By Paul Scarrott
The victory for the left in Colombia marks the latest success for a rejuvenated left across Latin America. The election victory of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, the candidates of the Pacto Historica [Historic Pact], comes on the back of recent successes in Costa Rica and Chile.
The historic breakthrough to power by the Colombian left is an inspiration to socialists in Latin America and across the globe. It is also a moment to reflect on the sacrifice of countless people who perished or suffered in the struggle to free Colombia and fight for a better world. Their dedication and achievements are pillars of the struggle for national sovereignty, Latin American unity and the building of C21st socialism.
The impetus in Latin America is now with the left. The momentous prize of the re-election of Lula in Brazil this September beckons.
The victory in Colombia is particularly sweet. The third-largest population on the continent has until now been a bastion of the right and a strong ally of the United States, notably in the undeclared war on the Venezuelan revolution.
But in 2022, the Colombian right ran out of road. An Ipsos survey in February showed that 84% of the population believed the country was going in the wrong direction. Poverty blights the lives of more than 40% of the population.
The left won with 50.5% of the vote against 47.5% for their ‘independent’ opponent, who carried the right-wing banner due to the complete discrediting of the traditional party of the right.
Political violence against the left and the broader labour & social movements has dominated Colombian politics for decades with the backing of the United States. As a result, Petro and Márquez have suffered repeated threats to their lives. During the campaign, the threat of violence was ever-present, with both candidates using bullet-proof screens to protect them from assassination.
The Historic Pact also inherits a peace process that has been undermined by the previous government. Under President Duque, the state has continued to kill and brutalise large numbers of groups and individuals in the trade unions, indigenous communities and beyond.
The Historic Pact unites the people who wanted human rights and peace, alongside an end to poverty and greater social inequality. It also united those who are determined to put the environment first in the life and death struggle against climate change.
In his victory speech, Petro said, ‘Let freedom scream’ as he announced his priorities of “peace, respect and dialogue”.
Petro also said, “We will propose to Latin America a new path,” However, whilst the new path is popular it also has powerful opponents.
The new path has seen its first big step. On June 22 Gustavo Petro announced the reopening of the border with Venezuela. An immediate boost for Latin American unity and the peoples of Venezuela & Colombia.
The programme of the Historic Pact
The campaign platform of the Historic Pact marks a sharp break from the country’s past. The left has never held power. It aims to reshape not only Colombia but also the continent. The promise to normalise relations with Venezuela will bring mutual benefits. It will help to revive trade between the two countries and see the border freed from the control of drug traffickers. The election victory will also hopefully lead to a rejection of US president Biden’s decision to designate Colombia as a significant extra-NATO ally.
The left election campaign pledged to end new oil exploration and redirect the country towards renewable energy. Petro and Márquez also want to renegotiate trade agreements with the US to stimulate local agriculture. They also wish to increase taxation on the rich, impose a levy on unproductive large rural estates, provide free university education and introduce pension reforms.
The victory in Colombia is faced with significant obstacles domestically and internationally. A critical matter will be economic policy. Any challenge to economic and social inequality will be met with ferocious resistance. The attacks faced by the presidency of Pedro Castillo in Peru are an acute contemporary example.
Undoubtedly, there is an unevenness in the degree of radicalism proclaimed and practised by the latest wave of left governments in Latin America. However, they all share a commitment to Latin American unity; national sovereignty; the need to increase economic equality; opposition to climate change; the elimination of poverty, and opposition to all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism and homophobia.
Economic policy lies at the heart of the strategies to enable left governments to succeed. The external and internal enemies of change see the disruption of economic life and the exploitation of economic policy weaknesses as a sure-fire way to apply pressure and reduce support for the left. The new left governments have the advantage of reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of the economic policies pursued in the first Pink Wave. Those experiences have also been substantially added to by the revolutionary examples of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. The recent advance in the Venezuelan economy is a promising example to study. The growing dialogue between China and the Latin American left is also bearing fruit. Learning from China’s experience of taking over 800 million people out of poverty in a developing economy is indispensable.
