Photo: Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez celebrate with supporters on election night. Credit – @FranciaMarquezM
A wave of massive celebrations swept the streets and main squares of Colombia last night as news broke that the country had just elected its first leftist president, Gustavo Petro, and the first Black vice-president of the country, Francia Marquez.
The Historic Pact coalition, Petro and Francia’s political movement, won this historic race by capturing 50.44% and beating out right-wing millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez, who trailed by more than 700,000 votes. Petro and Francia’s victory confirms that the Colombian people have officially expressed their desire to close the curtain once and for all on the tragedy of Uribismo – years of brutal rule by the most right-wing elite sector in the country.
Images and videos circulated throughout social media and the press showing the resilient will of millions of Colombians from all regions of the country mobilizing for change despite fear campaigns and remote polling stations. One video showed voters from remote areas in el Choco traveling in small boats on a two-day journey to reach the nearest polling station, all with the determination to vote for change and elect Colombia’s first Black vice-president, Francia, an environmental and social justice hero in the region. Choco is a mineral rich department of Colombia where Afro-Colombians make up more than 85 percent of the population and are the biggest victims of death squads and displacement by transnational mining companies.
All major US newspapers and media outlets are running some variation of the same basic headline: “Former guerilla rebel becomes country’s first leftist president.” Despite the fear-mongering framing, the United States and its allies seem to so far have refrained from raising bogus allegations of election fraud – a standard practice when a progressive leader is elected in the region. Petro’s opponent Hernandez also conceded the race as soon as official results were announced, and even extreme right-wing former president Alvaro Uribe published a tweet accepting the results and Petro as president. Despite these indications, progressive people need to stay vigilant and condemn any attempts by the U.S. government or its proxy the Organization of American States to intervene against the democratic will of the Colombian people.
Petro and Francia are shouldering the demands of millions of Colombians yearning for change. They ran on a progressive platform promising to tax the rich, increase the budget for education and create a universal public health system, among other much-needed reforms. One of the main points of their campaign was to achieve genuine peace in Colombia by upholding and strengthening the 2016 Havana peace accords, and at the same time challenging right-wing paramilitary organizations that for decades have enjoyed complete impunity to spread terror and violence on behalf of the elite. Another key point of the campaign is to normalize relations with their neighbor Venezuela and recognize Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of the country, once and for all ending the absurd recognition of Juan Guaidó as interim president by the outgoing Ivan Duque administration.
In his victory speech, Gustavo Petro explained what this win means for Colombia and even made some immediate demands:
“We are the sum of 500 years of resistance in Colombia. We are the rebellion against injustice, against a world that should not be, against discrimination, against inequality. Look around you, how many people are not with us today, how many people died, how many people are in prison today, how many young people chained, treated as bandits, simply because they dreamed and hoped for change? For this reason, I request the attorney general of the nation to free our youth.”
The call to immediately free the youth still being detained in prison for participating in last year’s massive national strike protests was met with a jolt of joy, applause, and chants of “freedom” by the thousands gathered at the packed stadium arena celebrating their victory.
Petro and Francia’s victory represents hope for a new path for Colombia, away from its decades-long period of violence, inequality, and state-sanctioned terror. While yesterday’s victory was a historic step for Colombia and the region, the road ahead for this progressive government of Petro and Francia involves huge challenges. This is made even more difficult because the right wing controls both houses of Congress.
Just like the national strike was the key factor opening up the possibility of yesterday’s electoral breakthrough, the mobilization of the people will be decisive in determining the new government’s ability to carry out dramatic changes in the country. The concentrated wealth and power of the Colombian elite and their backers in the United States can only be overcome through permanent, militant struggle.