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Gustavo Petro

Newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro (L) and his running mate Francia Marquez celebrate at the Movistar Arena in Bogota, on June 19, 2022 after winning the presidential runoff election on June 19, 2022. Ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro was on Sunday elected the first ever left-wing president of crisis-wracked Colombia after beating millionaire businessman rival Rodolfo Hernandez after a tense and unpredictable election. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP)

Not every country is going down the toilet. In some countries, there’s at least some hope to make things better. Colombia has its problems, lord knows. In fact, those problems finally discredited the conservatives that have dominated the nation’s politics forever. In the first round of the presidential elections, the conservative party finished a shocking 3rd, behind a Trump-like right winger and the leftist Gustavo Petro. And Petro won the general election. For the first time, well, just about ever, Colombia now has a leftist president and he seems like someone with real potential to work on his nation’s many problems.

Mr Petro, a current senator, defeated the right-wing construction magnate Rodolfo Hernández in Sunday’s run-off election.

Figures show he took 50.5% of votes, defeating his millionaire rival by a close margin of around 700,000 ballots.

The result marks a major change for the country, which for decades has been led by moderates and conservatives.

The vote was held amid widespread discontent at the way the country has been run, and there were anti-government protests last year in which dozens of people died.

The 62-year-old Mr Petro hailed what he called a “victory for God and for the people”.

“May so much suffering be cushioned by the joy that today floods the heart of the homeland,” Mr Petro wrote on Twitter. “Today is the day of the streets and squares.”

His running mate Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, will become the country’s first black woman vice-president.

Mr Petro was a member of the now disbanded M-19 movement in the 1980s. The rebel left-wing group was one of many guerrilla organisations that waged war against the state.

He spent time in jail for illegal arms possession, before joining the political opposition where he served as both a senator and congressman as well as mayor of Bogota.

Mr Petro ran on a radical manifesto and pledged during the campaign to fight inequality by providing free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land.

He also pledged to fully implement a 2016 peace deal that ended a 50-year long conflict with the communist guerrilla group, Farc, and to seek negotiations with the still-active ELN rebels.

Obviously, it’s harder to implement this than it is to talk about it, but it’s a real victory for the people of Colombia. And lest you think this is some sort of old-school FARC candidate or something, the real base for Petro is young people, who like in the U.S. are largely furious about the state of things and are trying to find some politician they can support who they think will change their nation.

And his ascent has, in no small part, been propelled by the biggest, loudest and possibly angriest youth electorate in Colombia’s history, demanding the transformation of a country long cleaved by deep social and racial inequality.

There are now nearly nine million Colombian voters 28 or younger, the most in history, and a quarter of the electorate. They are restive, raised on promises of higher education and good jobs, disillusioned by current prospects, more digitally connected and arguably more empowered than any previous generation.

“Petro is change,” said Camila Riveros, 30, wrapped in a Colombian flag at a campaign event this month outside Bogotá, the capital. “People are tired of eating dirt.”

Young people led anti-government protests that filled the streets of Colombia last year, dominating the national conversation for weeks. At least 46 people died — many of them young, unarmed protesters and many at the hands of the police — in what became referred to as the “national strike.”

Some analysts expect young people to vote in record numbers, energized not just by Mr. Petro, but by his running mate, Francia Márquez, 40, an environmental activist with a gender, race and class-conscious focus who would be the country’s first Black vice president.“

The TikTok generation that is very connected to Francia, that is very connected to Petro, is going to be decisive,” said Fernando Posada, 30, a political analyst.

Again, it’s hard to actually make this change. Colombia has many problems and has been a client state of the American War on Drugs for a long time. How this changes is unknown. But it’s also worth looking at the nations where people are determined to make a change against long-established reactionary classes who are determined to dominate politics forever and then actually win. There’s plenty we can learn from them right now.

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