Gustavo Petro

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Gustavo Petro
Gustavo Petro Mayor of Bogota (cropped2).jpg
Petro in 2013
President-elect of Colombia
Assuming office
7 August 2022
Vice PresidentFrancia Márquez (elect)
SucceedingIván Duque
Member of the Senate
Assumed office
20 July 2018
In office
20 July 2006 – 20 July 2010
Mayor of Bogotá
In office
23 April 2014 – 31 December 2015
Preceded byMaría Mercedes Maldonado (acting)
Succeeded byEnrique Peñalosa
In office
1 January 2012 – 19 March 2014
Preceded byClara López Obregón (acting)
Succeeded byRafael Pardo (acting)
Member of the
Chamber of Representatives
In office
20 July 1998 – 20 July 2006
ConstituencyCapital District
In office
1 December 1991 – 20 July 1994
Personal details
Born (1960-04-19) 19 April 1960 (age 62)
Ciénaga de Oro, Córdoba, Colombia
Political partyHumane Colombia (2011–present)
Other political
M-19 (1977–1997)[a]
Alternative Way (1998–2002)
Regional Integration Movement (2002–2004)
Alternative Democratic Pole (2004–2010)
Historic Pact for Colombia (2021–present)
Katia Burgos

Mary Luz Herrán
(m. 1992; div. 2003)

(m. 2003)
Alma materExternal University of Colombia
Graduate School of Public Administration
Pontifical Xavierian University
University of Salamanca
Université catholique de Louvain

Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego (Spanish pronunciation: [ɡusˈtaβo fɾanˈsisko ˈpetɾo uˈreɣo]; born 19 April 1960) is a Colombian economist, politician, former guerrilla fighter, senator, and the president-elect of Colombia.[1][2] He defeated Rodolfo Hernández Suárez in the second round of the 2022 Colombian presidential election on 19 June.[3] When he takes office, Petro will become Colombia's first leftist president.[4][5][6]

At 17 years of age, Petro became a member of the guerrilla group 19th of April Movement, which later evolved into the M-19 Democratic Alliance, a political party in which he was elected to be a member of the Chamber of Representatives in the 1991 Colombian parliamentary election. He served as a senator as a member of the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party following the 2006 Colombian parliamentary election with the second-largest vote. In 2009, he resigned his position to run in the 2010 Colombian presidential election, finishing fourth in the race.[7]

Due to ideological disagreements with the leaders of the PDA, he founded the Humane Colombia movement to compete for the mayoralty of Bogotá. On 30 October 2011, he was elected mayor in the local elections, a position he assumed on 1 January 2012.[8] He received the worldwide “Climate and City Leadership” in 2013 thanks to his achievements while in office. In the first round of the 2018 Colombian presidential election, he came second with over 25% of the votes on 27 May, and lost in the run-off election on 17 June.[9]

Early life[edit]

Petro was born in Ciénaga de Oro, in the department of Córdoba, in 1960. His great-grandfather, Francesco Petro, migrated from Southern Italy in 1870,[10] which is why he has Italian citizenship.[11] Petro was raised in the Catholic faith and has stated that he has a vision of God from the liberation theology,[12] although he also questioned God's existence.[13]

Seeking a better future, Petro's family decided to migrate to the more prosperous Colombian inland town of Zipaquirá, just north of Bogotá, during the 1970s.[14]

Petro studied at the Colegio de Hermanos de La Salle, where he founded the student newspaper Carta al Pueblo ("Letter to the People"). At the age of 17 he became a member of the 19th of April Movement, and was involved in activities. During his time in 19 April Petro became a leader, and was elected ombudsman of Zipaquirá in 1981 and councilman from 1984 to 1986.[15]

M-19 militancy[edit]

Around the age of 17, Petro became a member of the 19th of April Movement (M-19),[16] a Colombian guerrilla organization movement that emerged in 1974 in opposition to the National Front coalition after allegations of fraud in the 1970 election.[17]

In 1985, Petro was arrested by the army for the crime of illegal possession of arms. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.[18][14] It was during his incarceration that Petro shifted his ideology, no longer viewing armed resistance as a feasible strategy to gain public backing. In 1987, M19 engaged in peace talks with the government.[19]


