The Nobodies Take Office in Colombia: An In-Depth Analysis
Portside Date:
Author: Alina Duarte
Date of source:
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and the nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will suddenly rain down on them–will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down yesterday, today, tomorrow, or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.

The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way.

Who are not, although they are.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.

The nobodies, who are worth less than the bullet that kills them.

The Nobodies

By Eduardo Galeano [1]

June 19, electoral victory

People are crying, embracing, yelling, as the streets fill with joy. Horns honk and people dance in the middle of avenues. They can’t believe that the news traveling by word of mouth, tweet to tweet, news show to news show, is really true. As the minutes and hours pass, they confirm that it is true: This June 19th they—the Nobodies—have won.

“I am tingling from head to toes, overcome with emotion because I know that this is an historic accomplishment for all of us to remember. What joy! What happiness! Until dignity becomes customary!” says Ana Yuli Gamboa with a big smile—an Afro-Colombian woman from Cali who has come out to celebrate.

Like Ana Yuli, little by little thousands took to the streets and plazas of the country to celebrate the victory of the Pacto Histórico, a victory that tastes like their own.

Ana Yuli Gamboa. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

“After 214 years we finally have a government of the people—a people’s government, a government of people with calloused hands, a government of ordinary people, a government of The Nobodies of Colombia. Sisters and brothers, let us bring reconciliation to this nation. Let’s go for peace in a decisive way, with love and joy; let’s go for dignity. I am the first woman vice-president of Colombia; I am your vice-president,” said Francia Márquez before thousands in Bogotá after the victory of the Pacto Histórico was confirmed. Many more women and men saw her on screens, heard her on the radio, and followed her words on social media in the rest of the country and the rest of the hemisphere.

A few minutes later came the sentence that many had been waiting years to hear, “I am Gustavo Petro and I am your president.” That was when the Movistar Arena in Bogotá reverberated in response to the next occupant of the Palacio de Nariño.

I was in Cali, salsa capital of the world, when I witnessed these tears of joy and dancing. The band Niche’s anthem “Cali Pachanguero” was tapped out in the horns announcing the victory. And between tears, hundreds of Colombian men and women made these victorious words their own: it is the dawning of a new era for the country, the era of the Pacto.

The Pacto Histórico: a one-of-a kind alliance

The Pacto Histórico was officially born on February 11, 2021. Political figures on the left and center-left announced this alliance which would first seek to consolidate a position that could win a legislative majority in Congress, and second, produce a candidate who could win the presidency. The Pacto Histórico succeeded.

What was unique about this coalition was the members it brought together. It was not a mere alliance among political parties, but also included social movements from a broad range of the ideological spectrum.

Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia), Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole), Movimiento Alternativo Indígena y Social (Alternative Indigenous and Social Movement), Unión Patriótica-Partido Comunista (Patriotic Union-Communist Party), Todos Somos Colombia (We Are All Colombia), and Congreso de los Pueblos y Comunes (Congress of Peoples and Communes—a party founded by former FARC combatants), are just some of the groups that answered the call.

However, young people, women, peasants, trade unionists, Colombian men and women from the historically excluded segments of society—the periphery, the poorest neighborhoods, the working class—soon organically showed up for this appointment with history. The Pacto was joined by The Nobodies, the people who didn’ hesitate to go out into the streets in April of 2021 when President Iván Duque threatened to implement a tax reform package that would benefit only the ruling class. This time thousands and thousands of them took to the streets.

Nationally, more than 70 people who raised their voices did so at the cost of their own lives, while hundreds refused to back down despite the brutal repression of the police forces.

One of the main trenches of struggle in Cali was Puerto Resistencia, a place where fearless youths came together, with hundreds of them forming a “front line.” For months on end, they stood firm for a new Colombia, even though some of their comrades were murdered before their very eyes during this dark period.

Such was the case of “Wao,” a young man from Cali who after months of marches, road blocks, repression and persecution, felt that it was all worth it. On the night of June 19th, despite the possibility that the police would arrest him for his activism, he did not hesitate one second in going out to celebrate the victory together with hundreds of other young people.

“Panda” and “Wao”, activists at Puerto Resistencia, Cali. (Photo: Alina Duarte.)

“This victory by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is our victory, because here in Puerto Resistencia we have bet absolutely everything on this. We have shown leadership, inner city youth programs, building this with the people … We are showing that yes, we can. Yes, we can make a change for the good of our children’s future. This fills my heart, I feel it here in my chest, I tell you sincerely.”

