OPINION

 

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro. Photo: Google

By SILVIO CANTO, JR.

A couple of nights ago, I got a taste of what politics in Colombia is all about these days.

A 40-something Colombian lady in my class said she was worried about her country going to the left. Another young woman from Colombia had a smile on her face that reminded me of the Barack Obama “hope and change” rallies of 2008.

Two Colombians, and their faces told the story.

Yes, it’s hard to believe Gustavo Petro, a leftist among leftists and erstwhile guerrilla fighter, will be the next president of Colombia.

I hate these results — especially considering that Colombia has, up until now, been one of Washington’s closest political and strategic allies in Latin America — but they are what they are.

Let’s hope that reality is a bigger threat to Petro’s presidency than the weak center-right candidate that ran against him on Sunday, June 19, Rodolfo Hernández.

Petro ran on a campaign of promises for change, sound environmental stewardship and justice during a worsening socioeconomic crisis in Colombia, with vows of higher corporate taxes and public subsidies for the working class and the poor.

But given Colombia’s tradition of staunch conservatism, President-elect Petro may find that fighting climate change and promoting social justice is a better campaign speech than a governing plan.

The Washington Post ran a good commentary on the issue in its Wednesday, June 22, edition:

“To have any hope of succeeding in the face of global inflation and other hard-to-control headwinds, Petro must inject a dose of realism into an electoral program that verges on the naïve,” wrote columnist Clara Ferreira Marques.

“Protectionism won’t solve any of Colombia’s problems.”

Ferreira Marques went on to note that Petro’s “tax changes will struggle to meet spending promises that include wider pensions coverage and state jobs for those without work, even as unemployment is running at about 11 percent.”

“(Petro) is right to focus on the energy transition, but how exactly will he fill the revenue hole left by hydrocarbons, once new exploration is halted and the energy outfit Ecopetrol (Colombia’s biggest petroleum consortium and the 313th-largest public company in the world) is turned into a wind and solar producer?” she asked.

“Crude is still Colombia’s biggest export, and sudden shifts can give investor confidence a nasty knock.”

Ferreira Marques pointed out that Ecopetrol’s assets tumbled after markets reopened on Tuesday, June 21, following the election.

“Talk of bypassing the normal workings of government by declaring an ‘economic emergency,’ meanwhile, is both short-sighted and alarming for an already-vulnerable democracy that few trust,” she added.

So Petro has a little bit of a challenge ahead of him. He won’t be lucky like Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was subsidized by the USSR, or Hugo Chávez, who drained Venezuela’s oil revenues to stay in power.

Indeed, we never heard Chávez talk about climate change!

So I will remain cautiously optimistic. I trust that Colombia’s middle class, who generally rejected Petro, will make certain that there is a course correction.

To get anything accomplished, Petro is going to have to make some serious concessions to Colombia’s middle class, which may include tabling his plans to legalize marijuana and managing sky-high expectations within his own party.

In the meantime, Petro would be well advised to check out Chile, where leftist Gabriel Boric, who took office in March of this year, has seen his approval ratings plummet to 33 percent, and Peru, where leftist Pedro Castillo, in power since July of last year, still can’t get any legislation passed through Congress.

Again, I will trust in Colombia’s middle class and hope that a Petro presidency is more focuses on practicality than ideology.

SILVIO CANTO, JR. is a Cuban-born U.S. citizen who teaches English at a north Texas college. He is the author of the book “Cubanos in Wisconsin” and has a daily online radio program and blog dealing with U.S. and Latin American politics, as well as sports and historic events, and is a regular contributor to American Thinker.

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