Gustavo Petro to run for president in Colombia

Progressive leader Gustavo Petro is the preferred candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in Colombia according to various opinion polls.

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Progressive Gustavo Petro won the primaries for the left-wing Historic Pact coalition
Photo: María José Pizarro Rodríguez/Twitter
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On Sunday, March 13, around 17.5 million Colombians went to the polls to elect 108 members of the Senate, 188 members of the House of Representatives, as well as choose candidates for the upcoming presidential elections for three political coalitions.


According to the results released by the National Registry, Gustavo Petro of the Colombia Humana political movement won the presidential primaries of the left-wing Historic Pact coalition. With 99.76% of the votes counted, Petro obtained over 4.48 million or 80.51% of the votes. Meanwhile, Federico Gutiérrez of the Creemos Colombia movement secured the nomination of the right-wing Team for Colombia coalition with over 2.16 million or 54.18% of the votes. At the same time, Sergio Fajardo of the Independent Social Alliance was chosen as the candidate for the centrist Hope Center coalition with over 723,000 or 33.49% of the votes. The three leaders will join 11 other candidates from different parties to contest the elections on May 29.


The overwhelming victory of former senator and former mayor of Bogotá, Petro, came as no surprise. His favoritism had marked the opinion polls for several weeks. He had emerged as the front-runner for the presidential elections in various opinion polls carried out before the primaries. His coalition, the Historic Pact which brings together various progressive parties and social movements, gained ground in both houses of the Congress. The coalition won 16 seats in the Senate, gaining 13 more seats than it previously had, and 25 seats in the House of Representatives, gaining 22 more seats.


Following the announcement of the results, Petro pointed out that “the Historic Pact achieved the best result of progressivism in the history of Colombia.” He said that “we will defend a common program to turn Colombia into a power of life and make the economy revolve around life.” He added that “Loving the people today means building peace, social justice and a society of rights.” After speaking of progressive Gabriel Boric’s victory in Chile, he stressed that “the time has come for Colombia.”


Meanwhile, the resounding defeat of the ruling far-right Democratic Center party was also no surprise. The country has witnessed a rise in poverty and violence under the rule of conservative president Ivan Duque. The months-long national strike in 2019 and 2021 against his neoliberal policies, his inaction on rampant killings of social leaders, his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and slow vaccination had predicted citizens’ frustration. The party dropped from 19 to 14 seats in the Senate, and from 32 to 16 seats in the House of Representatives.


In another setback to the ruling party, its presidential candidate, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who was polling below 5% of the votes in most opinion polls, on March 14, in a video message on Twitter, withdrew his candidacy and expressed his support for Gutiérrez. “In the light of yesterday’s election results, and the need for unity for the good of Colombia, I have made the personal decision to withdraw the presidential candidacy for the Democratic Center to accompany the aspiration of Federico Gutiérrez,” he said.


Who is Gustavo Petro? What are his proposals?


61-year-old Petro is a renowned progressive leader in the country. At a young age of 17 years, he became a member of the April 19 Movement (M-19) guerilla group. After the demobilization of the M-19 rebel group in 1990, he founded various political movements and served the country from several positions. In 2002, he was elected to the lower house. In 2006, he was reelected to the Senate. In 2011, he was elected as the mayor of the capital city Bogotá. In 2018, after losing the elections to Duque in the second round, he returned to the Senate.


This is Petro’s third bid to become president. In 2010, he won the primary elections as the Alternative Democratic Pole candidate and finished fourth in the race. This time, he is in a better position than he was in 2018. Opinion polls suggest that he is the most preferred candidate. Polls predict that his victory will be difficult in the first round, but that he will win comfortably in the second round.


Petro has proposed to replace the economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, mining and hydrocarbon extraction, with agriculture. For this purpose, he plans to introduce an agrarian reform, and seeks to increase the property tax on large estates of more than 500 hectares of fertile but unproductive lands.


“Those who have governed us for years have expropriated our rights, our lands, our lives. We propose appropriation so that the fundamentals are guaranteed: the land to produce, the knowledge to create and the credit to undertake,” he said in a debate on March 14, a day following the legislative elections. “We are going to set up a Global International Fund to save the Amazon rainforest and combat climate change. We are going to change the drug policy in Colombia for one that strengthens the production of food with agribusiness to replace the cultivation of coca leaves,” he added.


Petro has promised to introduce a tax reform that eliminates exemptions for corporations and increases taxes on people who possess large fortunes. He has also vowed to transform the concept of minimum wage for a real wage based on capital and income. He has also pledged to make reforms to the current private pension system to achieve a minimum pension.


“Colombian men and women will have a decent public pension that will allow them to live their old age well and with greater peace of mind. It is time that our fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers can go to bed without hunger, with a full stomach,” said Petro.


Petro has committed to increase the current budgets for education, culture and sports. His other proposals include a universal public health system for prevention and primary care, electric transport, and free drinking water.


“In our government, public health will be preventive, we will bring thousands of doctors to the homes of Colombians to attend to families,” said Petro.


Regarding the peace process, Petro said that “I am one of those who want to definitively end the war, not one of those who want to tear peace to shreds,” and invited citizens “to be part of the government of the politics of peace, not of war.”


Legislative elections


Although the Historic Pact gained seats and the ruling party suffered setbacks in the parliamentary elections, the right-wing parties continue to hold a majority in both houses of the Congress.


In the Senate, the right-wing parties: the Colombian Conservative Party with 16 seats, the Democratic Center Party with 14, the Radical change with 11, the Union Party for the People with 10, the MIRA party with 4, hold 55 of the 108 seats. Meanwhile, the Historic Pact with 16 seats and the support of the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS) and Movement of Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO), having 1 seat each, will also have to seek the support of the center-left Green Alliance and the Hope Center Coalition (14 seats) and the Liberal Party (15 seats) with to carry out necessary social reforms.


Likewise, in the House of Representatives as well these right-wing forces among others have a majority and the support of the centrist and center-left parties will be indispensable for the Historic Pact.
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