Colombia Elects Leftist Militant as President

Voters in Colombia elected former guerrilla militant Gustavo Petro in the South American nation’s Sunday runoff. Petro, 62, received 50.5% of the vote. Political outsider and real estate businessman Rodolfo Hernandez, 77, took 47.3%.

Petro has a history with violent insurgency groups and was a member of the 19th of April Movement. That Marxist group became well-known after breaking into the Colombian Palace of Justice in 1985. The raid resulted in the deaths of around 100 people. Half of the nation’s Supreme Court judges were killed in the guerilla attack.

That attack took place while Petro was in jail on weapons charges. After his release in 1987, he made public statements that he no longer believed that violent revolution was the best way to improve Colombia. The 19th of April Movement disbanded later that decade.

After the election on Sunday, Petro declared his victory was “for God and the people and their history.”

Petro is currently a Colombian senator and won in his third run for the presidency. As the country’s first leftist to be elected president, he called for national unity during his victory speech. He addressed his political opponents by saying his government will never engage in legal or political persecution, “only respect and dialogue.”

Francia Marquez is Petro’s running mate and will become Colombia’s first black vice president. Marquez is a lawyer and environmental activist who has faced violent threats and one bombing attack because of her public opposition to illegal mining.

Voters turned against the centrist and right-leaning politicians who have long led the nation amid public dissatisfaction with inflation, violence, and inequality.

Honduras, Peru, and Chile also elected leftist presidents in the last year. In Brazil, a leftist former president is leading the polls for the election coming up there later this year.

Petro’s narrow win is causing concern among many voters who are familiar with the problems faced by neighboring Venezuela as a result of its troubled leftist governmental history. Hernandez supporter Karin Ardila Garcia told reporters that she hopes that Petro does not lead the nation to “communism, to socialism, to a war where they continue to kill us in Colombia” or to become “another Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Chile.”