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The Left is finally rising in Colombia

Last week’s election in Colombia saw the best result for the Left in decades and confirmed Gustavo Petro as favorite to become the country’s first socialist president. It’s a major shift in a country that has long been dominated by US-backed right-wing leaders.
by Carlos Cruz Mosquera  

Part 1

Colombia’s left-wing and progressive coalition, Pacto Historico, has become the country’s most popular political movement following the congressional elections on Sunday, March 13. This historical victory threatens two hundred years of ruling-class hegemony, with most of the coalition’s representatives coming from campesino and working-class backgrounds. Depending on what happens in May’s presidential election, this win could have global reverberations. Crucially, the West stands to lose the unconditional loyalty of its most stable ally in the region.

Gustavo Petro, the coalition’s presidential candidate, comes from a family of rural workers who, like many in the country, were forced to migrate toward the capital to escape poverty and violence. As expected, Petro won the coalition’s primaries with more than four million votes. Francia Marquez, a rural black activist within the alliance, also made history with close to a million votes — more than all the mainstream candidates received in their respective primaries, and despite having never held a political post.

Although the progressive coalition is the most dominant political force in the country, the center and right-wing parties are now forming their alliance to impede their progress toward the presidency in May. What happens next depends on Pacto Historico’s ability to mobilize first-time and swing voters and persuade the more popular center parties and leaders to join the coalition, a feat Petro failed at in the 2018 elections.

The centrists who purport to represent an alternative to the country’s polarized political camps are, in all but name, part of the country’s traditional conservative right-wing elites. Petro’s moderate policy proposals, closer to the center than the centrists are, have alarmed these elites and their Western allies. Petro and his coalition demand a cautious redistribution of the country’s vast wealth and insist his brand of leftism is different from the processes in Cuba and Venezuela. He recently quipped that the rich need not fear him as no one was “expropriated” during his time as Bogota’s mayor.

However, it is not Petro’s moderate economic policies that the country’s Western-backed elites fear, so much as the possibility of the opening of the democratic political space. And they are right to be wary. For more than two centuries, Colombia has boasted of being the longest-serving consecutive democracy in Latin America, having never experienced the region’s all too common coup d’états and dictatorships. What has existed, nonetheless, is two centuries of oligarchic dictatorship. The ruling classes have been able to monopolize the country’s political system with a democratic façade in which the nation’s wealthy families share power via the liberal or democratic parties, or in recent history, their offshoots.

The Pacto Historico, despite being moderate, would be a definitive break with two centuries of elite rule, with consequences for both the country and the region. Crucially, its insistence on properly implementing the 2016 peace accords and demilitarization could allow more radical political movements to develop and contest political power — something that, until now, has been suppressed using Western-backed military and paramilitary force and state misinformation.

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