On Sunday, June 19, 2022, the second round of the Presidential Elections of the Republic of Colombia took place, in which the winning candidate was economist Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego with 11,281,013 votes, representing 50.44% of the voters. Petro (as he is commonly referred to) has been elected for the period of 2022-2026. Rodolfo Hernández finished with 10,580,412 votes, equivalent to 47.31% of the total number of valid votes cast.
After an intense electoral campaign, the majority of Colombians have supported the proposals of Gustavo Petro, who has democratically won these hard-fought elections.
In this article, we will analyze the platform of President-Elect Petro and how his policies may affect expats and Colombians alike.
Petro’s victory is historic for Colombia, after failing in the 2010 and 2018 elections. After 212 years of republican history, a leftist candidate has managed to take the reigns of this South American country as the leader of his party Colombia Humana and the coalition of the Pacto Histórico, a broad movement that brings together forces from the left, center, and other social sectors.
Petro will govern alongside Francia Márquez as Vice President of the Republic, an Afro-Colombian woman, and social and environmental leader. This is a milestone in the country’s history as well, as she becomes the first black Vice President.
On June 24, 2022, President-elect Gustavo Petro received the official accreditation as the new Constitutional President of Colombia from the National Electoral Council. Almost immediately (and in stark contrast to the most recent US Presidential Election) he met with outgoing President Iván Duque, to agree on details for a smooth transition of power. This conciliatory meeting was good for Colombian democracy as Petro was a fierce opponent of Duque during the entire 2018-2022 period.
Many of the world’s presidents have celebrated Petro’s victory on June 19. Among them Joe Biden of the United States, who called Petro to say that he: “looks forward to working with the President-elect to continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation, including on climate change, health security, and implementation of the 2016 peace accords”.
Since his first speech, Petro has called for a broad national dialogue with various sectors of Colombian society. This includes former President Álvaro Uribe Velez, with whom Petro has been a political adversary for more than twenty years. In this way, it is expected that the transition of power will be smooth and that the new President will make alliances with the opposition and independent sectors. As he does not control Congress, he will need this alliances to carry out an ambitious plan of reforms that he promised to his electorate. This is the first time in more than two hundred years that a person who does not come from the traditional political establishment inherited from the Spanish colony has come to power. Colombians hoping for change have got their wish in this election – although what change is coming remains to be seen.
The Legacy of the Ivan Duque Márquez Government
Iván Duque Márquez will hand over a controversial legacy to his successor. The outgoing president will finish his term in August with an approval rating of 20% and a disapproval rating of almost 80%. Duque faced several difficulties during his administration, among them the COVID-19 pandemic. Also difficult during the pandemic were the nationwide protests (November 2019 and April 2021) which dented his popularity. Another issue difficult to define for Duque’s legacy is the Venezuelan migrant crisis: to his detractors he was far too lenient, yet to this supporters he was welcoming, compassionate and just.
Thus, despite some progress in economic matters, poverty and inequality in Colombia are among the highest in the region. According to official figures from the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) there are more than 21 million Colombians living in poverty (44.6%), of which more than 2.78 million people are in extreme poverty and survive on dollars a day. Duque has defended his government’s achievements. He obtained the highest economic growth in more than a century and unprecedented social investment. However, most Colombians do not value his results positively and voted for a change in the last elections.
Government Plan of The Colombian President Elect Gustavo Petro
The new president Gustavo Petro has indicated that he will promote an ambitious government plan for the period 2022-2026. He aims to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of citizens. Petro will have to fulfill the promises that made him win these elections and also call upon the more than 10 million Colombians who voted against his political project. His main challenge will then be to be the president of 50 million Colombians and not only of his followers.
Sustainable Economic Development and Investment Opportunities
In his first speech as President-elect, Gustavo Petro stated that his government will develop capitalism in Colombia. This has been welcomed by investors and businessmen who were frightened by a harsh campaign against him by his adversaries.
The country has had a strong presence of feudal-style monopolies and oligopolies throughout its republican history, which naturally preferred to maintain the status quo and keep their privileges in government at any cost, and which saw their wishes frustrated with the change of rudder in La Casa de Nariño.
Petro wants to turn Colombia into a world power of life, where the fight against climate change and social inequalities are priorities of the State. He proposes to change a model that has not allowed the country to grow for all and has generated high levels of poverty. Diversifying the economy in food production, construction, goods and services, tourism, and new technologies.
In this way, he has argued that Colombia, because of its biodiversity, could receive more than 12 million tourists in the coming years and progressively replace its dependence on the extraction of fossil fuels.
Petro has clearly stated that in his government there will be more foreign investment in strategic areas for the country, where precisely new sources of jobs and wealth need to be developed.
Consequently, there are great opportunities to invest in Colombia. In the real estate, construction, lodging and services sectors, since the country has to prepare itself to receive a strong impulse from the new economy and create an adequate infrastructure.
In the real estate sector, the medium-term costs of acquiring properties, which had been subject to a global commodity inflationary and local speculative environment, are expected to remain stable.
