Colombia’s first leftwing president-elect, Gustavo Petro, is riding a wave of hope but will face intense challenges in trying to advance a progressive agenda that the country sorely needs.
In front of thousands of jubilant supporters packed into Bogota’s Movistar Arena, it was Francia Márquez, the newly elected vice-president, who gave the first victory speech.
‘Thank you for believing it possible to change the history of Colombia,’ she said to deafening cheers. Just a couple of hours earlier, on the evening of Sunday 19 June 2022 – a date that looks set to resonate in Colombian history – the election win of Márquez and the country’s next president, Gustavo Petro, had been confirmed. Their Historic Pact coalition crossed the 50 per cent share of votes needed to defeat entrepreneur Rodolfo Hernández and consign his bizarrely erratic candidacy to memory.
‘Greetings to the women of Colombia, to all my sisters,’ Márquez announced. ‘I want to send greetings to the Colombian youth who wore the t-shirts. To the children who were joyfully present in this dream. To the teachers and workers. To the disabled community, who were also with us. To the Indigenous people, who stood firm. To the peasant community. To my people, the Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero community!’
As Colombia’s first black woman vice-president paid tribute to the diverse social groups long excluded – often violently – from political and economic participation, the excitement rose. With celebrations underway in streets and plazas across the country, Márquez encapsulated in just a few words the government-elect’s representational character. Her message was clear: this is a government of and for the people. As the daughter of miners from one of Colombia’s many marginalised zones now addressed the country from the second-highest office in the land, few could disagree.
Márquez’s electoral slogan ‘vivir sabroso’ – loosely translated as ‘to live the fun times’ – was a masterstroke, far removed from the negative miseria-type discourse often used to describe life on the peripheries. Her campaign celebrated Colombians’ love of a good time, aligned with a political programme that confronted material hardship. The offer appeared to resonate with working people – the Historic Pact took around 80 per cent of the vote in underdeveloped and conflict-ravaged departments such as Chocó, Nariño and Márquez’s homeland of Cauca, statistically the most violent region in the country.
Márquez was followed onstage by the president-elect. ‘We are a demonstration that peace is possible in Colombia,’ Petro told the crowd, ‘that dreams can come true, dreams of justice, dreams of freedom.’ He pledged to fight inequality and climate change, to strengthen peace and to listen to all Colombians, including political opponents, to whom his door would always be open.
A third speaker, the only other person to take the microphone, emphasised the new direction that Petro and Márquez offer. Jenny Medina, a working-class woman from Bogota, held aloft a photo of her son, Dilan Cruz, who was killed, aged 18, by riot police during protests in November 2019. Although speaking to Petro directly, her words were addressed