Colombia’s Left Turn: A New Chapter?

By |2/July/2022|

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

WATCH: How the Left Won Colombia

By |25/June/2022|

Alborada co-editor Pablo speaks to the UK’s Not the Andrew Marr Show about Gustavo Petro’s victory in Colombia.

Watch the video interview here or below.




Book Review: Coup

By |23/June/2022|

The new book by Linda Farthing and Thomas Becker dissects the rightwing coup that toppled Bolivia’s elected government in 2019.

‘I lived through two past dictatorships. This is even worse.’ The haunting words of a veteran television reporter in November 2019. His is one of the many voices from across the social and political spectrum included in this timely and accessible overview of the coup which devastated Bolivia that year.

Coup: A Story of Violence and Resistance in Bolivia, co-written by journalist-scholar Linda Farthing and lawyer Tommy Becker, vividly documents the coup of 2019 and the processes that unfolded to enable it. A powerful rightwing and middle-class protest movement had mobilised to oust then-president Evo Morales and his party, the Movement towards Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS), in a violent power-grab which would jeopardise the major social progresses of the previous 14 years. By the end of the month, barricades lined the streets of major cities and massacres by state troops left at least 20 civilians dead.

Becker has a background in defending victims of Bolivian state violence, having led the landmark lawsuit against Bolivia’s former president Gonzalo ‘Goni’ Sanchez de Lozada for his role in ordering a massacre of Indigenous people in 2003. Linda Farthing is a well-established reporter on Bolivian affairs in media and academic outlets. Both were eyewitnesses to the events described in the book. (Farthing and I co-authored this article on violence in Bolivia while we were in La Paz at the time.)

The strength of the book lies in its array of vignettes; short and usually anonymous testimonies from scholars, taxi drivers, street sellers and teachers from cities and rural areas. It is speckled with illustrative quotes from scholars and thinkers from Bolivia which enrich and inform the narrative. The powerful photographs taken by Becker are a major highlight.

In chapters three and four, the book addresses the achievements of the MAS between 2005 and 2019. The social transformations initiated by the social movement-backed party are not in dispute, even by their staunchest critics. Maternal mortality dropped by almost 40 per cent, while extreme poverty and illiteracy dramatically reduced. Daily incidents of racial discrimination, it is suggested, are less commonplace today.

The authors outline how the coup unleashed a wave of political persecution and an assault on the progressive gains of the previous two decades: ‘We feel like we’ve gone back forty or fifty years in a week,’ the authors quote one woman in La Paz. The newly-installed regime immediately targeted trade unionists, civic leaders and politicians associated with the MAS. ‘I felt fear like I never had before,’ an anonymous political official says. By early 2020, the coup regime of Jeanine Añez had pressed charges against more than 100 MAS politicians and 600 former officials and their families for ‘sedition’ or ‘terrorism.’

Chapter five, which addresses the massacres of Sacaba and Senkata, is perhaps the strongest section. After the military intervened to ‘suggest’ that Morales resign, rightwing evangelical senator Áñez assumed power, declaring that ‘the Bible has returned to the

Indestructible Podcast #12 – Colombia’s Presidential Election

By |17/June/2022|

In the twelfth episode of Indestructible Rodrigo interviews Alborada contributing editor Carlos Cruz Mosquera.

Indestructible: Latin America with Rodrigo Acuña is a new podcast from Alborada bringing you monthly discussions with some of the most interesting voices working on and from Latin America.

In this twelfth episode of Indestructible Podcast, Rodrigo speaks to speaks to Carlos Cruz Mosquera about Colombia’s 2022 presidential election. Carlos is a Colombian PhD candidate and teaching associate at Queen Mary, University of London.

The podcast is available on Spotify and other podcast streaming websites.

Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Please consider supporting the podcast on Patreon.

::: Episode 12:

Colombia’s Presidential Election: An Interview with Carlos Cruz Mosquera

Listen to episode 12 on Audioboom and a range of other podcast streaming websites

Click here to go to the Indestructible homepage.

Presented by Alborada contributing editor Rodrigo Acuña

Produced and edited by Pablo Navarrete

Music by Chylez Productions.

Please consider supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Get in touch with the podcast: info [at] alborada [dot] net

Colombia’s New Dawn?

By |17/June/2022|

Grassroots civil society has long fought to overcome Colombia’s dire record of inequality and violence. Now, the country may finally elect a government with the political will to reciprocate those efforts.

Colombians head to the polls this Sunday for a presidential election that will determine the country’s political trajectory for the next four years – and far beyond. With the two candidates offering vastly contrasting visions of the country, the tightly-poised contest carries ramifications likely to be felt long after the 2022-2026 electoral term ends.