Petro and Márquez inherit a Congress with a majority for the right. Although the left did make significant advances in this year’s March elections, the Colombian left coalition only has 40 seats in the senate, with 55 needed for a majority. In addition, it only has 25 seats in the House of Representatives out of 172.
The incoming president and vice-president assume office on 6 August. However, power struggles are already underway and will ideally be won if the new government is not to get off to a bad start. In particular, the Historical Pact must occupy the presidencies of the Chamber and Senate.
Before the election, the Historic Pact initiated a ‘Great National Agreement.’ By their very nature, the proposals for national peace and unity necessitate dialogue and compromise. However, if key positions in the government, like finance and defence, are not occupied by supporters of the Historic Pact, it will be difficult for the new government to deliver on its pledges.
So far, international capital has been relatively benign in its response to the left’s victory. President Joe Biden congratulated Petro and Márquez and expressed his admiration for the Colombian democratic process.
But there are clouds on the horizon. Barron’s, the American weekly newspaper published by Dow Jones & Company, explained capital’s take on democracy, saying, “Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new president, faces a plethora of challenges ahead… [including] …appeasing deeply suspicious military and business sectors.”
The Financial Times FT has also explained the limits and limitations of capitalist democracy. The message is clear; capital will try to hold a country to ransom if the people vote ‘the wrong way’ until the government changes its course or is overthrown by any means necessary.
The FT explained that in Colombia, “Public debt levels are a relatively high 64 per cent of gross domestic product, and businesses are reluctant to invest until they understand how radical the next government will be.”
The FT highlights the comments of Ricardo Ávila, senior analyst at El Tiempo newspaper. He said that the ‘”first priority would be to calm the markets”, his second to seek dialogue with those who did not vote for him, his third to mend fences with the armed forces and his fourth to manage expectations. “All of this is urgent if he doesn’t want to inherit a house on fire, after throwing so many Molotov cocktails at it [during the election campaign].”‘
International capital in the form of Ben Ramsey, head of Latin America economic research at JPMorgan, also told the FT, “We think markets and economic agents will continue to take a wait-and-see attitude pending more concrete steps.” He added, “Most prominently would be Petro’s decision for his economic cabinet.” Seeking to calm market nerves — the Colombian peso has fallen 4 per cent this year against the dollar on political uncertainty.”
Like the left, capital also places great importance on lessons from the experiences of other struggles. For example, the FT reports, Ani De la Quintana, associate director at the Control Risks consultancy, [said that] “if Petro does not send the right signals quickly, his honeymoon could be very short — just like Gabriel Boric’s”.
A victory for Lula in Brazil September’s presidential elections would greatly enhance the prospects for the success of the latest wave of breakthroughs in Latin America. Brazil is not only a pivotal country for progress in Latin America but it is also one of the few countries in the world able to change the direction of global politics.
Telesur reports that ‘Brazil’s former president and current presidential candidate, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday has announced his government plans to strengthen Latin American integration: “To defend our sovereignty is to defend the integration of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, to maintain regional security and promote development, based on productive complementarity.”
“If elected, Lula, who served as President from 2003 to 2010, said he would strengthen the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States.”
”We advocate working toward the construction of a new global order committed to multilateralism, respect for the sovereignty of nations, peace, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, which takes into account the needs of developing countries,” the plan said.’
These statements by Lula point the way forward to the consolidation and further advance of the latest wave of progress across the continent.
In their victory speeches, the two leaders of the Historic Pact poignantly crystallised the significance of the achievement of the Colombian people.
Gustavo Petro said, “From this government that is beginning there will never be political persecution or legal persecution, there will only be respect and dialogue. We will listen to not only those who have raised arms but also to that silent majority of peasants, Indigenous people, women, youth”.
Francia Márquez, the first Black woman to be elected vice-president of Colombia, said, “After 214 years, we have achieved a government of the people, a popular government, a government of people with calloused hands … the government of the nobodies of Colombia.”
All those committed to winning a world free from all forms of oppression are duty-bound to extend solidarity to the left in Colombia. It is also an experience to learn from and share.
The above article was originally published here by The Rising Tide.