Leftist candidate and former rebel fighter Gustavo Petro, who some fear is a communist, narrowly won Colombia’s presidential election on June 19. His opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, dubbed by many as the “Colombian Donald Trump,” is a millionaire and a self-proclaimed political outcast. The campaign was mainly carried out on the social networking site TikTok.
Hernández was a popular choice among Colombian expatriates due to his strong branding as “anti-communist”. Some voters also feared that Gustavo Petro’s “leftist” label meant he was a communist. US Republicans echo a similar sentiment on Twitter following Petro’s victory.
Hernández, who called himself a political outcast, made a few waves throughout his short political career. According to NBC News, he once allegedly punched a councilman who disagreed with him and based his electroral campaign on a derivative of Trump’s “drain the swamp” message. His platform was heavy on attacking elites, but relatively light on politics.
In 2016, Hernández provoked international anger when he declared himself a “follower of Hitler.” Although, Hernandez later added that he had meant (Albert) Einstein and confused them.
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Colombia elects its first left-wing president: meet Gustavo Petro
Gustavo Petro was born on April 19, 1960 in Ciénaga de Oro in the Colombian department of Córdoba. In the 1970s, his family migrated inland, north of the capital, Bogotá, to a more prosperous area.
He studied at the Colegio Hermanos De La Salle. Later, he obtained a higher education diploma from the private Externada University of Colombia. He also received diplomas from the Graduate School of Public Administration, the religious and elite Pontifical University, and the University of Salamanca in Spain. Around the age of 17, he joined the M-19 rebel movement.
Petro began his political career after the demobilization of the rebel movement of which he was a member. After which, he was recognized as a legitimate political party. In 2002, he served in the Bogotá Chamber of Representatives. A city in which he later became mayor, from 2012 to 2014 and from 2014 to 2015.
During his time as a congressman, he formed an alternative coalition, the Polo Democrático Alternativo. He brought together many of the country’s leftist politicians.
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In his personal life, Petro is married to his third wife, Verónica Alcocer García, and has five children from his three different marriages. With Verónica he shares two daughters, Sofía and Antonella, both now teenagers. The tumultuous love life of the Colombian president has been the subject of juicy speculation by the Colombian press.
Petro’s time with the rebel group M-19
During the 1980s, Petro was part of Colombia’s April 19 Movement (known as M-19), which emerged in 1974. The M-19 was in opposition to the National Front movement that divided political power in the country between two dominant parties.
For those unfamiliar with Colombian politics, it is important to note that the M-19 is not the same as the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a terrorist movement that formed during the Cold War as a peasant faction promoting agrarianism and anti-imperialism. The FARC were considered the military arm of the Colombian Communist Party.
M-19 was started after allegations of fraud in the 1970 election. It came after a former dictator narrowly lost to a conservative candidate. After the dictator’s defeat, the M-19 claimed that they had “stolen” the elections from them. The ethos of the movement was nationalism. But his goal was to open democracy in Colombia after a long period of political monopoly and military dictatorship.
While in the M-19, Petro, then a young man, became involved in its military activities and gradually rose through the ranks. In 1981 he was elected ombudsman for the municipality of Zipaquirá and, from 1984 to 1986, he served as a councilor for the organization.
In 1985, Petro was arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and served 18 months in prison. Petro was amnestied after serving his sentence.
Later, when the movement was demobilized and incorporated into the country’s politics, Petro and other former members formed the Alianza Democrática M-19. The party gained significant popularity and several seats in congress.
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Gustavo Petro is not a communist: “I stopped looking at politics that way”
Gustavo Petro’s detractors, both in Colombia and the United States, have worried about his “leftist” label and whether that means he’s a communist. In an interview with El País, he avoided offering a classic definition of his political ideology. Instead, he explained his objective of applying the Colombian Constitution of 1991. It is based on principles such as sovereignty, social status, inalienable individual rights, and recognition of the multiethnic and multicultural composition of the country.
“The needs of Colombian society are not based on building socialism, but on building democracy and peace, period,” Petro added, appearing to dispel the notion that he is in favor of socialism.
For many Colombians, the closest example of communism is the Maduro government in Venezuela, which many accuse of bringing the country to its knees, with unprecedented hyperinflation, poverty and crime. So, hearing “leftist” the reaction was one of revulsion. One voter said:
“We hope that Mr. Gustavo Petro complies with what was said in his government plan, that he leads this country to greatness, which we so much need, and that he ends corruption, that he does not lead to communism, to socialism, to a war where They keep killing us in Colombia. … (He) does not take us to another Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Chile”.
US Republicans Spread ‘Communist’ Fears on Twitter After Petro Victory
Following Gustavo Petro’s victory, US Republicans on Twitter made the same association, merging “leftist” for “communist”. Many pointed to Petro’s M-19 past or a deal the previous government made with the FARC in 2016 to disarm the guerrillas and end the violence. According to NPR, the agreement could have changed his focus from terrorist acts to voting for the left.
However, Petro has resisted associating himself with Latin American communist figures, such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. She has called any attempt to put them side by side fiction. He also denies any sympathy for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, saying: “I was never close to him; I always mistrusted him.”
In Petro’s view, what passed for socialism and communism in Latin America was really just rhetoric. But with an economy based on oil, which he says, he cannot be a socialist.
Could this be good news for the United States?
Twitter Republicans also point to Petro’s opponent Hernandez, the 77-year-old “king of TikTok,” who loudly called himself an “anti-communist.” According to an expert consulted by Time, the victory could work in favor of the Republicans in the United States:
“I think there will be political constituencies in the Republican Party that will try to exploit the vision of another country falling to the left as part of their efforts to demonize the Biden presidency.”
However, there does not seem to be any clear basis for the “communist” strike fear around the new president of Colombia.
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