News Release

Leftist Petro Wins Colombia Presidential Election

FORREST HYLTON, forresthylton@gmail.com

Associate professor of political science at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Hylton is author of Evil Hour in Colombia. He is a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books where he just wrote the piece “Fiesta Democrática.”

Hylton writes: “Most final polls, taken a week before yesterday’s election, showed Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández more or less even, but Petro won by 50.44 to 47.3, with 11.28 million votes, nearly three million more than he got in the first round on 29 May. …

“Now Colombia is largely urban, and Petro’s margin of victory in Bogotá alone was enough to account for his victory over Hernández. The country lacked an urban left throughout the Cold War. The escalating war in the countryside between (Leninist) Farc or ELN [National Liberation Army] insurgents and military/paramilitary counter-insurgents left little room for politics in the public squares of Colombia’s cities. Three presidential candidates were murdered by the far right during the 1990 elections. This was when Gustavo Petro and his comrades in the nationalist urban guerrilla group M-19 laid down their arms to come in from the cold and take part in public life. Most of them were subsequently murdered, but Petro survived, and went on to expose [former President] Uribe [currently on trial for bribery and witness tampering] and the paramilitarism of the Colombian senate. He ran for president in 2010 but didn’t get far. Petroleum, gas, coal, gold and cocaine exports accelerated.

“He served as mayor of Bogotá from 2012 to 2015 — with a brief hiatus when his mandate was revoked and he was barred from public life, until the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights got him restored — and as an opposition senator in 2018, after winning 42 per cent of the vote in the second round of presidential elections. No previous candidate from the left had reached double digits. Many people, especially younger voters, see Petro as part of the political establishment. He wasn’t a leader in the general strike of late 2019 or the national popular uprising of mid-2021.“His running mate Francia Márquez, however, an Afro-Colombian environmental activist and human rights lawyer who has worked as a domestic servant — and, like Petro, survived credible death threats — did speak for the people seeking to assert their democratic rights and grassroots sovereignty, especially in 2021, when politicians lost contact with what was happening on the ground, as young frontline militants battled police nightly for over two months.”