The former rebel has emerged as a favorite in the Colombian presidential election

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FUSAGASUGA, Colombia – Beside bodyguards with bulletproof shields, Gustavo Petro stood on a platform and slammed Colombia’s political elite in a speech addressed to residents of Fusagasuga, a rural town where farmers are struggling.

The left-wing presidential candidate spoke of the need to protect local farmers from heavy foreign subsidies. In the crowded public square, supporters waved opposition flags as Petro promised to remove a political class that “likes to work with criminals.”

“What we offer is a different way of realizing Colombia,” Petro said in an hour-long speech. “We want a country where the state can provide and finance basic rights like education and health because it has a productive economy.”

With a sensitive anti-establishment rhetoric and a promise to increase state involvement in the economy, Colombia has taken a comfortable lead in the Petro vote ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.

The senator, who began his career in politics as a rebel, aims to become the first left-wing president of a nation ruled by politicians from wealthy families and powerful business groups. The current president – who cannot be re-elected – is Evan Duke, a Conservative of Bogot অভি elite.

Petro’s supporters say he will focus on reducing long-term inequalities that have fueled decades of political violence and led to the creation of a powerful drug cartel.

But his critics fear that Petro will boost the country’s market-friendly economy.

Right-wing politicians regularly cast the senator in the mold of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a popular leader and question his commitment to democracy. This is an allegation denied by Petro, who said he wanted peaceful change that would benefit long-neglected groups.

“If he wins, we will have four turbulent years,” said Laura Gill, a political scientist at the University of Bogot Xavier. “He must prove that his leftist movement is willing to work within the rules of democracy and to control the most radical members of his coalition, in the face of right-wing groups who will make every effort to thwart his proposals.”

Petro has been fighting adversity for decades to bring about change in Colombian politics.

He began his career as a community organizer for the M-19 guerrilla movement, helping a group of 400 squatter families occupy a piece of land in the town of Zipakuira.

He won the housing war, but was imprisoned on a weapons charge and sentenced to two years in prison. He resurfaced on the Colombian political scene in the early 1990’s, when his rebel group struck a peace deal with the Colombian government and participated in drafting a new constitution.

Petro gained national recognition as a congressman in 2006, when he investigated conservative legislators affiliated with the paramilitary group and published evidence of their crimes in a nationally televised debate.

Faced with numerous death threats, he twice ran for president of Colombia and served as mayor of Bogot from 2011 to 2015, where he led efforts to reduce bus fares and wrestle the city’s trash collection system from private contractors for millions of dollars. Cost 6

While some of his ideas, such as the mobile health care unit in the poorer neighborhoods, have proved successful, his administration has also been characterized by a large number of dysfunctional projects and frequent clashes with technical advisers and members of his own cabinet.

A survey funded by the central government to offer a subway in the city was canceled by Petro, who wanted to use the money for a tramway. When that became impossible, the mayor returned to the subway concept, but with little time left to implement it, says Juan Carlos Flores, a historian who was then a member of the city council.

Petro’s third presidential race comes as Colombia suffers from high rates of unemployment and inflation fed by the epidemic. Malnutrition has risen dramatically in a decade, and despite a 2016 peace deal with Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, violence continues in some rural areas, designed to end half a century of conflict that has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Now small armed groups are fighting over drug routes, mines and other resources abandoned by the rebel group known as the FARC.

Petro has promised to resume peace talks with another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, which was suspended during Duke’s administration, and he also proposed a peace deal with the Gulf drug trafficking group to reduce the punishment for telling the truth about them. Crime and compensation for their victims.

Petro says he wants to prevent further outbreaks of rural violence by creating jobs in rural areas and ensuring that farms are commercially viable. For Petro, it will start with higher import duties on food produced in Colombia, and the state buys crops from local farmers.

The senator also offered free college tuition for all young people and jobs with “basic pay” for “those who can’t find work in other ways.”

While these promises seem ambitious, Petro’s advisers say they are necessary.

“We don’t believe that Colombia’s problem is that it turns left or right,” said Alfonso Prada, a centrist politician who joined Petro’s campaign two months ago as a debate strategist. “What Gustavo Petro is proposing is to move towards peace with social justice, to give people a chance to live with dignity.”

Critics, however, are skeptical about how Petro will finance its programs.

The candidate, who describes himself as an environmentalist, said the oil wells were “poisoning” the countryside and promised to suspend oil exploration after taking office.

He has promised to replace oil royalties with income from tourism and greater corporate taxes, although his critics say that is unrealistic. According to Colombia’s central bank, the country earned $ 3.1 billion from tourism in 2021, but oil exports earned almost four times as much.

“We need a change in this country, but it cannot be a leap of faith without a parachute,” said Federico Guterres, a former Medellin mayor who was Petro’s main rival in most presidential races. Guterres said he would protect the business and create jobs through greater private investment.

Guterres and his associates often compared Petro to Chavez, who undermined the independence of his country’s judiciary, nationalized hundreds of companies and enacted laws condemning independent media.

Petro responded with a symbolic gesture, such as signing a notarized pledge stating that he would not nationalize private property. He also backtracked on an earlier proposal to draft a new constitution.

However, the candidate and his party also suggested interfering with some organizations. In a recent televised debate, Petro called for a change in the way the central bank’s board of directors is selected so that the “productive sector” is represented.

Analysts say Petro’s power will be limited if he becomes president. “His movement will not have a majority in Congress,” said Daniel Garcia Pena, a columnist and former ally of Petro who now supports centralist candidate Sergio Fazardo.

Surveys suggest that in the case of seven candidates, Petro may have less than the required 50% marks to avoid a fight with the runner-up.

Exit polls suggest Petro has a comfortable lead against Gutierrez in a head-to-head race, but indicates that the election will be very close if he faces Rodolfo Hernandez, a 77-year-old real estate tycoon with no affiliation with political parties who cut government spending and Promises to tackle corruption.

Hernandez, who is paying for his campaign with his personal funds, said he would turn the presidential palace into a museum and promised rewards for citizens who condemned corrupt officials.

Flores said the election shows how the Colombian population is tired of the country’s establishment and longing for a leader who denies the status quo.

“Petro is an example of how the world is returning to the politics of emotion,” Flores said. For the sake of “crusading leaders who risk it all”.

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