At the head of the progressive Historic Pact coalition, Gustavo Petro has campaigned on a platform of strengthening human rights and environmental protections, increased social investment and implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the then-government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Petro and the Pact’s vice-presidential candidate, the African-Colombian social activist and feminist organiser Francia Márquez, have drawn strong support from social groups long marginalised under Colombia’s exclusionary political system: young people, women, ethnic minorities and the working class. A victory for the Historic Pact would bring about the first leftist government in Colombia’s history.

Facing the Historic Pact is the rightwing businessman Rodolfo Hernández, a former mayor in the city of Bucaramanga. In a surprise result, Hernández was runner-up in the election’s first round on 29 May, ahead of another rightwing candidate, Federico Gutiérrez, who had been widely predicted to emerge as Petro’s main challenger. Gutiérrez received establishment backing, including from the Democratic Centre (CD) party of current president Iván Duque. So abysmal has Duque’s period in office been, it seems the CD endorsement cost Gutiérrez rather than aid him.

A former M19 guerrilla and later a mayor of Bogota, Petro exceeded expectations in 2018 when he became the first leftwing candidate to reach a presidential election second round. Although he garnered an unprecedented eight million votes, he lost out to current president Iván Duque, who won two million votes more. While Duque’s presidency has been characterised by extreme human rights abuses, attacks on the peace process and soaring inequality, Petro has used these four years to consolidate his support across progressive sectors. The Historic Pact was formed in 2021 by a broad front of progressive parties, from social democrats such as the Democratic Pole to the Communist Party, and backed by trade unions and social organisations.

The contrast with the brash 77-year-old Hernández is stark. Branded ‘the Colombian Trump’ by opponents, Hernández has a record of racist, misogynistic and inflammatory discourse, stating that women belong in the home rather than in politics, insulting black people and making vulgar insinuations about Venezuelans. Hernández benefitted in the first round from a lack of media scrutiny due to the widely-held assumption that Gutiérrez would outperform him.

Increased attention has raised question marks over Gutiérrez’s temperament. Since his unexpected success, Hernández has reacted aggressively to press questioning, blasting journalists as ‘Petro supporters’ simply for asking

Colombia Needs Democracy: Interview with María José Pizarro

By |8/June/2022|

The run-off presidential election in Colombia on 19 June is a rare opportunity for a leftwing breakthrough, which will help set aside the violent agenda that has so far been supported by the country’s elite.

On 29 May 2022, a political earthquake struck Colombia: the left-leaning Historic Pact’s presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro, and vice-presidential candidate, Francia Márquez, won the first round of the presidential elections after getting 40.33 per cent of the votes. The blocs representing the far-right and right-wing parties – which have dominated Colombian politics for most of its history – trailed far behind. The name for the bloc representing the left – Historic Pact – was chosen with the intention of reflecting the unique nature of this moment in the country’s history.

Petro and Márquez will now enter a second round of voting against the far-right ticket of Rodolfo Hernández and Marelen Castillo on 19 June. Opinion polls suggest it will be a close race between the two tickets, although there are fears that the right wing will interfere, possibly with violence, to prevent a leftwing victory in Colombia.

The last few times that the left came near the Palacio de Nariño, where the president works and lives, violent outbreaks during the election process put that possibility to rest. A cycle of rightwing rule was initiated after the assassination of the leftwing politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who was killed in 1948 and whose death began a period of Colombia’s history hauntingly known as ‘La Violencia‘ (‘the violence’).

The second opportunity for the emergence of the left came in 1990-1991, when the leftwing guerrillas put down their guns and entered the political contest in good faith, but rightwing forces assassinated three popular presidential candidates, which included the liberal candidate Luis Carlos Galán and two left candidates, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa and Carlos Pizarro Leongómez.

Petro and Márquez’s Historic Pact offers the third opportunity for a leftwing wave, which will help set aside the violent agenda that has so far been supported by the country’s elite.

Can Colombia breathe?

María José Pizarro is the daughter of the slain politician Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, who was assassinated in 1990. She was only 12 years old when her father was shot to death on an airplane from Bogotá to Barranquilla. Pizarro’s parents – Leongómez and Myriam Rodríguez – were members of the guerrilla group M19. In his youth, presidential candidate Gustavo Petro was also a member of M19; he was arrested in 1985 (at the age of 25) and sentenced to 18 months in prison for possession of guns. Pizarro went into exile in Spain when her father was killed, and then returned in 2002. She is now a member of the Chamber of Representatives, for which she ran on the Historic Pact platform.

When we asked Pizarro about Colombia’s liberal constitution of 1991, she said, ‘The first 19 articles of the Colombian Constitution establish the social rule of law and the democratic parameters and freedoms in our country.’ ‘What we require,’ she said, ‘is not only that the 1991 constitution be


Could the Left Take Power in Colombia?

By |3/April/2022|

With progressive candidates performing strongly ahead of May’s election, the growing likelihood of Colombia’s first leftist government is built on the movement for peace and human rights.

