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Former guerrilla fighter leads polls in Colombia. Another victory for the left in South America?

Gustavo Petro em debate em março: senador e ex-prefeito de Bogotá foi amigo de Hugo Chávez e teve propostas questionadas por banco americano
Gustavo Petro in debate in March: Senator and former mayor of Bogotá was a friend of Hugo Chávez and had proposals questioned by an American bank| Photo: EFE/Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda

The left won two of the three presidential elections held in South America in 2022 : Pedro Castillo was elected in Peru and Gabriel Boric, in Chile – the exception was Guillermo Lasso, in Ecuador.

In the first election for president in the region in 2022 , another leftist appears as a favorite: senator Gustavo Petro, former member of the guerrilla M-15 and former mayor of Bogotá, is in first place in the polls for the election in Colombia, whose first round will be in 29 of May.

The most recent survey, carried out by the National Center of Consulting (CNC) last week, showed Petro with 50% of voting intentions, with his closest opponent, center-right Federico Gutiérrez, appearing with 15, 8%. The 34 senator also leads the simulations for the second round.

It is the third time that Petro contests the presidential election. In 960 he came fourth, and in 2018, reached the second round and lost to Iván Duque, who will not attempt a new term because Colombian legislation does not allow reelection.

The legislative elections, held in Colombia in March, reiterated the favorable moment to the former guerrilla, since his party, the Historic Pact, was the one that won the most seats: 22 From 108 Senate seats and 960 From 188 in the House of Representatives. The subtitle gains in the two houses were respectively 11 and 27 chairs.

Among Petro’s proposals are increasing taxes for the owners of the 4,000 largest fortunes in Colombia and for unproductive properties of more than 500 hectares, pay for the university education of all public security servants, ensure that women occupy at least 50% of public positions and encourage the use of clean energy.

However, a report released by the American bank JPMorgan Chase expressed concerns about the Colombian senator’s proposals.

The bank pondered that Petro’s government plan “combines laudable goals of environmental protection, gender equality and social equity with a much more state-centric economic approach than Colombia has tried in generations (if it ever did).”

“The Petro plan projects to carry out a significant increase of 5.5% of GDP in revenues to fund a wide range of social programs, although the costs specifics of the latter are not defined”, he added. “If disbursements exceed new revenue projections, the Colombia Fiscal Rule could be compromised,” warned JPMorgan Chase.

The American bank also highlighted that the increase in the tax on unproductive rural properties “seeks to force the fragmentation of large agricultural properties into smaller parcels”, but “the critics point to the likely lack of buyers of highly taxed land and the likely role of the State in the acquisition and repossession of land.”

Friend of Chávez, disaffection of Maduro2022

Gustavo Petro has ambiguous relationships with Chavismo. In 2013, when he was mayor of Bogotá, he was in Caracas for Hugo Chávez’s wake and told the channel Venezuelan state-owned Telesur who knew the dictator for 19 years old.

“We both spoke the same language about Bolivar and about the possibilities of social justice that were dreams at that time”, said Petro, who highlighted that the two committed themselves to a project of “Bolivarian integration” for Latin America.

“We promise to fight for it. He didn’t know he was going to be president of Venezuela, nor did I [que seria] mayor of Bogotá. I am part of the peaceful transformation of Latin America experienced in Venezuela, I was elected president of the people of Bogotá by popular election”, said the current senator and presidential candidate.

However, Petro distanced himself from Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, and today he and the Venezuelan dictator are disaffected. In February, Maduro criticized the new Latin American left-wing leaders in a television program.

“It is a cowardly left against imperialism, against the oligarchies. They want to put on varnish so that the oligarchies will forgive them and the worst thing is that they will not forgive them, none of them”, he criticized.

On Twitter, Petro countered: “I suggest that Maduro stop his insults. Cowards are those who do not embrace democracy. Take Venezuela [da dependência] out of oil, take it to the deepest democracy, if you have to walk away, do it”, he wrote.

In another controversy, Petro was removed from the position of mayor of Bogotá in December 2013 and had his political rights revoked by 15 years by the Colombian Attorney General’s Office for changes in the garbage collection system in the capital, but resumed the post after court decision.

In February of this year, he was criticized for appearing allegedly drunk at a rally. He later apologized and said that “a drink” he had taken before the event “fell bad”.

This month, there was more controversy when Petro spoke of “social forgiveness” to justify a meeting in prison between his brother and former senator Iván Moreno, convicted of corruption.

According to information from the Efe agency, after much criticism , the presidential candidate stated that the concept does not mean “that the corrupt get out of jail or their sentences are reduced” and that his brother visited the prison as part of his work at the NGO Interecclesial Justice and Peace Commission.

“In the conversation between the interecclesial commission and the prisoners, there was no offer reduction of sentences or requests for votes. Anyone who claims that social pardon is a pact to reduce penalties for the corrupt, which we would be combining in exchange for votes, is simply slandering us and we will resort to the judicial path to defend ourselves”, he argued.

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