By Dr Aparaajita Pandey
It was not long ago that the streets of Bogota were aloud with the chants of ‘Duque Ciao’. In the thick of the pandemic when most of the globe was confined to their home; looking at the rest of the world from their balconies; the Colombians decided to occupy the streets with their pots and pans and protest against the monetary and fiscal difficulties that they were facing on a daily basis. Since Colombia has a policy of no consecutive terms for serving Presidents, the protests would have meant little more than administrative disruptions to the former Colombian President, Ivan Duque. However, one could see that Colombians were ready for change and this election stands testament to that need for change.
Times have not exactly been kind to Colombia; strife has been synonymous with the nation. Whether it the long drawn civil war with the rebels from Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), or the continuing menace of illicit Narco trade that has now transformed into Narco- terrorism. Colombia has traditionally been a country that has leaned towards the right when it comes to politics. There are often no singular explanations for such trends; one can deduce that an amalgamation of the factors might be held responsible for the traditional Colombian tilt towards the right. The fact that Colombia witnessed wide-spread violence at the hands of the FARC rebels for fifty years plays a vital role in the Colombian distrust of the Marxist – Leninist political leanings, there is also the fact that Colombia has experienced extensive interference and influence of the US in its internal affairs. The US’s intervention in Colombia due to the ‘War on Drugs’ has left a mark on Colombian administration and politics.
However, as Latin America turns itself a pinkish hue; Colombians decided that they liked the shade. The former Bogota mayor, Gustavo Petro became the President of the country and his primary opponent; the so-called ‘tik tok’ –Rodolfo Hernandez, candidate gracefully conceded much before the entirety of the votes were even counted. In another time and another political wave; Hernandez could have potentially found himself dubbed the ideal candidate. He had the makings of another ‘tropical Trump’. His extensive use of social media, the fact that he is an outsider and a millionaire businessman who is quite akin to Trump showed his dislikes for traditional politics and wanted to fight corruption.
However, as Colombia decided to shift to the left, they chose Gustavo Petro who is unlike any of the recent Colombian Presidents or any of his competitors. He is an ex-guerrilla fighter who was previously the mayor of Bogota. His mayoral tenure cannot be termed as a roaring success either. It was in his term that Bogota had hills of garbage piled up on its streets; since one of his decisions was not agreed upon by the sanitation division. However, it was his current promises that won him the endearment of his people. He promised higher taxes for the rich, diversification of the economy, and no exploration for new oil fields to combat environmental degradation. These promises have gone down well with largely the middle – class, and the lower – middle class populations, specifically young professionals; youth that are employed or attaining higher education, people starting families and in the early stages of their lives usually without generational wealth. If one looks at the elections in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, as well as the trends in Brazil; one can witness this similarity across the board. It is also imperative to remember that approximately fifty-eight per cent of the thirty-one million strong voters have cast their votes in the election.
Both candidates pandered to the youth as elections across Latin America have shown that it is the millennials and gen Z that are old enough to vote; which has become the deciding factor in election victories. It was Petro who managed to hit the trifecta of promising a more equal society, conserving the environment, and a brighter future.
Petro has an uphill battle ahead of him, while his campaign promises were a hit with the voters, Colombians are now holding their breath for better days, and effective change takes time. It is close to impossible for Colombia to move away from crude oil, and it would have to build capacity before the economy can diversify. The rich have never wanted to be taxed more, and Petro doesn’t hold the majority in Colombian congress which makes it rather difficult to implement change of policy.
With the Brazilian election coming up it would be interesting to see if Latin America turns pink once again.
(Author has a PhD. In Latin American Studies from the Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and is an independent political strategist. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).