In addition, some owners, in the face of uncertainty, may decide to sell soon, which could increase the supply of available properties in the short term. While the devaluation of the Colombian Peso sparked on by Petro’s victory may bring foreign buyers to the market, they still remain just a small part of the overall market.
A Petro government is likely to continue its subsidy policy to support lower-income sectors. This will keep the construction sector active to generate sufficient housing solutions. Petro has stated that he will make an alliance with financial entities to provide lower interest rates so that people can fulfill their dream of owning their own homes. He has also stated that he would promote popular housing organizations to stimulate the construction of 500,000 additional housing units in the next four years.
For now it remains to be seen exactly how these campaign promises will actually play out as policies on a regional and national level. But nothing in his speeches or policy proposals suggest that drastic changes are coming to the real estate sector in Medellín.
Peace Agreements and Democracy
Petro has promised to develop the Peace Accords signed by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016 in Havana, which put an end to a bloody armed conflict that ravaged Colombia for more than 60 years. This conflict has generated more than 262,197 deaths and displaced another 8 million more, with the main guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FARC) and also include the ELN.
While the FARC has mostly disbanded, dissidents from the ELN still operate in some areas of the country.
Petro’s government has stated it will grant economic resources for the reparation of victims of armed conflict, as the Peace Accords do. He’s also spoken of processes for the restitution of land to peasants displaced during the era of violence.
Corruption and The Functioning of the State
If you ask a typical Colombian about politics, they will generally respond in disgust and say something along the lines of “todos son corruptos.”
Second place finisher Rodolfo Hernandez gained popularity because he centered his central message on anti-corruption rhetoric. It is no surprise that Petro also has tackling corruption as part of his policy platform. He’s stated that he will do the following:
- Attack corruption with effective oversight of public contracting and encourage citizen participation with developing ideas for the budget.
- Reforming the Control entities of the Attorney General’s Office and the Comptroller General’s Office, as well as the Registrar’s Office and the National Electoral Council.
This will fall on deaf ears to many Colombians, who are used to this type of rhetoric. But if Petro can make any serious headway in reducing corruption in Colombia, he stands a chance of winning over other citizens who haven’t warmed up to him yet.
Human Rights and Equality
Petro’s policies regarding equality have included the following stated goals and/or programs:
- Guarantee the participation of women in 50% of government positions.
- Integrate housewives into the pension system.
- Combat femicide.
- Creation of the Ministry of Equality.
- Protect Afro-descendant, indigenous and LGTBIQ+ communities.
- Abide by the decriminalization of abortion made by the Constitutional Court last year.
Petro has promised to respect the democratic system, maintain citizen freedoms, have dialogue with the opposition, and not run for reelection in 2026.
Economy and Private Property
Colombia’s economy has rebounded as well as any country in the OECD from the covid-19 pandemic. While many Colombians live in poverty, economic numbers are at least trending in the right direction. For some, the election of Petro is worrisome because his proposed changes could alter this trend. The following are campaign pledges from Petro – things he has promised to do during his Presidential term:
- Progressively reducing the economy’s dependence on oil exploitation and fossil fuels such as coal and extractive mining.
- Accelerating the generation of renewable energies (wind, water, and solar).
- Incentivizing the capitalist productive economy, to reduce the high levels of unemployment and underemployment in the population.
- Promote an ambitious agrarian reform to combat the unproductive latifundia of fertile land for agriculture.
- Granting land titles to peasants, democratizing land with productive vocation.
- Developing rail, river, and tertiary transportation routes to improve communication between cities.
- Guarantee a minimum income of half a minimum wage for the informal working population
- Attack hunger with assistance to the poorest sectors of the country.
- Guarantee private property and not to attack it during his mandate.
While these changes may sound positive – it’s worth noting that, if he had radical and controversial economic reforms in mind, he probably wouldn’t have been too vocal with them while trying to win over Centrist voters during the campaign. Only time will tell if he takes a modern approach to governance or not.
Taxes and National Wealth Redistribution
Petro has said that his government will reduce tax exemptions for companies (mainly in the mining and energy sectors) and will implement new taxes for the wealthiest with taxes on dividends and large capital. These reforms seek to obtain COP $50 trillion to finance social programs. However, despite the ambitious number, he’s said that the ordinary Colombian’s tax burden will not increase. Rather, the wealthiest members of society will be targeted. Thus, those who have more will (likely) have to contribute progressively with the payment of taxes to support the government. Another thing worth noting is that a tax reform, proposed by President Duque, resulted in widespread unrest in April 2021. So any President seeking to make reforms in this area needs to tread lightly.
Free and Universal Education
Petro has said his government will seek to guarantee free education at pre-school, school, high school, and university levels for the entire population so that education is a right of all Colombians and not a privilege of a few citizens. Petro has stated that he will forgive the educational credit debts of the poorest strata.
Right To Health For All Citizens
Some major components of Petro’s health care plan are as follows:
- Create a preventive, unique, and universal health system regardless of the ability to pay.
- Eliminating the intermediation of companies in the provision of the service.
- Carry out prevention campaigns to reduce teenage pregnancy.
