In Colombia Election, Two Historic Firsts

Gustavo Petro is first leftist president, and Francia Marquez is first Black female VP
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 20, 2022 6:18 AM CDT
In Colombia, an Election Puts 2 Notable Names in Office
Former rebel Gustavo Petro, left, his wife Veronica Alcocer, back center, and his running mate Francia Marquez, celebrate after winning a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022.   (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

(Newser) – Colombia will be governed by a leftist president for the first time after former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly defeated a real estate millionaire in a runoff election that underscored people’s disgust with the country’s traditional politicians. Petro’s third attempt to win the presidency earned him 50.48% of the votes Sunday, while political outsider Rodolfo Hernández got 47.26%, according to results released by election authorities, per the AP. The election came as Colombians struggle with rising inequality, inflation, and violence—factors that led voters in the election’s first round last month to punish long-governing centrist and right-leaning politicians and pick two outsiders for the runoff contest.

Petro’s win in Latin America’s third most populous nation was more than a defeat of Hernández. It puts an end to Colombia’s long stigmatization of the left for its perceived association with the country's half-century of armed conflict. The president-elect was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group. Petro issued a call for unity during his victory speech Sunday night and extended an olive branch to some of his harshest critics, saying all members of the opposition will be welcomed at the presidential palace “to discuss the problems of Colombia.”

“From this government that is beginning there will never be political persecution or legal persecution, there will only be respect and dialogue,” he said, adding that he will listen to those who have raised arms as well as to “that silent majority of peasants, Indigenous people, women, youth.” The vote also resulted in Colombia gaining a Black woman as vice president for the first time. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, 40, is a lawyer and environmental leader whose opposition to illegal mining resulted in threats and a grenade attack in 2019.

(Read more Colombia stories.)

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