Francia Marquez and Gustavo Petro (Photo: @darwintorres_22 Twitter)
The leftist Historical Pact emerged as the favorite of Colombian voters in the recent election. But rightist forces are working to prevent Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez from winning in the second round and becoming President and Vice President of Colombia.
A new and devastating utopia of life, where no one can decide for others even how to die, where love is truly true and happiness is possible… Gabriel García Márquez
We live at a historical crossroads, an era of civilizational crisis where life and death are at stake worldwide, a situation in which Colombia faces a deep dilemma. On May 29, 2022, around 21 million citizens voted in Colombia’s national elections to elect its executive branch. The victory of the Historical Pact “Colombia Can” comes to the fore, an alignment of the new left with Gustavo Petro as president and Francia Márquez as vice-presidential formula. It is the first time that a left-wing coalition has triumphed in a presidential election in Colombia, adding 8.5 million votes, the largest number obtained in the first electoral round by any political group in the country’s history. On June 19, a second round will be held to decide the two main executive positions, since no one obtained more than 50% of the vote.
It was a Sunday of multiple passions and conflicting expectations, revealing the political and ideological plurality of one of the countries with the greatest ethnic-racial, ecological, cultural, and regional diversity in the Americas and in the world. Colombia is a stronghold, a key player in the geopolitical strategy of the United States, with nine military bases that are pillars of the Southern Command. As Secretary of State in the Barack Obama administration, Hillary Clinton characterized Colombia as “the most stable democracy in Latin America”, thus defending the so-called “democratic security” policy of then President Álvaro Uribe, which left an equation of millions of displaced by the armed conflict, along with tens of thousands of murdered and disappeared social leaders and trade unionists, consolidating a regime of violence and corruption that still prevails in the country. The imperial eyes are set on the Colombian elections.
Since the parliamentary elections and the consultation for presidential candidacies on March 13, 2022, the most notable political fact have been the triumph of the duo Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez of the Historical Pact, itself product of the alliance of a multiplicity of movements—Afro-descendants, Indigenous, peasants, youth, students, feminists, LGTBQ+, urban, workers, ecological, pacifists—a broad constellation of demands that invigorate and combine the country’s social, cultural, and political struggles. The “Pact” represents a coalition, a discourse and a program that reinvents the Latin American left, due to its fully democratic vocation and its intersectional politics that articulates a plurality of identities, struggles and demands. Gustavo Petro, the most prominent progressive political figure in Colombia, who was mayor of Bogotá, is the third time he has participated in the presidential contest, achieving second place with more than 8 million votes in the 2018 elections.
The biggest novelty in Colombian politics is the candidacy of Francia Márquez, first for the presidency, and once she comes second in the March 13 consultation, for the country’s second executive position. Francia is an Afro-descendant lawyer and activist who emerges on the national stage with her leadership of the struggles of her rural mining community “La Toma”, in the Department of Cauca. She began as the leader of the communal council of her neighborhood in Suàrez, Cauca, and as a social movement activist, particularly the Process of Black Communities-PCN, a social movement organization that has spearheaded efforts in favor of autonomy, territorial integrity , against racism, in opposition to the neoliberal paradigms of development, in favor of peace with justice, human rights, ethnic-racial and cultural identity, differentiated citizenship and substantive democracy, from its bases in Black communities, throughout the country.
In 2015, Francia emerged forcefully onto the national stage as the main organizer of the March of the Turbans, a week-long pilgrimage from Cauca to the capital city of Bogotá, protesting the destruction of the environment and the assassination of leaders in the community of “La Toma”. The slogan Black Women March for Life and in Defense of their Territories served as a paradigmatic example in denouncing the violation of lives and territories in Black, Indigenous, and Peasant communities across the country.
Francia Márquez, enunciating a new discourse of protection of the “common home”, mother nature, brandishing the banner of life against the destruction, both of the environment and of human lives, which prevails in Colombia due to the formations of violence promoted by armed actors (paramilitaries, guerrillas, army) and the neoliberal model, won the Goldman Prize for environmental justice in 2018, and emerged as vox populi during the 2021 National Strike. In this context, the Soy Porque Somos Movement emerged, which launched her presidential candidacy advocating for a broad project of justice and peace, against the web of violence and injustices—social, ethnic-racial, ecological, patriarchal—that abound in the country.
