PROFILE: Who is newly-elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro?

Former guerrilla fighter promises sweeping social change

Laura Gamba Fadul   | 20.06.2022
PROFILE: Who is newly-elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro?

BOGOTA, Colombia

Colombia elected former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro as president making him the country's first leftist head of state.

People broke into tears and hugged each other in the packed stadium where Petro received the election results.

He defeated millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez in Sunday's run-off election by some 700,000 votes, a landslide.

Petro, 62, took the stage flanked by his vice-president Francia Marquez, his wife and four of his children.

"I want to thank all of you on this day that is undoubtedly historic," were the first words of the newly elected president to a charged crowd which danced and cheered.

“This story that we are writing today is a new story for Colombia, for Latin America, for the world,” he added.

Petro's path to the presidency has been nothing more than historic.

At the age of 21, he joined the urban guerrilla group M-19, for which he later spent a year and a half in prison. The politician has said that during the days following his arrest he was tortured by the army and he was later convicted for illegal possession of weapons.

In 2010, he served as a congressman and in 2011 he became the mayor of Bogota, a position that propelled him to the national spotlight amid many controversies. In 2015, he ended his term in office with low popularity.

He has run for president three times and in 2018 he was defeated in a run-off by right-wing candidate Ivan Duque.

Petro has pledged to fully implement a 2016 peace deal that ended a 50-year conflict with the FARC guerrilla and seek peace talks with the still-active ELN rebels.

He will also redistribute the country’s pension system and end the extraction of oil, which has many investors frightened.

He has promised to increase taxes on the wealthy and charge major landholders for unproductive land and he has said he wants to rethink the “war on drugs” and restore ties with Venezuela.

But to accomplish his plans, Petro will face a number of challenges.

He comes up against fierce opposition and a fragmented congress. Hernandez, his contender, got more than 10 million votes, many of them from people who fear that Petro's policies will put the country's economic stability at risk.

​​"The elections more or less showed two ‘Colombias’. We want Colombia in the midst of its diversity to be one Colombia," Petro said in his speech.

But more than 11 million Colombians who voted for him relate to his promise to tackle widespread inequality, hunger, and poverty.

A significant element of his campaign was his running mate Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, who will become the country's first black woman vice-president.

Petro's rise to power, some fear, could also jeopardize the relationship between Washington and Bogota. Colombia has long been the United States’ strongest ally in the region, but Petro’s vision of drug policy and trade agreements could lead to a rupture in the relationship.

Leaders in Latin America and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Petro for his win, which marks another victory for the left in the region. Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile have swung decisively to the left. ​​​​​​​

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