By Julio Cesar Idrobo
Falls Church News-Press
On June 19, Colombia elected Gustavo Petro as its new president and Francia Marquez as its vice president in an unprecedented victory: for the first time, after more than 200 years of right-wing governments, Colombia has the opportunity to be governed by a progressive movement with a historical vote of 11.3 million voters and a voter turnout of of 58.09 percent.
The newly elected president is a prominent economist and political scientist who studied economics and human rights in Belgium and Spain. He is a man of enormous academic enlightenment with a profound knowledge of world history. His economic proposals have won praise from The Economist magazine. Petro has been mayor of Bogotá and was declared by the Colombian press to be the best congressional representative in Colombia.
The newly elected president faces a series of immediate challenges, since he receives a country with a poverty rate close to 39 percent, which means that more than 1 out of 3 families is not able to eat three meals a day. The new administration will also have to face the problem of systematic corruption in government institutions, including the armed forces and National Police, security problems due to the ongoing activities of various armed and criminal groups, drug trafficking and organized crime.
These illegal forces are behind the murders of community leaders — including those who organize their communities to stop growing illicit crops. Such murders have been an almost daily occurrence for several years. According to US News and World Report, Colombia leads the list of countries perceived as the most corrupt in the world.
For their part, the voters have chosen Mr. Petro because of his attractive proposals for change that drew millions of young people, many of whom voted for the first time.
For the elected president peace is a primary issue because despite Colombia having signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas in 2016, the current president Duque ignored the terms of the agreement without making any progress towards achieving a comprehensive rural reform, one of the key points of the agreement, and without improving the road and communications infrastructure, advancing industrial development projects, making reparation to the victims of the armed conflict of more than 50 years, and without making any significant inroads against the drug trafficking business.
Petro has also proposed a gradual and measured change in the medium term in the exploitation of natural resources such as oil, coal, water and timber to exchange them for clean, non-polluting energies. He also has proposals to implement modern technologies, expand education and further science and knowledge as ways of protecting the environment and human dignity.
In the international context, the election of a progressive government in Colombia ensures the reworking of the political map in Latin America, especially with a possible return of Lula da Silva in Brazil, with whom it will be possible to guarantee protection for the lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest. In addition, a new progressive bloc will be consolidated with countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.
The newly elected vice president, Francia Marquez, represents another historic change for the country, as she is the first Afro-descendent woman elected to that position. She is a symbol of resilience. She was born and grew up in poverty in Cauca department, where she was a domestic worker and a single mother who opposed mining in her community and in 2018 won the Goldman Environmental Award.
She also managed to become a lawyer and now she represents, in her own words, the “nobodies,” that is, the marginalized and excluded sectors of the population made up of Indigenous peoples, peasant farmers, Afro-descendants, women and all those who have never received the benefits of government programs. The new government, which takes office on August 7, holds out the promise of a Colombia marked by greater inclusion and equality.
The new government in Colombia ushers in new possibilities not only for Colombia, but also for Latin America, and for the United States, for which Colombia is one of its most important partners in South America.