Gustavo Petro is Blazing as he Becomes the First Left-Wing President in Colombia

  • Gustavo Petro’s victory symbolises decades of discontent across the country 
  • The upcoming president is entering into office amidst several challenges 
  • The drastic change to a leftist government will impact the country’s relationship with the US and Venezuela, and significant economic and demographic changes will arise 
Gustavo Petro Urrego / Flikr

Why is Petro’s heat level blazing? 

Answer: Gustavo Petro won the runoff election to become the next Colombian president. 

His political career began years ago in a Colombian guerilla army before serving as the mayor and senator of Bogotá. Now, the former M-19 fighter Gustavo Petro has been elected as Colombia’s next president with a 50.47% vote. Amidst several challenges across the country, ranging from deepening inequality to increased living costs, he will enter into office in July. Whilst he hopes to improve ties with Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro, he plans to also lower the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, posing an issue for investors due to a decrease in oil and natural gas exploration.  Petro also looks to strengthen the peace-building process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), amongst other goals. 

Colombia has lived through a troubled history of left-wing insurgencies and right-wing paramilitarism. As a former guerrillero, Petro enters into office with a set of strong ideologies. The upcoming president promises the country that he will decrease unemployment rates, increase access to higher education, enforce a publicly controlled healthcare system and aid single mothers by providing a significant subsidy. In order to achieve his goals, Petro hopes to raise taxes on the wealthy Colombians and increase import tariffs, in addition to further strategies. Mr. Petro’s victory is seen as a historic one across the country, as he becomes the first left-wing president of Colombia, beating his opponent Rodolfo Hernandez, a wealthy businessman. 

Who is changing Petro’s temperature? 

Answer: Petro’s victory largely relied on the votes of left-wing Colombians, on the Afro-Colombian community, on women, as well as those impacted by rising inequality and inflation rates.  

Petro’s temperature became blazing thanks to the people who voted for him – those who were heavily impacted by rising inequality across the country, as well as increasing inflation and violence rates. These factors, which had increased especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, had motivated voters to turn their backs on the right-leading politicians who had run the country for years. In order to win the elections, the upcoming president focused, primarily towards the end, on winning the vote of the affluent political minorities. With the support of mainly left-wing citizens and the poorer populations of the country, Petro focused on building a more personal relationship with the citizens of Colombia, including home visits where he sometimes spent the nights.

Moreover, Petro had won over a large part of the country’s Afro-Colombian population, as well as many environmental activists, and women, by partnering with the future vice-president, Francia Marquez. This partnership was an important factor contributing to Petro’s victory, as Ms. Marquez is a formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, and speaks for many citizens, especially women, living in the rural areas of the country and those affected by armed conflict. 

However, without a substantial majority in the country and winning a thin mandate, Petro’s popularity throughout his term is not guaranteed. First, with a strong division, just about half of the electorate voted against the incoming government. Unpredictability and dramatic political shifts cause a sense of insecurity across the country, and many view the future president with suspicion, as he is firmly equated with rebel groups.

The people who are likely to change Petro’s temperature throughout his presidency are the supporters of Mr. Hernandez, Petro’s opposition, as well as right-wing Colombians and the entrepreneurial class of the country who rely on foreign direct investment opportunities.

Anything that concerns oil, taxing the wealthy, or mining, which are important topics on Petro’s agenda, will become a challenge for the incoming president, as the wealthy of the country have influence over national politics. Until now, we have known Colombia as a conservative country, and this has created an environment in which Petro’s plans may experience a backlash due to their comparatively radical nature. 

Groups that have risen up since the establishment of the FARC, such as the National Liberation Army, or the ELN, are in a strong position to be a major challenge for Petro. With the rapid expansion of the Marxist-Leninist guerilla movement, and the tacit approval of Maduro, they are marking their presence on Colombian soil. Furthermore, with strong instability due to the ongoing political and socio economic crisis spreading across its neighbour, Venezuela, two million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia for refuge. Many of these migrants arrive with economic challenges and have often been preyed on by Colombian criminal groups

What is driving Petro? 

Answer: Petro wants to transform the nation and is now – after years of rejection – in the position to prioritise the ideologies he used to fight for. 

Petro’s victory reflects widespread discontent across the country and comes as an answer to many who have been protesting in the streets of Colombia in the past years. He has fought for the M-19 with the aim of seizing power through violence in the sake of promoting social justice across the nation. The urban military group aimed to bridge the divide between the poor and the rich in the country and hoped to empower Colombia’s marginalised groups, including the peasants, indigenous people, and workers.

As a former guerilla fighter, Petro carries these ideologies with him into his presidency – ideologies that had been rejected by previous governments for decades. Now, Petro is in a position to prioritise these ideologies. These same governments had fought against the insurgent FARC  for years, which made it almost impossible  for a legitimate left to rise to power. With his win and with the strong support of just over half of the voters, Petro now promises to transform the future of Colombia

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: Petro’s victory will impact the country’s relationships primarily with the United States and Venezuela, and impacts its financial future.

Petro’s upcoming presidency will not only enforce changes in the domestic policies of Colombia, but the country’s foreign policies will experience shifts too. As the largest recipient of US aid in the region, Colombia has been the United States’ strongest ally in Latin America, especially in regards to trade and security measures. Petro aims to strengthen the country’s relationship with the United States and hopes to work together to tackle climate change and the erosion of the Amazon rainforest. 

In regards to domestic politics, the country will most probably experience drastic economic shifts, which may overhaul the economic model in one of the largest economies of Latin America. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Colombia is in fact one of the top 25 Foreign Direct Investment destinations, making it one of the most influential factors in the country’s economy – and, the extraction of oil contributes to 40 percent of Colombia’s total FDI. With Petro’s intention to distance the county from the oil economy, a large part of their economic model would suffer and foreign investors will therefore begin to distance themselves. 

As a result of Petro’s victory and his future plans to decrease oil and gas explorations, as well as an increase in taxes for the wealthy and a renegotiation of Colombia’s free trade agreement with the US, the Colombian entrepreneurial class is likely to start moving out of the country, which will come with negative impacts in regards to the demographic model of the country. If Petro sticks to his promises, those who have been neglected by previous governments will begin to feel more advantages, including minority groups such as the unemployed or indigenous, whilst the wealthy will experience disadvantages such as an increased tax rate. 

In light of the current war in Ukraine, the upcoming decrease in Colombia’s oil and gas exploration will show to have impacts on foreign direct investors and states that have relied on Colombia’s exports. 

Another vital factor to take into consideration is the relationship between Colombia and Venezuela. Petro’s aim to restore relations with Maduro will of course be a low blow for Venezuela’s opposition, however, Petro also hopes to reopen the border between the two countries since its closure in 2015, which could increase the dynamism in the trade of goods, primarily in the food and agriculture sector.

If the border between the two countries were to be opened as planned, more than 94 million people on both sides would benefit from strengthened trade relations. With Petro’s upcoming presidency, the people of Colombia will most probably experience shifts in regards to the economy and demography, and different social classes will be impacted in different ways.