The new air for Latin America | OP-ED
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Two hundred and three years after its independence from Spain, Colombia took an unprecedented political leap forward with the victory of Gustavo Petro in the presidential elections of June 19th.
Petro, one of the most outstanding congressmen and former Mayor of Bogota, has the promise to improve living conditions for Colombians in one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 22 million poor people, effectively implement the peace agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), combat high levels of corruption and change the country’s international policy. Not an easy task in the midst of immense internal polarization, perhaps the most difficult task to solve.
Precisely, international policy will be key to achieve domestic purposes. In the last four years, under the government of Iván Duque, a right-wing Government promoted by former President Álvaro Uribe, Colombia concentrated its actions on confronting Venezuela, meddling in the presidential elections in the United States in favor of Donald Trump and picking fights within and outside the region. It even failed to implement the peace agreement with FARC, which had had the full backing of the international community, represented by the United States, the European Union and the UN Security Council.
With Petro, according to what he has said throughout an intense campaign and in his speech as elected president, it is clear that he will not be the same as Duque. He prefers multilateralism, to relate with the world without blockades or exceptions. He has even expressed that “there must be recognition and respect for the diversity that exists in the continent”. On June 19th, he said in his speech as elected president that the region is also “Afro-America, indigenous America, Anglo-Saxon America”.
That means that he will unfreeze relations with Venezuela, a very important neighbor for Colombia, once one of its main trading partners, but mainly for the communities living on the border and suffering in the flesh the effects of the problems between the two Governments. Of course, more so during the pandemic and critical with the stampede of thousands of Venezuelan families when the economy of their country hit rock bottom. Duque promoted the fall of the government of Nicolás Maduro and supported Juan Guaidó, proclaimed by the opposition and backed by several countries as President, but without effective functions.
Another key issue has to do with the struggle against climate change. Petro has proposed the United States and all the states of the continent to accelerate the steps for energy transition. Even, without mentioning it, he referred to the countries that focus their income on oil and its derivative fuels. “I ask them to stop thinking about high oil prices. I propose them to think that they can develop from agriculture and industrialization”, to think of “a productive and non-extractivist Latin America”.
In the case of Latin America, Petro aims at integration within the differences. “I propose to Latin America to integrate more decisively, I propose to Colombia to look at ourselves as the Latin Americans that we are”, he said on June 19th.
During the campaign, he reaffirmed his position to rethink the anti-narcotics policy, which has failed and involves the United States, and to review the Free Trade Agreement with this country. Luis Gilberto Murillo, Afro-Colombian leader, associate professor at MIT and, in these elections, vice-presidential formula of Sergio Fajardo, candidate of the center, had also expressed himself in this sense.
Finally, these new winds involve an important bloc of progressive Governments in Latin America, represented by Petro, in Colombia; Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in Mexico; Gabriel Boric, in Chile; Xiomara Castro, in Honduras; Luis Arce, in Bolivia; and, most likely, Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, in Brazil, favorite to win the October elections.
It is expected that dialogue will flow and mutual interests and needs will be brought closer with Joe Biden’s administration. For all these reasons, the victory of the left in Colombia is news that has an impact on this part of the world.