Petro graduated with a degree in economics from the Universidad Externado de Colombia and began graduate studies at the Escuela Superior de Administración Pública (ESAP). Later, he earned a master's degree in economics from the Universidad Javeriana.[20][21] He then traveled to Belgium and started his graduate studies in Economy and Human Rights at the Université catholique de Louvain. He also began his studies towards a doctoral degree in public administration from the University of Salamanca in Spain.[22][23][24]

Political career[edit]

Early career[edit]

After the demobilization of the M-19 movement, former members of the group (including Petro) formed a political party called the M-19 Democratic Alliance which won a significant number of seats in the Chamber of Representatives in 1991, representing the department of Cundinamarca.[25] In July 1994, he met with Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez, who had just been released from prison for his role in the February 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt, for an event on Bolivarian thought at the Simón Rodríguez Cultural Foundation in Bogotá, directed by José Cuesta, Petro's parliamentary assistant.[26][27]

In 2002, Petro was elected to the Chamber of Representatives representing Bogotá, this time as a member of the Vía Alterna political movement he founded with former colleague Antonio Navarro Wolff and other former M-19 members. During this period he was named "Best Congressman", both by his own Congress colleagues and the press.[28]

As a member of Vía Alterna, Petro created an electoral coalition with the Frente Social y Político to form the Independent Democratic Pole, which fused with the Alternativa Democrática in 2005 to form the Alternative Democratic Pole, joining a large number of leftist political figures.

In 2006, Petro was elected to the Senate, mobilizing the second highest voter turnout in the country. During that year he also exposed the Parapolitics scandal, accusing members and followers of the government of mingling with paramilitary groups in order to "reclaim" Colombia.[29][30]

Opposition to the Uribe government[edit]

Senator Petro vehemently opposed the government of Álvaro Uribe. In 2005, while a member of the Chamber of Representatives, Petro denounced the lottery businesswoman Enilse López (also known as "La Gata" [the cat]). As of May 2009, she was imprisoned and under investigation for ties to the (now disbanded) paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Petro alleged that the AUC financially contributed to the presidential campaign of Álvaro Uribe in 2002. Uribe refuted these statements by Petro but, during his presidential reelection campaign in 2006, admitted to having received financial support from Enilse López.[31]

During Álvaro Uribe's second term as president, Petro encouraged debate on the Parapolitics scandal. In February 2007 Petro began a public verbal dispute with President Uribe when Petro suggested that the president should have recused himself from negotiating the demobilization process of paramilitaries in Colombia; this followed accusations that Uribe's brother, Santiago Uribe, was a former member of the Twelve Apostles paramilitary group in the mid-1990s. President Uribe responded by accusing Petro of being a "terrorist in civilian clothing" and by summoning the opposition to an open debate.[32]

On 17 April 2007, Petro began a debate in Congress about CONVIVIR and the development of paramilitarism in Antioquia Department. During a two-hour speech, he revealed a variety of documents demonstrating the relationship between members of the Colombian military, the current political leadership, narcotraffickers and paramilitary groups. Petro also criticized the actions of Álvaro Uribe as Governor of Antioquia Department during the CONVIVIR years, and presented an old photograph of Álvaro Uribe's brother, Santiago, alongside Colombian drug trafficker Fabio Ochoa Vázquez.[33]

The Minister of Interior and Justice, Carlos Holguín Sardi and the Minister of Transport, Andrés Uriel Gallego, were asked to defend the president and his government. Both of them questioned Petro's past as a revolutionary member and accused him of "not condemning the warfare of violent people". Most of Petro's arguments were condemned as mud-slinging. The day after this debate the president said "I would have been a great guerrilla because I wouldn't have been a guerrilla of mud, but a guerrilla of rifles. I would have been a military success, not a fake protagonist".[34]

President Uribe's brother, Santiago Uribe, affirmed that his father and the Ochoa brothers had grown up together and were in the Paso Fino horse business together. He then mentioned that he also had many photographs, taken with many people.[35]

On 18 April 2007, the Vigilance and Security Superintendency released a communique rejecting Petro's accusations concerning the CONVIVIR groups. The Superintendency said that many of the groups mentioned were authorized by the Departments of Sucre and Córdoba, but not by the Antioquia government; it also added that Álvaro Uribe, then Antioquia's governor, had eliminated the legal liability of eight CONVIVIR groups in 1997. It was also mentioned that the paramilitary leader known as "Julian Bolívar" had not yet been identified as such and was not associated with any CONVIVIR during the authorization of these groups.[36]

Death threats[edit]

