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Gustavo Petro Promised a “New Progressivism.” Now He’s Set to Be Colombia’s First Leftist President

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Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro spoke to Democracy Now! in 2018 about his vision for the country after he placed second in the presidential election, losing to right-wing politician Iván Duque. Petro is a former M-19 guerrilla and the former mayor of Bogotá. “A new progressivism is emerging,” explained Petro. On Sunday, he succeeded in his new attempt at the presidency, becoming the first leftist president in Colombia, long a conservative stronghold in Latin America. He has vowed to fight worsening climate change, poverty and inequality in Colombia by raising taxes on the rich and expanding social programs, as well as access to education and healthcare.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Gustavo Petro is now set to become Colombia’s first leftist president. He’s a former M-19 guerrilla, former mayor of Bogotá. In 2018, I spoke to Petro on Democracy Now! when he ran for president and lost to the right-wing politician Iván Duque, who was handpicked by the former right-wing President Álvaro Uribe and vowed to roll back key parts of Colombia’s landmark peace deal with FARC rebels. In the '80s, Petro was jailed and tortured for being a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement. He later went on to lead efforts in Colombia's Congress to investigate ties between paramilitary death squads and top politicians. Just before Duque’s inauguration, Democracy Now! spoke to Gustavo Petro, who had placed second in the 2018 presidential race, receiving 8 million votes, the largest number of votes ever received by a leftist candidate for Colombia’s presidency. I asked him about his vision for the country and why he believed he lost at that time.

SEN. GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] I no longer divide politics into left and right. I think that was a relatively logical way and a relatively realistic way to describe politics in the 20th century, but today politics is divided between the politics of life and the politics of death. Climate change worldwide separates us into two major sides. On the one hand, you have Trump, Maduro, Duque, and on the other side, you have those of us who want to respond and adapt as quickly as possible to climate change by bringing about changes in Colombian society, economy and politics. It’s life or death.

What we were preaching in Colombia is that. We need to build the movement of life, from the standpoint of respect for nature, from the standpoint of moving from an extractive-based, coal-exporting economy. We are the fifth-leading coal exporter in the world. That is to say, we have a lot of responsibility for climate change. And we want to move to a productive economy in agriculture and industry based on knowledge, so as to be able to live together with nature. We want to move to a zero-carbon economy. These are the kinds of proposals that we put forward as the main agenda in our election campaign. That’s what we want.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very interesting that you put together Trump, Duque and Maduro, Maduro of Venezuela. I wanted to go back to this issue of the assassination attempt. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales tweeted, “Within the last 12 months, US Vicepresident Mike Pence made 3 trips to Latin America to meet at least 8 presidents from whom he demanded support for military intervention against our brother president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro. Those are the Empire’s coup attempts.” Do you feel the U.S. was involved in some way in what looks like an assassination attempt on Maduro’s life?

SEN. GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] I reject any type of violence for resolving social conflicts in Latin America. I believe that we have experienced 30 years of revolutionary wars in Central America. In Colombia, I myself was a protagonist of that effort as a member of the M-19 movement, which laid down its weapons in 1989, and then it became a majority through popular vote and played a very important role in the 1991 Constitution of Colombia, a profoundly democratic constitution. We experienced years of military dictatorships, exile. The word “democracy” practically vanished from Latin America. It was really just at the beginning of the 21st century that a sort of spring began, with progressive, popular electoral victories, and we began to see new paths emerging. We cannot go back to the past — the dictatorships that exist, for example, in Brazil, as I believe exist in Venezuela, and a threat thereof in Nicaragua and Honduras, a threat of this in Colombia — nor can we go back to the revolutionary wars, trying to resolve conflicts through violence.

I think we need to preserve and persevere along the nonviolent paths in order to work out our own conflicts. That does not mean that there’s not a violent attack against Maduro. That doesn’t mean that there are not interests who would like to see Venezuelan society collapse, by the same interests who brought about the collapse of the society of Libya, Iraq, Syria. Behind that there is a dark and dirty game, all around oil interests and the world oil market. I know that the collapse of Venezuela would immediately mean the collapse of Colombia, because millions of Colombians who in years past went into economic exile in Venezuela would come back. And as Pope Francis says, these kinds of exoduses just create new situations of slavery and violence. I know that there is also a tough, a hard-line, racist, xenophobic, imperialist sector in U.S. society who, with their allies in Europe, believe they can dominate the world and accommodate the different visions of hundreds of human cultures into their exclusive way of thinking and acting. But I am totally convinced that it’s the peoples themselves who transform societies.

The issue that I’ve raised of climate change, well, I propose to the Colombians and to Colombia that this should be the fundamental line of our international policy, and from there, based on that, we should determine who are our allies and who are on the other side. Together, in a single political party, speaking in general global terms, someone like Maduro and someone like Trump are together, because the progressive wave in Latin America that began in the early 20th century consolidated its role by greater income distribution, the genuine desire to reduce inequality in the most unequal region of the world based on the rents that were generated by the rise in international oil prices, as well as coal and gas prices. It’s an unsustainable way forward which is being shown in Venezuela, and the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia and, in part, Brazil followed that same path. I think that this has brought about a crisis, violating their own democratic principles. We see this in Venezuela, and we now see it in Nicaragua.

A new progressivism is emerging. Graphically speaking, we could say there is a new axis between Mexico, Bogotá and São Paulo. Now an important force has won the presidency of Mexico. We almost did the same thing in Colombia with 8 million votes. And it may happen in Brazil, if the current dictatorship there allows it. That new axis should propose for Latin America a new role in the international order: reject being assigned, being mere exporters of raw materials, of fossil fuel raw materials. That alone would bring an end to Colombia. And we need to have a new role: production based on knowledge, production without carbon, a decarbonized production, and therefore a new democracy. This is what we propose to the world. And this new progressive axis would have very powerful allies, humankind itself, and would display its moral and political superiority, its superiority of arguments based on science. That, I believe, is what we are now building in Colombia and in Latin America. That is the way forward that we are going to be trying to insist on in coming months and coming years.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Gustavo Petro speaking on Democracy Now! in 2018 after losing to the right-wing presidential candidate Iván Duque. Gustavo Petro is now set to become Colombia’s first leftist president, former M-19 guerrilla, former mayor of Bogotá. To see the full interview with him, as well as with the vice president-elect, Francia Márquez Mina, the first Afro-Colombian environmentalist vice president, the first Black vice president of Colombia, you can go to

And finally, today the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection is holding its fourth public hearing today with a focus on Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the 2020 election. Democracy Now! will stream the hearing live at beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Cam Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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