protests of last year and urged the Attorney General to release those who remain imprisoned. He advocated the unity of Latin America – in recent times he has distanced himself from the Maduro regime and expressed his sympathy with leaders such as the Chilean Boric or the Brazilian Lula – and proposed a face-to-face dialogue with the United States to deal with the problem of change climate on the continent. He reiterated his campaign commitment that young people have free access to university and that all older people enjoy a retirement pension. He said that he is not going to put an end to capitalism, but rather to strengthen it, through its democratization and the government’s support for cooperative projects, so that Colombia “comes definitively out of feudalism and slavery.” He did not go out of his way to send a ‘calming message’ to big investors; It was an emotional act with his hosts and what was imposed was to emphasize his commitment to social justice and diversity, accompanied by his ‘ticket’ Francia Márquez, which has become in a matter of weeks a international political star
It remains to be seen how all these announcements will materialize once he takes office on August 7. To pay for them, Petro had announced during the campaign that he will resort, among other measures, to a special tax levy on the 4,000 largest fortunes in the country. Then he will have to deal with Congress. The Historical Pact and other progressive formations today have a large representation in the Senate and the House of Representatives (the legislative elections in March were the opening for this Sunday’s tsunami), but they will need to attract additional support to form majorities and carry out the initiatives. Petro knows that every step he takes will be scrutinized by the US, which does not feel much sympathy for him, and by the big investors, who have received the message that the president-elect is the classic leftist statist who will not guarantee security. of investments in the country. The revelation of his cabinet, especially the name of the finance minister, will undoubtedly help clear up questions about the orientation of his government.
Petro has already achieved the impossible: winning the elections. Now comes the difficult part: governing an indomitable country, extraordinarily polarized, with alarming social gaps and with an inflamed right that is hardly going to accept that “a guerrilla and a black woman” hold the reins of power in their country.