Press Release Colombia Latin America and the Caribbean World

Colombian Voters Are Rejecting the Status Quo, and a New CEPR Report Looks at Why

June 15, 2022

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460Mail_Outline

New Report Examines Economic and Political Factors in Colombian Elections

Washington, DC — Ahead of Sunday’s run-off elections in Colombia, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines the Colombian economy, and how the country’s ongoing peace process, political violence, and narcotrafficking and other crime — as well as Colombia’s high levels of poverty and inequality — may be affecting voter sentiment. The report notes that Colombia’s relatively high rates of poverty and inequality may be significant factors in voters choosing presidential candidates who appear as anti-establishment politicians.

Colombia has much worse poverty and inequality than most of the region, even though its GDP per capita is in the middle of distribution for Latin American countries. Income inequality in Colombia is the worst in a region with one of the most unequal distributions of income in the world, the new report, “What’s at Stake in Colombia’s Presidential Election: Building Peace, Reducing Poverty and Inequality,” by Guillaume Long, Mark Weisbrot, Francisco Rodríguez, and Joe Sammut notes.

“The strong voter support for progressive presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is not surprising, considering Colombia’s exceptionally high levels of poverty, extreme poverty, and inequality,” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and coauthor of the report. “It got much worse with COVID.”

The report notes that Colombia had many more people living in extreme poverty (5.2 million) in 2020 than Brazil did (3.6 million), despite the fact that Brazil has a population more than four times the size of Colombia’s. This disparity worsened during the pandemic and recession in 2020.

In addition to serious economic challenges affecting Colombia’s population, the report considers issues of crime, security, and political violence and how candidates Petro and Rodolfo Hernández, respectively, might respond to them. “The biggest obstacle to the implementation of the 2016 peace accords has been the Duque government’s lack of commitment to its application,” the report states. “What a new government will do, or not do, to advance the peace process is thus crucial.”

The report notes that both candidates say they support the peace process, but that Hernández voted against the peace accords in the 2016 referendum. The authors find that he would be more likely to be swayed by factions aligned with former president Álvaro Uribe, who has been the most influential opponent of the current peace process.

Both candidates are running as outsiders to the political establishment. Petro has proposed a universal public health care system, land reform, and strengthening public education — including universal, free kindergarten; increasing school enrollment; and increased spending on education. Hernández, who is seen as a right-wing populist, has some proposals that, although more vague and less detailed, would be reforms: expanding rural housing and infrastructure, as well as health care and education, and increasing access to drinking water and basic sanitation.

“Hernández’s problem, if he is serious about positive reforms, is that he has almost no allies in Congress and would likely have to rely on the right-wing establishment that favors the status quo — on economic and social policy, as well as on peace and security,” said Guillaume Long, a senior policy analyst at CEPR, and coauthor of the report.

“Petro, by contrast, has about a quarter of the Congress, which is at least a start. And he has a strong political base that wants the progressive reforms that he has been fighting for, for many years, as a congressman, senator, and mayor of Bogota.” 

This includes the 17 left-of-center parties aligned in his electoral group, the Historic Pact, Long said, and can count on the support of other grassroots political organizations such as the political wing of the historic National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). This is the largest and oldest Indigenous group in Colombia.

Guillaume Long is a senior policy analyst at CEPR. He trained as a historian and holds a Ph.D. in International Politics from the University of London. (Full bio here.)

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. (Full bio here.)

Francisco R. Rodríguez is a visiting senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Rodríguez is a Venezuelan economist, and received an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. (Full bio here.)

Joe Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is a doctoral student at Queen Mary University of London. He holds an MPhil from the University of Oxford and a BSc from the London School of Economics. (Full bio here.)


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