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Why Gustavo Petro's victory is so significant

Liberation welcomes the Colombian election result, the first time the brutally unequal nation so in the thrall of US influence, for years torn apart by civil war and drug traffickers, has ever been lead by a left-winger

FOLLOWING the recent presidential vote in Colombia, Liberation welcomes the victory of the Historic Pact alliance and the election of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez to the roles of President and Vice-President.

The politics of Colombia has for too long been dominated by the right-wing parties, representing the interests of the wealthy and aligned to the foreign policy diktats of the US.

The World Bank study of Colombia’s economy, Building an Equitable Society in Colombia (2021), noted that the “country has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, the second highest among 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the highest among all OECD countries.”

The report is an indictment of the policies which have kept the Colombian people impoverished and unrepresented in the corridors of power for decades.

The Colombian ruling class bowed down to the US in 1921 when the US government paid Colombia for its loss of Panama to build the canal. The period known and La Violencia (“the violence”) from 1948 to 1958 saw the oligarchy attempt to crush all opposition, leading to the armed conflict which followed from 1964 onwards, with the left ranged against the ruling oligarchy and the narco-traffickers.

The death toll from this war is said to be well over 250,000, with moments of peace broken largely by right-wing paramilitary violence, as in 1990-91, when the left came above ground but saw its presidential candidates assassinated. The left, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), held significant terrain in the interior of the country during this civil war.

The accord reached in 2016, brokered in Havana, provided a first step towards peace although the revelations of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has continued to shock the world.

However in 2019 protests broke out in Colombia as large sections of the public were angered by the government’s failure to properly honour the Peace Accords and by the assassinations of social movement leaders. In addition, the government used Colombia as a base for the US policy of destabilisation of Venezuela.

As the country struggled more than usual due to the pandemic, the unions and the excluded population took to the streets to protest against the government’s austerity budget. The government response to the Covid-19 pandemic increased the number of people who are living in poverty to 42.5 per cent of the population, up from 34.7 per cent in 2018.

Colombia has continued to be a US ally in frustrating the efforts of the progressive countries of Latin America, especially Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, in their efforts to forge a path free from US interference.

The election results in Colombia add to a growing progressive momentum in Latin America. This has even extended to the President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, boycotting the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles recently, in protest against the US exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.  

The Mexican president was joined by the leaders of Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, and Honduras, while others, including left-wing leaders in Chile and Argentina, criticised the US decision while still confirming their attendance.

The new government in Colombia will undoubtedly face challenges in implementing its programme of addressing inequality and tackling the entrenched privileges of the wealthy. Mass mobilisation within the country and international solidarity across Latin America and beyond will be vital to maintaining popular support.

Liberation will do all it can to support the cause of freedom and democracy across Latin America. In particular we will continue to champion the cause of freedom from the grip of US imperialism, which has been the main brake upon progress throughout Latin America for over a century.

We welcome the election of Petro and Marquez as a historic step forward for the people of Colombia and a further recognition of the need for progressive policies to advance the cause of freedom and democracy across Latin America.

Liberation will work with the labour and trade union movement across Britain to build understanding and solidarity with the people of Colombia and across Latin America. We will continue to oppose the interventionist and regressive role played by US imperialism. We look forward to a future of peace and democracy for the people of Colombia.

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