The inclusion of Francia Márquez as a candidate for Vice-President added to Gustavo Petro’s presidential campaign the voice of a Black woman from the popular-rural sector, with authenticity and clarity in her criticism of inequalities and oppression, and a sharp speech of change not before seen in the Colombian national political scene. It is important to recognize that Gustavo Petro’s discourse was enriched by Francia Márquez, giving greater prominence to problems such as racism and sexism and, therefore, to the demands of Afro-descendants, Indigenous people, feminists and LGTBQ+ sectors. In this key, the Historical Pact sows the seed of a new way of doing politics, for a more plural and profound project of liberation.
The political discourse of the Historical Pact can be summed up in three slogans: Gustavo Petro’s assertion that its main purpose is to turn Colombia into “a world power of life”, and Francia Márquez’s affirmations, “Let’s go from resistance to power until dignity becomes customary”, and we want to build a kind of country where you can “Vivir Sabroso”. The call to turn Colombia into “a world power of life” is a statement for peace, an alert to combat necropolitics, the forces of death, evident both in the daily sum of political assassinations and femicides, and in the serious increase in insecurity and social inequality. That is why it is fundamentally a cry for peace with social justice.
In that vein, when Francia Márquez speaks of the movement “of resistance to power until dignity becomes customary”, she states the imperative need for a substantive change in the political equation of the country, that is, a deepening of democracy where the “nadies”—black people, indigenous people, peasants, young people, from the urban popular sector, LGTBQ+, etc—who are excluded from political power, come to govern the country. “Vivir Sabroso” is an Afro-descendant vernacular expression from the Chocó region to name the ideal of life, which in the mouth of Francia Márquez has become an ethical-political principle to signify the will to rebuild the country for the sake of a politics for life based on ideals of justice, peace, equity, and hope, a “politics of love” to recreate the nation.
From another angle of vision, the great surprise of the elections of May 29, 2022, was the achievement of second place by Rodolfo Hernández, a millionaire tycoon from the construction industry, who was mayor of the city of Bucaramanga in the Department of Santander, with almost 6 million votes, which constitute 28% of the electorate, forcing this to a second round of elections to decide the executive. Hernández surprised by beating the former mayor of Medellín—the second most important city in Colombia—Federico Gutiérrez, recognized as the opposition candidate against the Historical Pact, promoted by the political and economic elites that govern the country.
These ruling classes see Petro and France as a serious threat to their prevailing regime of injustice and corruption. Rodolfo Hernández emerged at the last minute to second place with a simple moralistic rhetoric against corruption, manifested in his slogan “Do not steal, do not lie, do not betray.” He claims to be outside the political class despite being an elected politician facing legal charges of corruption. His authoritarian populist discourse is nourished by his express admiration for “a German thinker named Adolf Hitler”, as he declared in a television interview. In that vein, in another interview, Hernandez said that he could dispense with the legislative power to govern, because he intends to preside directly with “the people”, to which he added that his government management could well be sustained by declaring the “state of shock” (or state of exception) by the executive.
His neo-fascist sensibility is fueled by his misogynistic statements that women are not meant for politics, but “to stay home and cook.” These demonstrations are related to their xenophobic expressions against immigrant women from Venezuela in Colombia who, according to Hernández, are only “machines to give birth to poor babies.” This type of disdain for subaltern sectors is also evident in his description of families from the popular sector who are indebted to their housing projects as “little men who live in debt to me.” We wonder to what extent the electorate is aware of these actions and how they interpret them. Expressions of support on social networks indicate that a sector of the electorate sees Hernández as a benevolent patriarch with the will to “save the country”, as he stated in his triumphant speech on May 29, celebrating being declared a contender for Gustavo Petro by the presidency in the second electoral round.
Despite his claim of independence from the country’s political elites, the official leadership has expressed support for Hernández, beginning with former President Álvaro Uribe along with the main political figures associated with Uribismo such as Senator María Fernanda Cabal and Paloma Hernández. In conservative concert, in his public speech accepting that he lost the elections, Federico Gutiérrez expressed his intention to vote for Hernández, stating that “we do not want to lose the country”, while accusing Petro of being “a danger to freedoms, the economy, our families and our children”. With this move, Gutierrez promoted a rhetoric of fear to the “socialist threats”, marking an ideological route for the political contest to come.
