Depending on your political perspective, Colombia’s decision to elect its first-ever leftist leader is historic, an experiment, or dangerously uncharted territory.
Petro Gustavo is a controversial pick to take the reins of Latin America’s third most populous nation and its closest US ally. A former guerrilla, he is mistrusted by many older voters who witnessed the nation’s long period of violent conflict.
Investors regard him with deep suspicion due to his program of radical change, including plans to tax big landowners, revive ties with socialist Venezuela, and phase out oil and coal to protect the environment — potentially depriving Colombia of about half its export revenue.
His election along with Francia Marquez, who becomes the Andean nation’s first Afro-Colombian vice president, was driven by younger voters looking for alternatives after decades of governments led by mainstream politicians. The result upends the country’s economic and political model, and will likely impact ties with Washington.
More broadly, Colombia’s choice marks another step in Latin America’s demand for change, as inequalities exposed by the pandemic are exacerbated by inflation. In neighboring Peru and Chile, other long-standing darlings of investors, voters have opted for anti-establishment leaders in the past year.
The key test will come in Brazil, the region’s largest economy and a commodities superpower, where the populist incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the leftist former president, are slogging it out ahead of October’s election.
With Colombia’s vote, a bulwark of conservatism in Latin America has been swept away, with uncertain results.
It’s a warning to governments worldwide that electorates are angry and prepared to act out their frustrations at the ballot box, regardless of the volatility it produces. — Alan Crawford
Petro and Marquez at an election night rally. Photographer: Andres Cardona/Bloomberg