On June 19th, Colombia elected its first progressive president after decades of conservative and neoliberal domination. Gustavo Petro and vice president-elect Francia Marquez led a coalition of marginalized voters to a history-making victory. Historically, Colombia has been one of the most conservative countries in Latin America and an enthusiastic participant in the US-led war on drugs.
Such a historic victory is not only a triumph for the people of Colombia, but for all Black, marginalized, revolutionary, and progressives across the globe. It is a beacon of hope in what seems to be increasingly dark times that lie ahead in places like the United States. It is undeniable proof that revolutionary activism, not simply voting alone, is essential to achieving major political results and social change.
In Colombia, despite early polls indicating a tight race, Gustavo Petro won 50.5% of the vote while his opponent, Rodolfo Hernandez, received 47.3%. Hernandez was a wealthy right-wing candidate who claimed to want to end corruption in Colombia despite being infamously known for and charged with corruption allegations himself. Throughout the campaign, He was often described as a “Colombian Trump,” given his emergence by means of social media, fake news, and unconventional conservative style. He also defeated the mainstream politicians who have traditionally controlled Colombia from the center-right.
The failure of the mainstream center-right or neoliberal parties to even make it to the runoff is a further illustration of just how exhausted the people of Colombia are with politics as usual. The previous government under Ivan Duque triggered massive protests and riots when he attempted to raise taxes on the middle class while shielding the wealthy elite. For many, Petro’s victory is the culmination of those recent protests as well as decades of revolutionary activism and even warfare on the part of the progressive movement in Colombia.
Petro has since denounced violence and has been a public servant performing several roles including both mayor and a senator. He has pledged to end Colombia’s disastrous war on drugs and to radically restructure the economy away from oil extraction and excessive mining. Most importantly, he has vowed to be an ally to the nation’s marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples.
His running mate and the first Black female Vice President of Colombia, Francia Marquez, rose to prominence through her tenacious activism on behalf of Afro Colombians who make up over 10% of the Colombian population. She also grabbed headlines with her ferocious opposition to unchecked deforestation and mining that has devastated Colombia’s natural landscape. Before becoming a prominent activist, Marquez earned a living as a maid, making her rise to power historic even more iconic. It has been reported that she has even experienced assassination attempts due to her activism. During the election, Petro and Marquez routinely canceled or relocated rallies last minute to avoid potential assassination attempts.
Their victory is a shock to Colombia’s traditional political establishment but is in line with the general left tide that is sweeping Latin America. In recent months Latin America has witnessed the rise of left-wing governments in Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Honduras. But in many ways, the progressive victory in Colombia is a crowning achievement given its conservative background and it’s an indication of just how powerful the current political revolution in Latin America is. If a progressive can win in Colombia, then a progressive can win almost anywhere in Latin America.
In the US, it is often easy to get discouraged seeing the rise of Trump, a far-right supreme court, Christian fascism, and other right-wing movements gain ground. It is easy to look back to the civil rights movement and wonder if we have truly made any substantial progress (especially given recent events like the Buffalo Massacre and Roe V. Wade). It is, however, important to remember that civil rights, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, and other allied movements are global struggles. Colombia is plagued with the same racism and capitalism rampant in America. The left won by appealing to the popular desire for an end to corruption and violence at the hands of the police and right-wing militias in Colombia.
As we continue to fight against violent, racist, white supremacist systems and movements in the U.S., we should take inspiration from radical and successful movements such as the recent victory in Colombia.