Press Release Latin America and the Caribbean World

First-Place Finish by Progressive Candidate a “Triumph for Democracy” in Colombia, CEPR Analysts Say

May 31, 2022

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460Mail_Outline

Washington, DC — Progressive candidate Gustavo Petro received the most votes in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections, and will head to a June 19 runoff against populist right candidate Rodolfo Hernández. With 99.9 percent of votes counted in the rapid count, Petro had a little over 40 percent of the vote, followed by Hernández with 28 percent.

“This election already represents a major victory for Colombia’s left, and shows that the vast majority of Colombians want real change from a status quo that has produced deep economic and racial inequality, horrific state and paramilitary violence, and policies that often prioritize US objectives at the expense of Colombians’ well-being and the country’s relations with its Latin American neighbors,” Center for Economic and Policy Research Director of International Policy Alex Main said today.

If Petro prevails in the June 19 run-off election, he will become Colombia’s first left-wing president in its modern history, and his running mate, Francia Márquez Mina, an environmental and feminist activist of humble origins, will become Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian vice president. Petro and Márquez ran on the Pacto Histórico coalition ticket on a platform of increasing taxes on the wealthy elite, moving away from fossil fuels, changing Colombia’s approach to the US-led War on Drugs, and resuming relations with the Venezuelan government in neighboring Venezuela, among other issues. Hernández, of the Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción, ran on a murky “anticorruption” platform, promoted on TikTok, and has a provocative, violent, xenophobic, and sexist rhetoric and style that bears resemblance to Donald Trump. Hernández notably avoided participating in electoral debates ahead of the election.

A clear takeaway from this election is voters’ rejection of the legacy of former president Álvaro Uribe, who waged a vast US-backed military offensive, against insurgent groups, that spawned massive human rights violations, and he later aggressively opposed the country’s historic peace agreement. After 2018, President Iván Duque, a close Uribe ally, failed to implement key provisions from the peace agreement, leading to the virtual abandonment of large parts of the country ravaged by decades of armed conflict. In the first round of the current presidential election, Federico Gutiérrez — the candidate closely aligned with Uribismo  — ended up with only 23.8 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Petro — who has committed to fully implementing the peace agreement — won handily in the departments most heavily affected by Colombia’s internal conflict.  

“It is encouraging for a Colombian presidential candidate to receive a large plurality of votes who favors democratization, the deepening of the ongoing peace process, and reducing Colombia’s high poverty rates, in spite of the frequent death threats and intimidation directed at Petro, Márquez, and their supporters,” Main said. 

The electoral campaign was marred by violence targeting supporters of the Pacto Histórico and social movement activists. In the pre-election period of 2022, 70 community and environmental leaders have been assassinated — despite the fact that in most cases the Colombian authorities were alerted regarding the death threats that these leaders were facing, according to human rights NGO Indepaz.

“We saw some problems with this election, not the least of which were the brazen attempts to scare off Petro and Márquez and to intimidate their supporters from voting,” said Guillaume Long, CEPR senior policy analyst who is in Colombia as an election observer. “While no one can say how these and other irregularities affected voter turnout and the final results, this is still a historic day for Colombia.”


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