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Who is Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new president?

Colombia has elected its first leftist president Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla, has promised to close the inequality gap, one of the world’s widest.

Meet Colombia's new president Gustavo Petro
Anadolu AgencyGetty

One of the most conservative nations in Latin America took a new path on Sunday, electing Gustavo Petro a former guerrilla and longtime senator as president of Colombia. He will be the first leftist president of the nation, elected with just over 50 percent of the vote. His ascension was not the only first for the third largest nation in South America, his running mate, Francia Márquez, will be the first Afro-Colombian woman vice president.

Petro ran on a pledge to reform the economic system in Colombia which in his words has made the rich richer and poor poorer. The relationship between the US and one of its staunchest allies in Latin American will likely change with Petro having promised to reassess Colombia’s collaboration in the war on drugs and restore relations with Venezuela.

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Who is Gustavo Petro?

The newly elected 62 year old president of Colombia was born in rural north Colombian town of Ciénaga de Oro. In his youth he was a member of the “Movimiento 19 de Abril” (M19) or 19th of April Movement, the second largest rebel faction after FARC. Although the M19 was associated with illegal activities, Petro says that he wasn’t involved in legal activities focusing instead on mobilizing his fellow countrymen to stand up to what he called a “false democracy.”

In 1985 he was arrested by the police for illegally possessing arms and sentenced to 18 months in jail. While in military prison, M19 attacked Bogota’s Supreme Court building. The assault left 98 people dead including 12 judges, Petro denies he had anything to do with it.

After M19 negotiated a peace deal with the Colombian government its former members, including Gustavo, formed the “Alianza Democrática M-19″ (AD/M-19) or M-19 Democratic Alliance. AD/M-19 entered the Colombian Chamber of Representatives in 1991 with over a quarter of the seats.

Petro has been part of different political parties over the years and was elected to the Senate in 2006. In 2012 he was elected mayor of Bogota and under his administration carrying firearms was prohibited resulting in the homicide rate dropping to its lowest in two decades. He ran for president twice before in 2010 and 2018.

Gustavo Petro plans change Colombia’s economy

The Colombian economy has grown considerably in recent years but the disparity between the haves and have-nots is one of the highest in the world. Forty percent of Colombians live in poverty and half of the population doesn’t have enough to eat. In a recent Gallup poll forty-six percent of the population said that the economy is getting worse, which was battered by falling oil and gas prices, two key exports, and hadn’t recovered by the time covid-19 took its own toll.

“This story that we write today is a new story for Colombia, for Latin America, for the world,” Petro said at his victory rally. “We are not going to fail this electorate.”

As part of his plan, Petro wants to diversify the economy, reduce Colombia’s overreliance on oil exports and halt all new oil exploration. He campaigned to expand social programs and increase taxes on the wealthy. He has also said that he would like to seek some form of drug legalization but he hasn’t given specific details of what that would look like.


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