US ally Colombia just elected its first leftist president, marking a significant challenge to Washington’s influence in the region
Former leftist guerrilla Gustavo Petro won Sunday’s runoff vote in Colombia’s presidential election, marking the first time ever that the US-allied nation has voted for a leftist candidate. This election represents a historic shift for Colombia’s economic model – but perhaps an even bigger one for US strategic interests in the region.
By Petro’s own account, “Real change is coming.”At least that is what he claimed in his win speech. His campaign promises to move the country towards a more sustainable future by eliminating oil and coal. He also plans to enlarge pensions, institute universal healthcare and make university education free – to be paid for by taxes on the wealthy.
He has also said that he wants to use import tariffs to protect local industry and negotiate trade agreements, a staunch move against the country’s neoliberal system of commerce. In general, his entire platform is aimed squarely against the neoliberal clientelism, and even the elite’s obvious relationship with drug cartels, that has plagued Colombia for generations. It would seem that any reasonable person would say that it would be a good thing to shake that up.
But it’s difficult to say how it will play out in practice. He and his allies lack a majority in the country’s legislature, holding just 27% of the seats, as opposed to 57% held by conserative parties and another 9% held by the Green Party. He also faces challenges from the country’s conservative-stacked court system and its independent central bank. These pressures will likely limit his domestic plans.
Petro’s real power, and likely to have the largest influence, will be in the area of foreign policy. For example, he has promised to revive ties with neighboring Venezuela, which would almost certainly end the perennial US-led regime change operation against that country’s Bolivarian government. Many coup attempts on Caracas including Operation Gideon have made Colombia their base.
This would prove to be a major blow for the US’s imperial project in Latin America. Venezuela, with the world’s largest confirmed oil reserves, has been a target of Washington for decades – both under former President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolas Maduro. With Colombia’s porous borders and sanctuary status for radical Venezuelan dissidents, the end of its support for the regime-change operation against the Venezuelan government would essentially mean another theater in America’s global, forever wars would be brought to a close.
This would put Petro among a growing list of Latin American leaders who are seeking to unify the region under a shared vision, rejecting US hegemony and ideologically-motivated division. Colombia is a NATO partner since 2017. It continues to have ties to the Cold War-relic institution. It would represent a huge blow to the US and Western influence within Colombia if Petro cut ties with NATO.
As NATO convenes in Madrid next week to draft its first strategic concept in 12 years, which is anticipated to expand NATO’s mission well beyond Europe, perhaps Petro’s election may change the conversation and at least keep Western warmongers out of Latin America. This would be a good signal to anyone who believes in peace, given how NATO expansion was a significant contributor to the conflict at Ukraine.
A major blow to US influence is the cutting of or cutting down of ties with Washington. For example, joining an ever-expanding group countries aligning themselves with Beijing would also be a huge loss. Indeed, past Colombian administrations have maintained close ties with China – but have still been characterized by a US-first approach. Colombia, unlike many Latin American countries, isn’t a member the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative. This is something Beijing wants while the US doesn’t offer any serious developmental projects. The US’s regional influence would be diminished if Colombia joined the initiative.
Petro’s election marks a significant, if not historic, shift for Colombia. It is a serious challenge to the status quo, the country’s elite and most probably the militarization of Latin America in general. While it remains to be determined how his domestic policies will progress through all levels of government and the executive branch, it is clear that he will challenge the US imperial project’s regional control.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.
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