Gustavo Petro, from imprisoned guerrilla to Colombia’s first left-wing leader

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Bogotá (AFP) – Colombia’s first leftist president, Gustavo Petro, elected on Sunday, is a former guerrilla who spent two years in prison before turning to politics.

He won 50.49% of the vote in the second round with 99.7% of ballots counted, after a tense and unpredictable campaign against maverick millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez.

But 10.5 million people voted against him in the second round, in a country with a total population of around 50 million, underscoring a potentially bumpy road ahead.

“It must be understood that a significant part of the country did not want Petro to become president,” Sergio Guzman, president of the consulting firm Colombia Risk Analysis, told AFP.

Petro, 62, was mayor of Bogota from 2012 to 2015 – a stint that was not without controversy and spawned unflattering accounts of his management style and alleged despotic tendencies.

He has “a very impetuous and authoritarian temperament, and when he insisted on carrying out his proposals … he failed to convince the various sectors to put them into practice,” said Daniel Garcia-Pena, an adviser to Petro at the time. .

Petro also drew widespread criticism as mayor for a chaotic plan to nationalize garbage collection.

A self-proclaimed “revolutionary” warrior for the marginalized – black and indigenous, poor and young – Petro promises to fight hunger and inequality.

It was his third presidential run.

“He believes it’s his destiny…that he’s the only person who can save Colombia,” said a source close to the president-elect.

guerrilla organizer

The father of six is ​​considered a good speaker, but not necessarily charismatic. He is a card buff and a big social media user.

Born into a modest family on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Petro embraced leftist politics as a teenager after the 1973 coup in Chile that toppled Marxist President Salvador Allende.

He joined the urban guerrilla group M-19 when he was 17, but later insisted his role in Colombia’s decades of civil war was that of an organizer, never a combatant.

Petro was captured by the army in 1985 and claimed to have been tortured before spending almost two years in prison for possessing weapons.

He was released and the M-19 signed a peace accord with the government in 1990. Since then he has served as a lower house deputy, senator and mayor.

‘Smart’, ‘ambitious’

Petro’s critics have sought to portray him as a radical populist who will cause a Venezuelan-style economic collapse.

He, however, spoke out against the regime of the “banana republic” of neighboring Colombia and swore that there would be no expropriation under his watch.

Gustavo Petro, 62, is a card buff and social media enthusiast DANIEL MUNOZAFP

“I can’t imagine Petro would pursue this for two reasons: his whole adult life has been chasing the grand prize as Colombian president and he’s smart enough to know that Venezuela is a complete disaster,” he said. said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue. think tank, told AFP.

In a country with a tradition of political assassinations, Petro is no stranger to death threats and travels in a convoy of around ten armored vehicles accompanied by motorcycle police, an ambulance and snipers.

He said he would reopen negotiations with Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla group, the ELN, and seek to peacefully dismantle the drug trade.

“It’s a very ambitious plan, but very important, because it’s the only real way out of the conflict,” Elizabeth Dickinson, Colombian analyst at the International Crisis Group in Bogota, told AFP.

Petro has made it its mission to tackle climate change, somewhat controversially by phasing out exploration for crude oil, a major source of revenue for Colombia.

He was also accused of playing a “dangerous” game by regularly raising potential fraud before Sunday’s vote, and on the day itself.

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