Petro has frequently reported threats against his life and the lives of his family, as well as persecution by government-run security organizations.[37] On 7 May 2007 the Colombian army captured two Colombian Army intelligence non-commissioned officers who had been spying on Petro and his family in the municipality of Tenjo, Cundinamarca. These members had first identified themselves as members of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) the Colombian Intelligence Agency but their claims were later denied by Andrés Peñate, director of the agency.[38]

2010 presidential campaign[edit]

In 2008, Petro announced his interest in a presidential candidacy for 2010.[39] He distanced himself from government policies and, along with Lucho Garzón and Maria Emma Mejia, led a dissenting faction within the Alternative Democratic Pole. Following Garzón's resignation from the party, Petro proposed a "great national accord to end Colombia's war," based on removing organized crime from power, cleaning up the judicial system, land reform, democratic socialism and a security policy differing considerably from the policies of President Uribe. On 27 September 2009, Gustavo Petro defeated Carlos Gaviria in a primary election as the Alternative Democratic Pole candidate for the 2010 presidential election.[40]

In the presidential election held on 30 May 2010, Petro did better than polls had predicted. He obtained a total of 1,331,267 votes, 9.1% of the total, finishing as the fourth candidate in the vote total, behind Germán Vargas Lleras and ahead of Noemí Sanín.[41]

Mayoralty of Bogotá (2012–2014; 2014–2015)[edit]

Mayor Petro in 2012.

During Petro's administration, measures such as the prohibition on the carrying of firearms were advanced, which led to the reduction of the homicide rate, reaching the lowest figure of the last two decades;[42][43] interventions were carried out by the police in El Bronx sector of the city, where seizures of drugs and weapons were made; the Women's Secretariat was created; the LGBTI Citizenship Center was inaugurated; and 49 centers for birth control and abortion care were also created in cases permitted by law.[44]

Petro proposed a policy to conserve the wetlands of Bogotá and plan for the preservation of water in the face of global warming. He also announced plans to plant over 200,000 trees.[45] Following the order of the Constitutional Court, a process of suppression of animal-drawn vehicles used by waste pickers began, putting many out of work; some were replaced by automotive vehicles and subsidies.[46]

In June 2012, Petro banned bullfighting within the Santamaría Bullring, a measure that was later rejected by the constitutional court.[47]

In the area of public health, Mobile Attention Centers for Drug Addicts (CAMAD) were established.[48] With these measures, the aim was to reduce the dependency of the destitute in the streets of the sector to the providers of narcotic drugs, providing psychological and medical assistance.[49]

During his administration, the District put into operation two primary-care clinics at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, which had closed in 2001. The Mayor promised that he would allocate resources to purchase the Hospital grounds and reopen one of the buildings of the complex.[50] The project was delayed due to the Cundinamarca government's suspension of the sale of the properties.[51] On 11 February 2015, as mayor of Bogotá, the protocol ceremony for the reopening of the San Juan de Dios Hospital Complex was finally formalized. The District bought the hospital intending to reopen it. During his last month in office, before the liquidation of Saludcoop on 1 December 2015, the district had difficulties with the new patients who became part of the EPS Capital Salud.[52]

During Petro's administration, the application of the Integrated Public Transport System (SITP) began, inaugurated in mid-2012.[53] Likewise, subsidies paid by the District to reduce Transmilenio tariffs were created. In turn, from early 2014 the administration provided a 40% subsidy for the value of the ticket for the population affiliated to SISBEN 1 and 2, for which it allocated 138 billion pesos. This subsidy was not available to all individuals immediately, as they were required to register in a database.[54][55]

Petro proposed the construction of a subway for the city.[56] During his administration, he contracted studies of the subway infrastructure to a Colombian-Spanish company for $70 billion pesos, which successfully ended at the end of 2014.[57] The subway plans contracted by Petro's administration were discarded by his successor Enrique Peñalosa, who opted for an elevated railway system with allegedly lower investment required and better coverage. These claims have been refuted by several independent studies that have found that both the social and economic cost of an elevated railway system is higher than the original underground railway system planned by the previous administration.[58]


During his administration as mayor, Petro faced a recall process started by opposition parties and supported by the signatures of more than 600,000 citizens. After the legal verification, 357,250 signatures were validated,[59] many more than legally required to start the process.[60][61] On 9 December 2013, he was removed from his seat and banned from political activity for 15 years,[62] by Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, following the sanctions stipulated by the law. His sanction was allegedly caused by mismanagement and illegal decrees signed during the implementation of his waste collection system.[63] This led to a protest which deemed the Inspector's move as controversial, politically biased and undemocratic.[64][65]

