Colombia: ex-guerilla to be Bogotá mayor

Gustavo Petro, a former leader of the M-19 guerillas and longtime socialist legislator, was elected mayor of Bogotá in polling Oct. 30. Petro’s campaign emphasized clean politics and reform—pressing issues as outgoing Mayor Samuel Moreno is in prison on corruption charges. “This is a victory of the desire for change of the city of Bogotá, which demands immense challenges of the 21st century, like overcoming an administrative crisis,” said Petro. He won a sweeping victory over Green Party centrist Enrique Peñalosa, who gained approximately 25% of the votes. Independent Gina Parody came in third with 17%. Although a harsh critic of President Juan Manuel Santos, Petro called on the president to dialogue on cooperation. “There are things to talk about with the president,” Petro said, stressing the importance of cooperation between the capital district and national government. He also called for a “plan to mitigate the effects of the TLC,” the new Free Trade Agreement with the US. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, Miami Herald, Oct. 30)

Petro has moved toward the center since his failed presidential bid against Santos last year. He broke from his left-wing party, the Polo Democratico, to which Moreno belonged. He also criticized Colombia’s FARC guerillas and Venezuela’s populist leader Hugo Chávez—while continuing to be a dogged opponent of hardline former president Alvaro Uribe. “Petro has been a party ‘free agent,’ condemning the FARC, anachronistic Polo security policies and Uribe with equal fervor,” a 2008 US cable noted. (WP, Oct. 30; Colombia Reports, Oct. 20)

Progressives of various parties also secured the mayorships in Medellín, Cartagena, Bucaramanga and Santa Marta, while only voters in Cali and Barranquilla selected a conservative mayor. Despite the bloody lead-up to the elections—which saw 41 candidates assassinated—only isolated incidents of violence and irregularities were reported on election day. (Colombia Reports, Miami Herald, Oct. 30)

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