The coming to the main arena of Colombian politics of Rodolfo Hernández can give a clearly neo-fascist character to Colombian power scene. His speech and strategy are more similar to the new right-wingers like Trump and Bolsonaro than to the old leaders of the Colombian right-wing like Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque, who were defeated by popular will in the May 29 election. Uribe masked his authoritarianism with a rhetoric of “democratic security”, did not engaged in misogenous language, and made gestures of recognition of excluded ethnic-racial groups. Again, it is important to bear in mind that the majority of the active electorate voted for Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, while Rodolfo Hernández declared himself independent of political groups.
However, Hernández voted against peace in the 2018 plebiscite, defends heavy-handed policies, and enunciates an authoritarian populist discourse related not only to Uribe, but even more so to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. His affinities with Trump are revealed in his corporate projection of politics that celebrates him as a prosperous capitalist. Also, Hernandez’s political advisor, David Lopez, was the one who designed Trump’s campaign to attract the Latino vote. Hernandez’s similarities with Bolsonaro are seen in his electoral strategy through social networks, pragmatically identifying what message he is giving to each sector, and refusing to participate in presidential debates.
His affinity with both Bolsonaro and Trump is evident in his aggressive, belligerent, misogynistic and xenophobic speech that is demonstrated both in his speech and in his attitudes of insulting and violating any different opinion. His physical assault on councilor Jhon Claro, when he was mayor of Bucaramanga, has been widely seen on Colombian television. Hernandez’s authoritarian sensibilities, along with his lack of political experience on the national stage, coupled with his lack of a historical project for the country, in a serious context of crisis and polarization, make up a perfect formula for neo-fascism.
In a country that has one of the highest scales of inequality in the world, which maintains the highest rates of forced displacement and food insecurity (or hunger), in addition to the highest levels of murder of social leaders and trade unionists, the plainly pragmatic and demagogically post-ideological political character of Rodolfo Hernández, combined with his lack of a clear government program, point to the danger of the consolidation of a neo-fascist regime in the event of of winning the elections in the second round on June 19.
Colombia’s historical dilemma in the presidential elections of June 19, 2022 is clearly outlined as one between facilitating the path towards consolidating a neo-fascist regime or cultivating a politics to transform the country into “a world power for life”, as Francia Márquez says for “Vivir Sabroso” (“Living Tasty”). Playing this drum, Gabriel García Márquez, forty years ago, in his memorable speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1982, said, as if prophesying this moment: “We, the inventors of fables, who believe everything, feel we have the right to believe, that it is not too long yet. too late to undertake the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and devastating utopia of life where no one can decide for others even how to die, where love is truly true and happiness is possible, and where the lineages condemned to 100 years of solitude have finally and forever a second chance on earth.”
 Francia Márquez, with around 800, 000 votes, came second, after Gustavo Petro, among the candidates for the presidency of the Historical Pact in the March 13 consultation. France came in third place of the candidates of all political parties in said consultation, which placed it as the third presidential force in the Colombian political scene.
 Soy Porque Somos which literally translates as “I am because we are”, deliberately invokes the Africana category Ubuntu, that signifies the “good life” in Africana political theory based on a condition of harmony between human beings as well as with all beings including nature and ancestry.
 A literal translation of “Vivir Sabroso” will be “living tasty”.
 Francia Márquez has taken the expression the “nadies” (which translates as “the nobodies”)” from the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, turning it into a category to signify the excluded political subjectivities that she represents, and whose rise to the center of political power constitutes a kind of political revolution in the country.
 The concept of “authoritarian populism” was conceived by the Afro-British intellectual-activist Stuart Hall to characterize the discourse and politics of Margaret Thatcher who attracted wide support in the British citizenry with a harangue of “representing the people” above the interests of the ruling political class. In the broad and diverse debate on Latin American populism there is a consensus that the figure of the caudillo is a common element to populism as a discourse and as a government strategy. In the debates, a distinction is made between right-wing populism, where we place authoritarian populism and left-wing populism.
Agustin Lao-Montes, is Associate Professor of Sociology and Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is also a member of the coordinating committee of the Regional Articulation of Afro-descendents in the Americas and the Caribbean-ARAAC. He is the author of several books and numerous articles. He has two upcoming books, “Du Bois on Latin America and the Caribbean: Trans-American Pan-Africanism and Global Sociology”, and “Diasporic Counterpoints: Cartographies of the Political in Our Afroamerica”.