Colombia’s New Leftist President Petro Vows To Fight Inequality

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BOGOTÁ — The third time was the charm for Gustavo Petro, the leftist firebrand, former guerrilla fighter and newly elected Colombian president who attributes his political awakening to seeing his father cry over the death of revolutionary Che Guevara.

The 62-year-old senator and former mayor of the capital Bogotá, jailed for his youthful role in the M-19 guerrilla group, won 50.4% of the vote in a close vote on Sunday, beating populist business tycoon Rodolfo Hernández. , who got 47.3% He had also run for president in 2010 and 2018.

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“A wave of young people decided today to take control of the polls, a wave of women decided today to take the polls,” Petro told supporters on Sunday night.

Petro has promised to address deep social and economic inequality in Colombia, where around half the population lives in some form of poverty, with free education, an ambitious tax reform valued at some $13.5 billion, and work to protect the rights of women.

Still, although left-wing parties won some 50 seats in congress in March’s legislative elections, Petro is unlikely to be able to pass reforms without the support of center parties.

Petro’s victory marks a turning point in Colombia, a traditionally conservative country where successive governments have vowed to address insecurity and violence linked to an armed conflict of almost six decades.

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“Colombia has never had a progressive government,” Petro told Reuters in a recent interview. “Every attempt in the last century has been doomed to violence.”


Petro, who alleges he was tortured by the military during his detention, first gained national recognition with impassioned speeches in Congress about the corruption and violence committed by right-wing paramilitary groups and their political allies.

He wants to raise taxes on owners of large tracts of unproductive land and start weaning Colombia off revenues from oil and coal, which he has described as poisons comparable to cocaine, perhaps the country’s main illegal export.

Petro was never a combatant with the M-19 – which in 1985 took the main judges hostage in a confrontation that left almost 100 dead – but he has had to campaign harshly against accusations that he will favor former guerrillas or institute policies similar to those that have caused social and economic damage. Economic crisis in neighboring Venezuela.

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The new president has scoffed at comparisons with Venezuelan leaders and has gone out of his way to calm fears among the business community.

Petro, a father of five, has also promised low-cost loans for small businesses and a redistribution of pensions to ensure that casual workers receive a minimum payment.

Petro has said he will shift Colombia’s relationship with its main ally, the United States, away from anti-narcotics policy and toward fighting climate change.

Members of Colombia’s armed forces are concerned that they face significant changes under Petro, including a complete restructuring of the police force. (Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)



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