- Strengthen the pharmaceutical industry.
- Territorialize health care with a program of doctors in the home.
- Improve medical care and working conditions for health personnel.
Citizen Security and the Fight Against Crime
Often the #1 issue for expats, Petro has stated the following about crime and security:
- He will eliminate ESMAD, the riot squad that has been accused of violently repressing citizen demonstrations in the past (including the 2019 and 2021 protests)
- Protecting the lives of social leaders and demobilized ex-combatants
- Investigation of crimes against these individuals who have been killed in recent years.
- Eliminate compulsory military service
- Establish restorative justice and improve prison conditions.
- Shift the focus of the war on drugs to criminal suppression
- The substitution of illicit crops for agricultural production and legalization of marijuana
International Trade and Relations
Petro says that his new government will review the Free Trade Agreements signed by the country, in order to protect the national industry and prioritize food sovereignty. It is expected to place tariffs on some imported goods, to encourage domestic production. Petro will promote an agreement between all the countries of the Americas to fight against climate change in order to protect the Amazon rainforest and the environment.
He will reestablish diplomatic and consular relations with the government of Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, which had been broken by Ivan Duque in 2019. In Colombia today there are almost one million Venezuelan migrants that the government of Ivan Duque gave special protection these years. Now many fear that Petro’s ideological closeness with Maduro will affect their stay in Colombia.
Importance of Foreign Investment in Colombia
Foreign direct investment in 2021 amounts to US$9,402 million, according to official figures from the Banco de La Republica. Thus, President-elect Gustavo Petro says he recognizes the importance of foreign investment to generate employment and wealth.
However, he has said that he will seek to redirect it in priority areas for the country such as industrial production, new technologies and ecological tourism. He should provide legal certainty and clear rules and guidelines on the matter to maintain the growth of foreign investment in the country.
Prospects For The New President Gustavo Petro
Colombian democracy has given a lesson of maturity to the world. A few minutes after the results were known, Rodolfo Hernandez, the candidate who came in second recognized the results and called the President-Elect to congratulate him and wish him success.
President Ivan Duque and most of the leaders of the new opposition did the same. The rumors of fraud, violence, and a coup d’état if Petro won are now in the past. Petro has sufficient political capital to now undertake the economic and social reforms of his platform. However, he will have the challenge of summoning the factors that did not vote for him in order to successfully achieve his goals in the National Congress. This has been recognized by Petro in his first speech as President-elect.
However, it will not be easy to attract traditional sectors of the political right, who distrust Petro because of his past as a guerrilla fighter and his mistakes when he was mayor of Bogota. The moment of truth has arrived, where finally the progressive left has won in a good fight and will have power democratically in Colombia. The new president does not have much time to fight, so he must assume his role as Head of State, leaving behind a fierce electoral campaign and advance in the achievement of his electoral promises.
It is urgent for him to moderate his speech and unite the country around a successful government; not doing so could take its toll sooner than expected.
This means that Venezuela’s influence will be more ideological than pragmatic in the economy. Let us not forget that Colombia and Venezuela, as well as Panamá, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, are Siamese nations. They are twin sister nations and were born together in a failed project of the great South American Liberator Simon Bolivar, more than 200 years ago. Therefore, the relationship between Colombia and Venezuela has always been very close on an economic and cultural level.
There is an intense relationship between Bolivar and Venezuela and Colombia. We can describe it with a curious fact of history. In 1974 the guerrilla movement (M19) to which the now-president Petro belonged stole the mythical sword of Bolivar from a museum in Bogotá in an act of rebellion. It subsequently disappeared for more than 17 years, passing through Cuba and Panamá, until it was handed over to the government after the disarmament of this group in 1990. Recently, President Iván Duque showed Gustavo Petro the Liberator’s sword, which he must now safeguard as President-elect as an icon of power in the Colombian nation.
A Look Ahead at Petro - Conclusions
The majority of Colombians have voted massively for a change in the country’s politics. For the first time in more than twenty years, a candidate different from the so-called Uribismo and traditional parties has reached the Casa de Nariño.
While he may have been a radical in the 1980’s, nothing in Petro’s speeches or policy proposals hints at radical change for the country.
We expect the government to improve the living conditions of the people and provide guarantees for businessmen and investors. Additionally, Colombian democracy has a “recall” process such that if Petro gets out of line, his opponents won’t be afraid to use it.
If we can venture to imagine what Petro’s government will be like, we could say that the President will seek to resemble the democratic progressivism of the President of Mexico, Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), Fernando Lula Da Silva, Former President of Brazil, or Gabriel Boric, of Chile.
These governments, which raised fears of being too left-wing at the times of their elections, have been governments focused on social investment and equity and have generally improved the lives of their nation’s poorest while not hindering business and investment. If Petro can govern like this, while distancing himself from the left-wing radicalism that has been seen in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, he has a chance to be seen as a very successful President.
There is good reason to be cautious and skeptical of a Petro presidency, but no need to be afraid of the changes to come. Colombia is a strong democracy with independent institutions and despite the fear mongering out there, a Petro Presidency will not turn into a Petro Dictatorship.