DECADES ago, Gustavo Petro was a member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla group, a nationalist organisation seeking to open up democracy in an oft-dictatorial environment.
On Sunday, Petro enjoyed a slightly different atmosphere to the dark days of 20th century Colombian ‘democracy’. Spanish King Felipe VI was among the 100,000 people that watched him assume the presidency, having dealt conservative Ivan Duque an impressive defeat in June.
He’ll face his challenges, of course.
There are still armed groups threatening to incite violence across the nation. Colombia’s slow economic growth, high levels of corruption and crumbling health and education services await reform.
With regards to the ‘War on Drugs’ waged by Washington in Latin America, Petro took aim at the US for a policy which has unlocked violence across the continent.
He said: “It’s time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed.
“Of course peace is possible. But it depends on current drug policies being substituted with strong measures that prevent consumption in developed societies.”
But Petro’s ambitious agenda – which includes increasing raxes on the rich, banning fracking and reforming the pensions system – could well survive because of the political atmosphere building on the continent.
Whereas a decade ago he would have to deal with adversaries, now the Colombian President finds allies on the majority of borders.
Petro is likely not only to survive, but build leftist authority in Colombia as part of a growing group of left-wing political movements which have reigned supreme in Latin America in recent years (known as the Pink Tide).
This is especially important in light of an American backlash – or at the very least, a withdrawal of democratic and political support.
Though President Joe Biden has indicated no ill will with Bogota thus far, contrasting voices have started to emerge from the floor.
Last week Ted Cruz accused the Biden administration of being “ideologically committed to systematically alienating our allies and empowering our enemies”.
He added: “With yet more weakness and appeasement. Both Joe Biden and Secretary of State Blinken effusively congratulated Petro – ‘how great, an anti-American Marxist in a close ally of ours in Latin America!’”
If the US were still under Donald Trump, these words may hold more weight. But they are a stark reminder that, even after internally conquering conservative forces, south American leftist leaders still face a looming imperial threat.
“We want true equality. Today begins an egalitarian government,” Petro said in his opening speech.
The Latin American leftist machine rolls on.
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