Despite being granted an injunction by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which suspended the sanction imposed by Inspector General Ordoñez, President Juan Manuel Santos upheld the removal and Petro was removed from office 19 March 2014.[66] For his temporary replacement, Santos appointed as Mayor the Labor Minister, Rafael Pardo. On 19 April 2014, a magistrate from the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá ordered the president to obey the recommendations laid out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Petro was reinstated as mayor on 23 April 2014 and finished his term.[67][68]

2018 presidential campaign[edit]

Petro and his running mate Ángela Robledo (far left) receiving endorsements from Antanas Mockus (third from left) and Claudia López Hernández (third from right) at an event in Bogotá, during the campaign for the second round, June 2018

In 2018, Gustavo Petro was again a presidential candidate, this time getting the second best result in voting counting in the first round on 27 May, and advanced to the second round.[69] His campaign was run by publicists Ángel Beccassino, Alberto Cienfuegos and Luis Fernando Pardo.[70] A lawsuit was filed by citizens against Iván Duque, Petro's right-wing opponent, alleging bribery and fraud. The news chain Wradio made the lawsuit public on 11 July, which was presented to the CNE ('Consejo Nacional Electoral', National Electoral Council, by its acronym in Spanish).[71] The state of the law suit will be defined by the Magistrado Alberto Yepes.[citation needed]

Petro's platform emphasized support for universal health care, public banking, a rejection of proposals to expand fracking and mining in favor of investing in clean energy, and land reform.[72] Before the runoff, Petro received endorsements from senator-elect Antanas Mockus and senator Claudia López Hernández, both members of the Green Alliance.[73]

In the second round of voting, Duque won the election with more than 10 million votes, while Petro took second place with 8 million votes. Duque was inaugurated on 7 August; meanwhile, Petro returned to the Senate.[74]

Petro received death threats from the paramilitary group Águilas Negras.[75]

2022 presidential campaign[edit]

Petro with former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2022

In 2021, Petro declared that he would be running in the 2022 elections.[76] In September 2021, Petro announced that he would retire from politics if his campaign were not to succeed, stating that he does not intend to be an "eternal candidate".[77] Petro’s campaign platform included promoting green energy over fossil fuels and a decrease in economic inequality.[78] He has promised to focus on climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause it by ending fossil fuel exploration in Colombia.[78] He also pledged to raise taxes on the wealthiest 4,000 Colombians and said that neoliberalism would ultimately "destroy the country". Petro also announced that he would be open to having president Iván Duque stand trial for police brutality committed during the 2021 Colombian protests.[79] Furthermore, he promised to establish the ministry of equality. Following his victory in the Historic Pact primary, Petro selected Afro-Colombian human rights and environmental activist and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Francia Márquez, to be his running mate.[80]

Among the key points of his program, he proposes an agrarian reform to restore productivity to 15 million hectares of land to end "narco-feudalism" (in Spanish, "narco-latifundismo"); a halt to all new oil exploration in order to wean the country off its dependence on the extractive and fossil fuel industries; infrastructure for access to water and development of the rail network; investment in public education and research; tax reform and reform of the largely privatized health system.[81] Petro announced that his first act as president will be to declare a state of economic emergency to combat widespread hunger. He is advocating progressive proposals on women's rights and LGBTQ issues.[citation needed] Petro also stated that he would restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela.[82] He proposed combatting Colombia's cocaine trade with the growth of legal marijuana, and has opposed extraditions of accused drug criminals to the United States.[83]

Petro and his running mate Francia Márquez faced numerous death threats from paramilitary groups while on the campaign trail. Petro cancelled rallies in Colombiaʼs coffee region in early May 2022 after his security team uncovered an alleged plot by the La Cordillera gang.[84] In response to this and many other similar situations, 90 elected officials and prominent individuals from over 20 countries signed an open letter expressing concern and condemnation of attempts of political violence against Márquez and Petro. The letter also highlighted the assassination of over 50 social leaders, trade unionists, environmentalists and other community representatives in 2022. Signatories of the letter included former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky and member of the French National Assembly Jean-Luc Mélenchon.[85] During the campaign, Petro received support from foreign politicians, such as former Uruguayan president José Mujica and former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.[86][87]

