Colombia elects its first leftist president — but Petro was anything but South Florida's choice
Gustavo Petro's supporters hope he'll fix Colombia's gaping economic inequality — but South Florida expats fear he'll imitate Latin America's socialist regimes.
On Sunday, Colombia elected its first-ever leftist president, Senator Gustavo Petro — but he was hardly the choice of South Florida’s large Colombian diaspora, or even Democratic politicians here who represent them.
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“As of today, Colombia changes,” Petro said in his victory speech in Bogotá Sunday night. And the fact that a former leftist guerrilla is now Colombia’s President-elect — Petro, who is also the former mayor of Bogotá, once belonged to the now defunct M-19 rebel group — is a tectonic change.
Petro’s supporters hope most of all he’ll fix Colombia’s economic inequality, which is among the hemisphere’s worst, and that he'll implement the raft of social projects that are part of a 2016 peace plan that ended the country's half-century-long civil war. The failure (critics say refusal) of current right-wing President Iván Duque to follow through with them, especially during the economic pain of the pandemic, helped lead to angry street protests across Colombia in recent years.
"Peace will finally be taken seriously," said Carlos Naranjo, who heads the nonprofit group Colombian Progressives in Miami.
“And that means social justice, right? Like education, land reform — and environmental justice, a mode of organizing our economy taking into account the realities of the 21st century.”
(Part of Petro's platform is phasing out oil and other fossil fuel production in Colombia and pivoting to cleaner renewable energy sources.)
But Naranjo is in the minority in South Florida’s Colombian community, the largest in the U.S. It's estimated between 80% and 90% of eligible expats here voted for Petro’s opponent, Rodolfo Hernández.
Many expats were victims of leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia — and they fear Petro will imitate authoritarian socialist regimes like the one next door to Colombia in Venezuela, or those in Cuba and Nicaragua.
Petro denies that's his aim. But Democratic state enator and congressional candidate Annette Taddeo of Miami, a Colombian American who also did not support Petro, said the U.S. needs to be vigilant about Petro's presidency.
“I do respect the very democratic vote" in Colombia," Taddeo told WLRN. "But we need to make sure respect of the Constitution, property rights and other things are upheld.
"I think Petro has a tremendous opportunity to not be like those other [leftist governments in Latin America] that have gone the wrong way.”
Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s first Black vice president.