Change of direction for America’s most important ally in South America: Former guerrilla Gustavo Petro narrowly won the presidential election in Colombia. According to the preliminary count, the former mayor of the capital Bogotá received 50.5 percent of the votes, as the electoral office announced on Sunday. The real estate entrepreneur Rodolfo Hernández received 47.3 percent.
This is the first time in recent Colombian history that an avowed leftist has moved into the presidential palace in Bogotá. The second most populous country in South America with around 50 million inhabitants is traditionally conservative. The social divide is wide, but left-wing politics has had a bad reputation so far due to the violence of guerrilla groups in decades of armed conflict.
“Today is a day of joy for the people,” Petro wrote on Twitter after the polls closed. “This is a victory for God and for people and their history. Today is Streets and Squares Day.”
The incumbent president also recognized the election victory of the former member of the guerrilla organization M-19. “I called Gustavo Petro to congratulate him as the elected president of the Colombian people,” conservative leader Iván Duque wrote on Twitter. “We have agreed to meet in the next few days to initiate a smooth, institutional and transparent transition.”
The losing candidate also conceded defeat. “The majority of citizens who voted today voted for the other candidate,” Hernández said in a video message. “I accept the result.”
In his own words, Petro wants to pacify the country, slow down the exploitation of raw materials, promote tourism and tax companies more heavily. This could also have consequences for Germany, which wants to import more coal from Colombia in the future because of the sanctions against Russia because of the war of aggression against Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) recently telephoned Colombian President Duque. According to a statement by the Presidential Office in Bogotá, Colombia is examining the possibility of increasing coal exports to Germany in order to strengthen its energy security.
However, coal imports from Colombia are very controversial in Germany – critics speak of “bloody coal”. For example, activists have complained about a series of human rights violations and environmental crimes around Colombia’s largest coal mine, El Cerrejón, in the north-east of the country.
For the United States, however, Colombia is the most important ally in the fight against drug trafficking. The South American country is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, which is mainly shipped to the United States and Europe. Colombia works closely with the US to fight drug smuggling and receives millions of dollars annually for cooperation in the war against drug criminals.
The challenges for the future head of state are great: Colombia is struggling with the economic consequences of the corona pandemic, great social injustice and violence. The incumbent conservative government only implemented the peace agreement with the FARC rebels half-heartedly.
For 52 years, Colombia suffered from a civil war between left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and state security forces. 220,000 people died and millions were displaced. In 2016, the government signed a peace treaty with the left-wing FARC guerrillas, and hopes for an upswing were high. But violence is back, especially in rural areas.