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Colombia. The Challenges of the New President.

The Colombian presidential election showed a clear victory for the centre-left candidate Gustavo Petro. Although it was by only 3 points, it is a difference that avoids the disputes that would have arisen if it had been closer.  It should be noted that the winning candidate, in the days before the election, mentioned the possibility of fraud.

It is an attitude that is becoming generalized in the American continent, as shown by United States politics with the position maintained by Trump after his defeat and the one that President Jair Bolsonaro is assuming because of which he could suffer.

The map of Colombia shows two clearly differentiated regions. The territories with coasts on the sea, whether the Pacific or the Caribbean, gave the victory to the winning candidate.

On the other hand, in those in the centre of the country, the defeated candidate, Rodolfo Hernández, won, with the exception of Bogotá, the capital, where Petro won even though it is located in the centre of the country. The urban vote – the violent social protests that the country suffered between 2019 and 2021 took place in this area – showed a predominance of the winning centre-left candidate, and instead the rural vote and that of the small towns turned in favour of Hernández, who, as an anti-political candidate was beginning to be perceived as the lesser evil by the traditional political system, which has been
the big loser in this election.

None of the factions into which the traditional structure of liberals and conservatives was divided reached the second round. This does not mean that its political and economic power has disappeared, and it will try to resist the changes that Petro will seek to impose.

His victory ratifies the electoral triumph of the centre-left that has been taking place in South America since the end of 2019. Then, in the Argentine presidential election, the formula composed by Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner prevailed. The second Bolivian presidential election followed in 2020 – the first that took place at the end of 2019, led to an institutional crisis due to allegations of fraud against Evo Morales – which was won by his own party with the Luis Arce-David Choquehuanca ticket.

In 2021, Pedro Castillo won the Peruvian presidential election and in early 2022, Gabriel Boric won that which took place in Chile. The exceptions were Uruguay at the beginning of 2020 and Ecuador in 2021, where two centre-right presidents won: Luis Lacalle Pou and Guillermo Lasso. But the fact that will consolidate the shift to the centre-left is if, in October 2022, former President Lula prevails in Brazil over President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for his re-election.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro has been consolidated with an improvement in the economy and the reduction of the sanctions ordered by the Biden Administration. This trend distances the region from the United States, as evidenced at the IX Summit of Presidents of the Americas. Petro’s triumph – which he believed would modify his country’s marked alignment with Washington in terms of security – generated the enthusiasm of the Puebla Group, which brought together the ‘progressive’ leaders of the region, and expressions of approval by the Venezuelan regime.

Petro’s great challenge will now be governability in the face of misgivings and doubts from Washington, the business community, the Armed Forces, and the remnants of traditional politics. These have disappeared as a political option for power, but they maintain a significant number of legislators, with the ability to condition the Petro government, which would only have a third of the seats (the Parliament was elected months before the presidential election).

As for the right-wing populist Rodolfo Hernández, who joins the Senate, he will have only a handful of legislators, given that at the time they were elected, he was a candidate for whom less than 10% intended to vote. The markets show signs of mistrust and demand that Petro provides guarantees that give stability and reduce risks. But the other great challenge will be the issue of security – chronic in Colombia – which has been present for more than half a century and has not been resolved by the demobilization agreement with the FARC – the most important guerrilla group that has operated in the country – achieved by
former President Santos.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), the other guerrilla group that refused to participate in the peace accords, would agree to dialogue with the Petro government. But the reality today is more complex. The FARC dissidents that have rejected the peace agreement have a strong presence on the border with Venezuela and are linked to organized crime. Drug trafficking has spread and has taken over other activities, such as illegal mining. Paramilitary groups continue to be active and linked to organized crime.

Governability is not only a challenge for Colombia but also extends to other countries. In Bolivia, a political crisis has broken out within the ruling party over the presidential candidacy. President Luis Arce promotes his vice president, David Choquehuanca, as the ruling party’s candidate. The former President, Evo Morales, for his part, is seeking re-election, confronting both and putting governability at risk with the division of the ruling party in Congress.

In Peru, President Pedro Castillo does not have a majority in Congress, his party is divided, and he suffers from repeated allegations of corruption that put his permanence in power at risk due to the Peruvian constitutional system, which allows two-thirds of Congress to remove the President for ‘moral incompetence’.

In Chile, President Boric does not have a majority in Congress and faces growing criticism from the most radical wing of his coalition. Economic problems, social demands, union conflicts in the copper industry, and the violence of the Mapuche indigenous minority in the south of the country complicate governance.

But this problem also occurs in a centre-right government like that of Ecuador which, without a majority in Congress, faces growing protests in the streets, led by indigenous organizations that have caused the fall of several governments in the past. There are antecedents that allow us to measure the type of challenge that Petro will face. But they also show the existence of a regional problem.

Rosendo Fraga/Nueva Mayoria

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