Colombia’s presidential election pits a former left-wing rebel against a populist

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Colombia’s left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro could make history in Sunday’s run-off presidential election by becoming his country’s first left-wing candidate to be elected to the post.

With the polls slim between Petro and his populist opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, a victory for the left will be just the latest of several wins across the continent.

Critics say a socialist victory in Colombia will undo years of sacrifice and effort to implement and maintain a policy of democratic security, respect for freedom, strengthening the rule of law, free trade , greater openness to the world and even a commitment to become a center of innovation and pioneer of the orange economy (creative economy). They note that all these steps, stability and institutions are in danger.

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This photo combination shows Colombian presidential candidates Gustavo Petro, left, on June 17, 2018, and Rodolfo Hernández on June 2, 2022, in Bogota, Colombia.
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This photo combination shows Colombian presidential candidates Gustavo Petro, left, on June 17, 2018, and Rodolfo Hernández on June 2, 2022, in Bogota, Colombia.
(AP Photos/Martin Mejia, Fernando Vergara, Files)

The United States has had a strategic ally and a reliable partner in Colombia, the crown jewel that some observers believe could be threatened in a rapidly reconfiguring world.

Petro reportedly tried to distinguish himself from other left-wing leaders across Latin America, promising to run for only one term.

“Rest assured that I will not be seeking re-election,” Petro said, according to The Associated Press, while adding that he “will respect the laws. … Listen carefully, that includes respecting the right to private property.”

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Petro’s opponents say he is not afraid to hide his views, and they fear he threatens to reverse and completely change the reality of Colombia by aligning himself with the socialist agenda of the Forum de São Paulo, an organization of left-wing politicians from the continent and the Caribbean.

They fear that a close relationship with Venezuela, Russia and China or allies such as Iran could, from there, spread its harmful influence throughout the region.

Maria Clara Escobar, executive director of the Instituto de Ciencia Política (ICP), told Fox News Digital “a Petro government represents the opportunity for the Latin American left to consolidate a regional bloc with the capacity to influence at the level geopolitics in its efforts to achieve a modification of the international order by legitimizing the dictatorships of the region, by facilitating the penetration of authoritarian regimes such as Russia, China and Iran, by weakening the inter-American institutional framework (Organization of Americans) and creating new regional political and diplomatic blocs, from which they will support the weakening of regional democracy and the rule of law.”

A woman cleans the capital's main voting center ahead of the presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, June 17, 2022. Sunday's runoff pits the man who could become the first leftist to lead the nation and a populist millionaire who promises to end corruption.

A woman cleans the capital’s main voting center ahead of the presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, June 17, 2022. Sunday’s runoff pits the man who could become the first leftist to lead the nation and a populist millionaire who promises to end corruption.
(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

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With the onset of the COVID pandemic, commentators say anti-establishment sentiment has grown in Latin America due to a lack of inclusive growth and prosperity. The economic and political effects generated by COVID-19 have caused people discomfort and frustration, which Petro and other politicians have taken advantage of.

Yet while Petro won the first round hands down, the polls have come much closer in recent weeks as his opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, whom some in the media describe as Colombia’s answer to Donald Trump, has reduced the vote. Petro’s lead to a statistical tie and now has every chance of winning.

The millionaire businessman has become a social media phenomenon and positioned himself among those who reject politics as normal. And, to the surprise of many, he came in second place, beating the establishment Conservative candidate last month.

Yet Hernández has taken different positions and is widely seen as a populist candidate. The 77-year-old is a former mayor who made his money from farming and real estate and said he wants to target corruption and wasteful spending.

Yet others say he has more in common with Mexico’s President López Obrador (AMLO) than with Petro. This is a concern for some Colombians because, for them, Petro represents a greater threat. Rodolfo, as he is called, is not considered so different.

Some media have compared populist candidate Rodolfo Hernández to former President Donald Trump.

Some media have compared populist candidate Rodolfo Hernández to former President Donald Trump.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Hernández is not affiliated with any political party, and his campaign to become president has benefited greatly from his use of social media, where most of his campaigning was reportedly conducted.

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Rodolfo repeated AMLO’s slogans such as “Don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t betray… There can’t be a rich government with poor people”.

And Rodolfo does not hide his admiration for the Mexican president, who in turn, openly supports Petro.

Observers believe that if the choices are less than ideal, a Petro presidency will be problematic for the United States

Colombian Senator Paola Holguin, a member of the conservative Centro Democratico party, told Fox News Digital that “Rodolfo is an engineer and businessman from Bucaramanga who achieved good results during his time as mayor; he likes to be politically incorrect, but now he is the only guarantee to maintain democracy, freedom and (institutions).

“His main flags are austerity and the fight against corruption. On the other hand, Gustavo Petro is a former guerrilla of the M-19 amnestied, former mayor of Bogotá with a dubious administration which received the support of criminal structures such as that the ELN, the FARC and the Clan del Golfo (et) can be defined as a radical left populist who has been close to the leaders of the São Paulo Forum and the Puebla Group.”

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Analysts fear that if Petro wins, the United States could lose a great ally in the hemisphere and see the continued growth of Russia, China and Iran’s influence among its closest neighbors.

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, delivers a State of the Union address at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, January 15, 2022.

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, delivers a State of the Union address at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, January 15, 2022.
(Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The growing wave of left-wing triumphs in Latin America stretches from Mexico to Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. After Colombia, Brazil could be the next domino to fall to the left if the first polls in Brazil for the upcoming presidential election in October are to be believed.

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Commentators say there is a lot at stake in Sunday’s election.

“No Colombian president can break this alliance so easily,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society. “Gustavo Petro may try to do so if elected, but like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, it will take him more than four years to radically realign Colombia’s foreign policy. Colombia shares more than government policies with the United States. United, we share the culture.”

Whoever wins on Sunday, Colombian presidential politics will change dramatically and Washington will have to adapt and prepare, regardless of the outcome.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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