Gustavo Petro, the revolutionary who became president of Colombia on his third attempt

After four decades of struggle, first in arms and then in democracythat bespectacled revolutionary who survived torture and exile came to conquer the presidency of Colombia: Gustavo Petro, at 62 years old, won this Sunday in the second round with 50.45 percent of the votes against businessman Rodolfo Hernández, who received 47.30 percent. In his third presidential bid, Petro defeated the elites that he always questioned and moderated their most extreme positions to capture undecided voters. The former mayor and senator proposes to strengthen the State, transform the health and pension system, and suspend oil exploration to make way for clean energy in the face of the climate crisis.

Born in 1960 in Ciénaga de Oro, in the Caribbean department of Córdoba, Petro grew up and studied in the interior of the country, in Zipaquirá, an Andean town near Bogotá. He is the eldest of three siblings, from a middle-class family, with a father from the coast and a mother from the interior..

That mixture also persists in his character: shy, quiet and boastful personally, as those who know him describe him, but a great orator and comfortable when he takes the stage in public squares, where he dazzles his listeners with bombastic phrases and great speeches. .

His time in the guerrilla

At the La Salle de Zipaquirá school, the same one where Gabriel García Márquez passed, Petro answered the priests with haughtiness and there he began his militancy by reading Marxist intellectuals. In 1978, at the age of 18, he joined the M-19 guerrillawhere he did mostly urban liaison afternoons and not so much armed struggle, until his disarmament in 1990.

Of those 12 years he lived in the ranks of the M-19 under the name “Aureliano”, like the character in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, he spent three in hiding and another two in jail. They captured him in 1985 in Bolívar 83, the popular neighborhood of Zipaquirá that he helped found, and tortured him like so many members of the guerrillas at that time.

A prominent congressman

The Petro who tried again to be president in 2022 was far from those years of militancy and armed struggle, and surely his stage as a parliamentarian weighs more on him. He never felt comfortable with weapons but with wordswith which he defended himself in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

Locals and strangers usually recognize him as one of the most lucid congressmen in Colombia in recent decades, and gained popularity in the early 2000s for his exposure of links between politicians and paramilitariesalso becoming a headache for his archenemy, former President Álvaro Uribe, and getting several people prosecuted.

The first threat Petro receivedof the many that would come later and that have him with one of the strongest security devices in the country (he had to shield himself to give his speeches on stage with a bulletproof vest, shields around him and at least 20 bodyguards on the stage), it was in 1994 and forced her into exile in Belgium. The former senator bitterly recounts his time in Brussels, away from everyone, and with depressive episodes that he overcame by studying a specialization in the Environment at the University of Leuven, which he added to the degree in Economics at the Externado University of Colombia, when he was a member of the M-19.

Ups and downs in the mayor’s office

In 2011 Petro was elected mayor of Bogotá by the Progressive formation. Those who worked with him in the mayor’s office say that he was not easy to deal with or very good at teamwork. That caused numerous resignations and the change of more than fifty senior managers in the four years of his management.

His character of not being afraid of confrontation also earned him a dismissal by the Attorney General’s Officethat by his decisions in the management of garbage collection in the city sought his end in politics, and that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights revoked.

New presidential attempt

Married and father of six children with different women, Petro reached his third attempt for the presidency along with his more pragmatic and less idealistic campaign partners., like senators Roy Barreras and Armando Benedetti, who have passed through different parties. To rescue the supporters tired of his personalism, Petro attended these elections together with the African-American lawyer and activist Francia Márquez, a woman who knew how to collect the discontent of the streets and the vote of women, young people and many inhabitants of the Pacific, from where proceeds.

In 2010, in his first presidential attempt with the Polo Democrático, Petro got 1.3 million votes and in 2018, with more than eight million, he was one step away from reaching Casa Nariño. In 2022, after leaving behind some of the more radical leftist ideas and more traditional forces, he made it third time lucky.

Among its campaign axes, Petro made the defense of the environment its own, for what it proposes stop oil exploration and start a “transition” towards clean energy. also want strengthen the state and tax the rich more.

Faced with the fears it provokes, he promised that he would not seek re-election, after constitutional reform, nor personal revenge, and that he would respect private property. He also promised that he will enforce the constitutional ruling that decriminalized the interruption of pregnancy until the 24th week, one of the most flexible terms in Latin America. His daughter Sofia sums it up in a few words: Petro “is a man in deconstruction”.

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