Sunday, Colombian voters turned out to vote for the country’s next president and vice president, to take office when current President Ivan Duque’s term ends August 7th. Former guerilla militant, mayor of Bogotá, and current leftist senator Gustavo Petro won the most votes alongside his environmental and feminist activist running mate, Francia Marquez. The pair garnered 8,527,768 votes in preliminary results announced by Colombia’s civil registry. With less than a 50% +1 majority, this means that Colombia will hold a presidential runoff election on June 19.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was former mayor and business empresario Rodolfo Hernandez along with running mate Dr. Marelen Castillo taking second place over former Medellín Mayor Federico Gutierrez and running mate Dr. Rodrigo Lara. Gutierrez had very strong support in the important Antioquia region and was seen as the leading contender to unify conservative and centrist voters against Petro.
Hernandez, a civil engineer with a successful construction company that has a track record building affordable housing, was mayor of Bucaramanga from 2016-2019, resigning from the post a year before his term ended, with an 84% approval rating. As mayor he gained a reputation for battling corruption. Hernandez also has a reputation for being outside of Colombia’s traditional political machinery. It is not easy to pin a right-left label on Hernandez, though he could be called a socially liberal (or at least tolerant) pro-business candidate.
Unlike current president Ivan Duque, 3rd place finisher Federico Gutierrez (nicknamed Fico) never belonged to Alvaro Uribe’s now unpopular Centro Democrático political machine. Still, his opponents, especially the campaign of Gustavo Petro successfully painted Fico as an extension of the “Uribistas,” supporters of former president and embattled Senator Alvaro Uribe and his Medellín power base.
Rodolfo Hernandez is a victim of leftist guerilla violence. According to the candidate, his father was kidnapped and held for 135 days by the FARC communist rebels, and his own daughter was kidnapped and killed by the ELN, another communist rebel group that today functions primarily as a narcotics and extortion mafia. Despite this, Hernandez has come out in support of the peace process negotiated by former President Juan Manuel Santos, criticized current President Ivan Duque’s failure to implement the plan, and Hernandez has even said he wishes to negotiate a path for the ELN to disarm.
On the other hand, the former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro is himself a former leftist guerilla and member of the violent M-19 group that attacked the country’s justice ministry and raided the embassy of the Dominican Republic, both with fatal results. Petro served time in prison for illegal possession of firearms in connection with his M-19 activities.
Though Petro’s term as mayor of Bogotá was something of a fiasco, he is buoyed by wide dissatisfaction and even disgust with the leadership, or lack thereof, of current President Ivan Duque and his political godfather, Alvaro Uribe. Duque has failed to connect on any emotional level with regular Colombians, has refused to implement or comply with the peace agreement negotiated with the former FARC rebels, has been hapless against resurgent rebel groups and criminal cartels in Colombia, and is seen as so weak that these groups have even taken potshots at his helicopter. On the right, Duque’s incompetency is seen as potentially handing the country over to Petro, who would be Colombia’s first far-left president.
Diverse vice-presidential candidates
Despite its large population of African and mixed descendants, Colombia has only had one president with a “black” phenotype, José Nieto Gil, recognized and honored by former President Juan Manuel Santos after shadowy attempts to erase him from the history books. Unlike México with its Zapotec President Benito Juarez, widely recognized as the Mesoamerican country’s national hero, Colombia has never had a head of state with an indigenous phenotype. But barring an unforeseen shock, Colombia’s next vice president will be a black woman.
Of the eight vice-presidential candidates in last Sunday’s runoff, five are black and three are black women. There is also wide diversity in socioeconomic background. While Petro’s running mate Francia Marquez is herself a firebrand activist and protest leader who worked her way through law school as a maid, Hernandez’s Marelen Castillo is career professor with a PhD from Nova Southeastern University in the US, and rector of one of Colombia’s Catholic universities. Castillo also holds degrees in biology, chemistry, and a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
Of the vice-presidential candidates that didn’t make it to the runoff, Luis Gilberto Murillo was moderate left candidate Sergio Fajardo’s running mate. Murillo is the former governor of Colombia’s Chocó department on the Pacific coast and has lived in both Washington DC where he worked as a senior policy analyst, and Moscow, where he earned a master’s degree in mining engineering. He is certified as a Russian language instructor. Murillo was also a victim of kidnapping in 2000, which is what prompted him to seek refuge in the US until the security situation improved.
Ceferino Mosquera was running mate of Luis Perez, a former governor of Antioquia and former mayor of Medellín. Mosquera is a lawyer and former law professor and was once on city council in the Pacific coastal city of Buenaventura.
Sandra de las Lajas Torres Paz was running mate of John Milton Rodriguez, and hails from the small Pacific coastal city of Tumaco, Nariño. After her family lost everything to a tidal wave, she emigrated to the city of Cali at the age of 14. Torres holds several master’s degrees and has had a career spanning several government positions with a focus on battling discrimination and racism.
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