During the campaign, his opponents said that he planned expropriation measures if he becomes president, and argued similarities with Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro. Proposals from Petro to change the nation’s economic model were criticized for increasing taxes on unproductive landowners and for upsetting oil and coal investors by his platform to move to clean energy. Critics said his efforts to shift more of Colombia's wealth to the poor could turn Colombia into another Venezuela, and also compared his ideas to those of the early days of Hugo Chávez's government in Venezuela.[88] In response, he signed a public document on 18 April in which he pledged not to carry out any type of expropriation if elected.[89] During a presidential debate hosted by El Tiempo on 14 March, candidates responded to a question about relations with Venezuela and Nicolás Maduro. Whilst other participants responded by stating Venezuela is a dictatorship and expressing reluctance toward restoring relations, Petro replied, "if the theory is that with a dictatorship you can't have diplomatic relations, and Venezuela is, [then] why does this government have relations with the United Arab Emirates, which is a dictatorship, perhaps worse [than Venezuela]?" He also stated that diplomatic relations are established with nations and not with individuals.[90] Whilst he has praised former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez for bolstering equality, Petro said during an interview with French newspaper Le Monde in May 2022 that Chávez made a "serious mistake of linking his social program to oil revenues". He also criticized Venezuela's commitment to oil by president Maduro. Petro argued that "Maduro's Venezuela and Duque's Colombia are more similar than they seem", pointing to the Duque administration's commitment to non-renewable energy and the "authoritarian drift" of both governments.[91] General Eduardo Zapateiro, commander of the National Army of Colombia, also criticized Petro during the campaign, causing controversy.[92]

Petro received the most votes in the first round held on 29 May but fell short of the 50% required to avoid a runoff. He and Márquez faced the former mayor of Bucaramanga and businessman, Rodolfo Hernández Suárez and his running mate Marelen Castillo in the run-off on 19 June.[93][94] Shortly after the first round, Luis Gilberto Murillo, who was the running mate of Sergio Fajardo on the Hope Center Coalition ticket, endorsed Petro for the second round.[95] In the second round, Petro and Márquez won the election by winning 50.44% of the popular vote against Hernández.[5][6]

Policies and views[edit]

Foreign affairs[edit]

Petro has had an ambiguous position on Venezuela under Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. While he has not denounced its human rights violations or described Maduro as a dictator, unlike Iván Duque, he has not expressed unrestricted support, unlike leaders such as Evo Morales.[96]

In 1994 Petro met with Chávez in Bogota, when the latter met with members of the M-19. After Chávez's death in 2013, Petro affirmed that he was a "great Latin American leader", saying: "You lived in Chávez's times and maybe you thought he was a clown. You were fooled. You lived in the times of a great Latin American leader". He also expressed: "Even if many do not like him, Hugo Chávez will be a man who will be remembered by the history of Latin America, his critics will be forgotten".[96]

In 2016, Petro ironized about the crisis in Venezuela, in a year when shortages and malnutrition were rampant, by posting a photo of a supermarket with full shelves on Twitter and saying, "I went into a supermarket in Caracas and look what I found. Did RCN fool me?".[96]

In a 2018 interview in Al punto, Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos asked Petro if he considered Hugo Chávez as a political leader, to which Petro answered that he believed that "he was popularly elected", but that authoritarianism in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro was putting an end to all freedoms.[97]

In 2022, on the television program Con el mazo dando, Maduro lashed out against leftist leaders in the region who criticized his government, including president of Chile Gabriel Boric, president of Peru Pedro Castillo, and Petro, declaring "Every day there is a campaign against Venezuela. A cowardly left wing has emerged that bases its discourse on attacking the successful, victorious Bolivarian model. In attacking the historical legacy and attacking me as president. They have no morals, they have no level to attack the Bolivarian revolution". Petro responded on social media saying "I suggest Maduro to stop his insults. Cowards are those who do not embrace democracy", adding, "Get Venezuela out of oil, take it to the deepest democracy, if you must step aside, do it."[96]

Following the results of the 2022 presidential elections in Colombia, Maduro congratulated Petro on his victory, saying "I congratulate Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez, for the historic victory in the presidential elections in Colombia. The will of the Colombian people was heard, who came out to defend the path of democracy and peace. New times are on the horizon for this brother country".[96]


  1. ^ Petro was a member of the guerrilla movement until its demobilization in 1990. It then became a political party (the M-19 Democratic Alliance), which Petro remained a part of until 1997.


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