How Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla, would possibly govern Colombia


“We are writing a new history for Colombia, Latin America and the world,” declared Gustavo Petro, the winner of Colombia’s presidential election, in Bogotá on June nineteenth. His grandiloquence was maybe comprehensible. When he takes workplace on August seventh Mr Petro will change into the nation’s first left-wing president. He gives a radical departure from a century of right-wing and centrist rule. Mr Petro’s running-mate, Francia Márquez, an environmental activist, would be the nation’s first black vice-president.

Mr Petro gained by 50.4% to 47.3% in a run-off in opposition to Rodolfo Hernández, a property tycoon. He bought 11.3m votes on a turnout of 58%, the very best in 50 years. The poll was peaceable, in an election marred by loss of life threats to each candidates and worries about potential fraud. Mr Hernández conceded defeat rapidly.

The end result makes Mr Petro the most recent in a string of leftist leaders in Latin America who’ve come to energy as a part of an anti-incumbent wave. In Peru and Chile voters not too long ago plumped for anti-establishment candidates. Brazil can be anticipated to lurch to the left in presidential elections in October. Yet although Mr Petro’s agenda is radical, he will probably be constrained by a fractured Congress and Colombia’s establishments.

Mr Petro’s win was a victory for press-the-flesh campaigning over social-media savvy. He secured virtually 3m further votes between the primary spherical on May twenty ninth and the run-off, primarily by means of grassroots work amongst younger and poor individuals. Turnout in Magdalena and Chocó, two of the nation’s poorest departments, elevated by 16%. In Bogotá, the place Mr Petro was as soon as mayor, he bought half one million further votes.

Mr Hernández, in contrast, targeted on finger-jabbing rants on TikTook. In the ultimate week he cancelled media appearances and flew to Miami, saying his life was in danger. He talked about the Virgin Mary and prostitutes in the identical sentence, which his critics gleefully construed as an insult to the nation’s Roman Catholics. His standing amongst conservatives took successful when a video emerged of him dancing on a yacht with a dozen younger bikini-clad girls.

This made Mr Petro appear extra statesmanlike. He tried to calm jittery traders by suggesting he would appoint a centrist finance minister. In his election speech he defended capitalism, albeit half-heartedly, saying he would “develop [it], not because we adore it, but because we have to overcome premodernity and feudalism.”

Nevertheless, many Colombians mistrust their president-elect. Polls taken earlier than the election discovered that he was much less well-liked amongst older voters who had skilled extra of the nation’s long-running armed battle with insurgencies. For many Mr Petro’s former membership of the m-19, a guerrilla group that demobilised in 1990, is a big crimson flag.

Mr Petro has not reassured traders. His programme contains making college free and giving each persistently unemployed individual a state job. (Unemployment is at present 11%.) He needs to ban oil exploration, open-pit mining and fracking—although oil, coal and minerals make up round half of Colombia’s exports. His proposal to seize cash from non-public pension funds to bolster the general public pot outrages savers and would weaken capital markets. The peso fell by 3% in opposition to the greenback on June twenty first; the inventory alternate fell by 4%.

Colombia’s shut relationship with the United States might additionally fray. Since 1999 it has acquired extra help than every other nation in Latin America, principally to struggle drug gangs and guerrillas. Kevin Whitaker, the us ambassador to Bogotá till 2019, worries that Mr Petro’s want to finish pressured coca eradication and to cease extraditing drug kingpins would “fundamentally change the nature” of safety cooperation. A free-trade deal signed in 2012 can be in danger. On June twenty second Mr Petro tweeted that he had referred to as Venezuela’s authorities to reopen the shared border.

Yet Mr Petro will battle to implement his large plans. His coalition has solely 15% of seats throughout each homes of Congress. Though he can anticipate assist from some centrists and the 5 senators previously within the farc, a Marxist guerrilla group which demobilised in 2016, he would nonetheless have to make alliances with established events. That could disappoint his base.

Many concern that Mr Petro’s plan to “democratise” Colombian establishments means stuffing them along with his followers. But this will probably be tough. The departing president, Iván Duque, was capable of appoint the attorney-general, public prosecutor, comptroller and procurador, who disciplines public servants. A state of emergency to fight starvation, which Mr Petro as soon as promised to name, is unlikely to go muster with the Constitutional Court. Similarly, the Central Bank’s independence is enshrined within the structure. Mr Petro can solely appoint three out of seven members of its board throughout his time period. He is unlikely to rely on the military for a lot assist.

The query is how Mr Petro will react if such establishments restrain him. He has vowed to launch 160-odd individuals jailed after protests final 12 months. To achieve this, he might want to face down the prosecutor. As mayor he had a fame for being irascible. For some, none of this issues. “Petro represents change,” says Paola Quiñonez, an activist. “If the economy suffers, that’s ok. The people have lived through hunger, poverty and insecurity before.” Nearly half of Colombians are much less sanguine.