As Colombia gears up for its presidential poll in May, the results of recent elections have shown that the Left has reorganised into a powerful electoral force banging at the door of national governance.

Whether that door can be pushed open or not will become clear when Colombians head to the polls on 29 May, with the opportunity to make history. The frontrunner for the top job is progressive senator and former mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro, who is running on a platform of public health, public education, environmental protection and the promotion of human rights and peace. These policies represent an antithesis to the current hard-right government of Iván Duque. If elected, Petro would become Colombia’s first leftist president.

Things are looking promising for Petro. His Historic Pact coalition held its election primaries on 13 March with almost six million votes cast – 80 per cent of them for Petro himself. Formed of leftwing and social democratic parties, the Historic Pact has unified diverse political strands and draws its base from sections of the electorate long marginalised from political influence, such as the working class, ethnic minorities, young people and rural communities.

The primaries saw a huge vote for Francia Márquez, a renowned feminist and environmental activist. In what was her first electoral outing she came second to Petro and her vote far exceeded many long-established political figures running in other coalitions. Petro then picked her as his running mate, which means Márquez could well become the first black and female vice-president of Colombia.

Márquez’s opposition to resource extraction and deforestation in her home region of Cauca elevated her to national consciousness and saw her awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2018. Colombia is the world’s deadliest country for environmental activists – 65 were killed in 2020 alone – and Márquez has faced threats and attacks. Yet she refused to back down. Her resolute defence of human rights and natural resources has earned her many admirers.

The Historic Pact also made major gains in congressional elections held the same day, winning the most votes at a national level for both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although this was an unprecedented achievement for the Left, it did not translate into a left majority in either House.

The Challenge Ahead

For any hope of a progressive agenda coming out of the presidential election, the Historic Pact will need to build alliances with traditional parties. This could prove tricky given establishment antipathy towards the Left, but it is not insurmountable; the Liberal Party exceeded expectations in its congressional vote and Petro has appealed to it in his bid for a broad alliance.

However, there will be a strong challenge from the Right. Petro’s principal rival is the former mayor of Medellín, Federico Gutiérrez, who received over two million votes in the primaries for the rightwing coalition, Team

Residente’s ‘This is Not America’: Beautiful Art Marred by Political Immaturity 

By |30/March/2022|

Calle 13 vocalist Residente should study Victor Jara to help him distinguish between right and left more clearly.

Puerto Rican artist Residente recently released a powerful audio-visual response to Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’, highlighting the oppressive realities lived by millions across the continent rather than just in the USA.

[To watch the ‘This is Not America’ music video click here on see below]

Whilst Residente’s latest song accurately and poignantly captures the sentiment of protest and injustice throughout Latin America, he makes false equivalences. He insinuates that the left and the right are both oppressive systems, Venezuela’s flag appearing alongside the Brazilian, Colombian and Puerto Rican flags in his video. This nod to violent rightwing protesters in Venezuela exposes an unfortunate lack of political maturity. This political immaturity has led him to support rightwing and pro-imperialist mobilisations in Cuba, calling the socialist government ‘a dictatorship.’

Those who downplay these inconsistencies by suggesting that he is just an artist and not a politician should be reminded of the late, great Victor Jara’s example. Jara’s unwavering commitment to socialism and anti-imperialism – in other words, his loyalty to the oppressed – is his legacy to us. Residente should have studied the great Chilean communist in more depth before defacing his legacy with a scene intercalated by the glorification of Venezuelan guarimberos (violent anti-government protestors). Since Residente, for whatever reason, cannot distinguish the left from the right, a severe limitation considering his influence over many millions, it is our duty to do so.

Venezuela’s recent protests that Residente supports have been led by the country’s rightwing groups and have become known as guarimbas (meaning childish games). While these Western-backed and violently hostile groups blame President Nicolás Maduro’s policies for the economic crisis that has affected the country for almost a decade, more accurate analysis has demonstrated a combination of factors. The most serious among them has been US and European sanctions that have asphyxiated the country’s economy – or attempted to as it is now on the road to recovery.

Just like the longstanding economic war against Cuba, the sanctions have little to do with a preoccupation for human or democratic rights as is usually stated, but with a nefarious struggle to overthrow a democratically-elected government that does not bow down to capitalism and imperialism. Venezuela’s people have been punished because they dared to try a different path to neoliberal capitalism.

That’s not to say that one should unconditionally support the system or the government in Venezuela; one should recognise there are limitations and errors. It’s to say that these limitations and errors are part of an experiment mandated by the majority of people in that country. Regardless of the West and the right’s disinformation, the country has consistently voted for the current government.

For Residente to compare this project to the neocolonial systems of nations like Colombia and Brazil (or even worse, colonised Puerto Rico!) is to grossly misinterpret our region’s recent political trajectory. It ignores imperialist meddling, which is at the centre of this power struggle.

Furthermore, the term ‘left’, admittedly being

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