On Sunday 29 May, Colombia held its first round of presidential elections with former M-19 guerrilla fighter and mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro leading in front. His main challenger was thought to be Federico Gutiérrez, who is in a rightwing coalition with close ties to the current president, Iván Duque, but Rodolfo Hernández, a business tycoon, had an unexpected surge in the polls.
Securing 40% of the vote, this means that Petro will be in a run-off election on June 19th, as candidates require 50% of the vote to be elected. Hernández got 28% of the vote and Gutiérrez just under 24%. Gutiérrez’s failure was determined by his campaign to maintain the status quo.
Petro’s success marks a change in what has mostly been a country led by rightwing populism and can be linked to a growing wave of disillusioned working class youths, who participated in a gush of protests last year against paramilitary violence, food shortages and political repression, driving them to leftwing politics. Under Duque, paramilitary violence has terrorised working class communities and wages have stagnated, so it’s no wonder that many are fed up with the status quo and view Petro as the only viable candidate to bring about change.
Violent opposition to Petros and his running mate, Francia Márquez, who would be the first black vice president if elected, has meant that they have attended rallies behind bulletproof shields. Márquez comes from a tide of fresh leftist politicians in Colombia, having won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organising a women’s group to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She also advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights and economic equality.
His lead reflects the turn in politics in other Latin American countries, such as Gabriel Boric’s victory in Chile and Lula’s lead in the polls in Brazil, with victory potentially moving the country away from fossil fuels to more sustainable and environmentally friendly technology.
No major incidents of violence have been reported during the vote.
Hernández has largely campaigned on TikTok, claiming to be anti-corruption despite an ongoing investigation into his favouring of a company that his son lobbied for.
Whoever wins the run-off election, they face rising inflation and towns and countryside ravaged by drug militias. Since 2018, when Duque was elected, the Colombian peso’s value has fallen 40% compared to the US dollar, a situation exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. The kick in the teeth for workers is that the nation is overall richer than what it was in 2018, but good old trickle-down economics hasn’t seemed to work in practice.
Petro has proposed tax reform whilst Hernández has called for an end to corruption. In a country ravaged by the state and its alliances with far-right paramilitaries, the workers have already decided which candidate represents them.
Georgina Andrews is the Student Officer of the YCL.