On the night of the victory, Gustavo Petro thanked those young people and also asked for the release of those who are still incarcerated—words which brought great joy to the resistance in Cali. “To be honest with you, that was an act of bravery, from the heart. They know and believe in us, that we represent change,” said Wao with a lump in his throat.

We cannot forget that the social uprising that lasted almost a year at different levels of intensity, occurred immediately prior to the taking of power by the Pacto Histórico.

The repressive response by the police exacerbated the social indignation for almost ten months. There were constant protests, which were met with constant repression. But what was even more important was the massive level of organization and consciousness raising among the Colombian people.

José Alberto Tejada and the young people of Puerto Resistencia in Cali. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

José Alberto Tejada, a journalist who covered the social uprising in Cali and now serves as a member of Congress for the Pacto Histórico, points out that the role played by Gustavo Petro in consolidating a broad front that brought together all sectors and all possible demands was fundamental.

An open invitation to all sectors

“What [Petro] did was to tell Pacto Histórico, ‘the government cannot only be the Pacto Histórico. If we want to win office and be successful, we must create a broad front which will attract militants and leaders, leaders of other political forces that are not on the left, that are liberals, conservatives, right, center, radical right wingers, who for some reason decide to change how they vote. We must take them in.’ I fully agree with Petro’s position. I think it makes the most sense, politically speaking.”

During the campaign, Petro promoted the formation of a government of unity. He did not promise a communist or a socialist government, nor did he promise to end private property or that only the left would be included. He even promised to develop capitalism in Colombia, “not because we love it, but because first of all we have to move beyond pre-modernity in Colombia—feudalism, the new slavery.” This message was not necessarily intended for his voters, but rather his opponents who already hold national economic and political power.

José Alberto Tejada. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

The proposal to his team, Pacto Histórico, was for national reconciliation and unity.

This is why Tejada believes that Petro’s administration “cannot be read to be a revolutionary government or one marking a major rupture. It is a government of transition and concerted action. Concerted action means negotiation and when you negotiate, you have to sit down with the leaders of all the different social, political, and economic forces to be able to govern.”

Holding a dialogue with the right and the far-right means that Gustavo Petro has had to talk not only to the outgoing president, Iván Duque, and his defeated opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, but also to former President Álvaro Uribe, one of the men facing the most judicial investigations in Colombia. There are at least 29 cases against him before the Supreme Court, with charges including alleged ties to murders, electoral fraud, and military espionage.

Former President Álvaro Uribe with Gustavo Petro. (Photo: Gustavo Petro on Twitter.)

At the end of their meeting, Uribe said that Gustavo Petro “insisted that he wants total peace. No one opposes peace, that precious commodity. I also spoke to him about not only the protection of the armed forces and its members, from a different system, but about public problems that require the force of authority, not to repress protesters, but to avoid violence.”

This was the most controversial meeting of the transition period. It sheds doubt about how much maneuvering room Petro might have in a country in which the oligarchy, drug traffickers, and Uribe’s influence have all grown very deep roots.

Still, not everyone agrees that alliances with even the far-right will result in guaranteed governability, even though the Pacto Histórico holds 63 of the 108 seats in the Senate, and 114 of the 186 seats in the House.

According to Héctor Fernández, an activist in Pacto Histórico and member of Colectivo por la Paz en Colombia (Collective for Peace in Colombia), based in Mexico, “while Petro has enough votes to pass the reforms he needs to implement his government platform, it is obvious that this national alliance is a fragile one. It is an alliance that must be tended to in order to maintain unity and allow Petro to govern over the next four years.”

This scenario is not surprising. As we have seen over the past two decades in Latin America and the Caribbean where so-called progressive governments have been in office, Gustavo Petro will also have to cultivate and establish—or not—the limits required to govern once class tensions with the oligarchy and right-wing voters become apparent, beyond any alleged governance pact. What is unique about the Colombian case is that success in steering the national ship will not only require Petro to be shrewd, but to do so in the country with perhaps the most conservative right-wing in the hemisphere, who have blurred the lines between themselves and organized crime, drug trafficking, and United States imperialism.

Given these peculiar waters, Gustavo Petro’s track record and political activism are key.

Gustavo Petro’s path

 “The Colombian government had managed to sell to the world the theory that Colombia was a democracy. It was actually a dictatorship, just like that of Pinochet in Chile and Videla in Argentina. We in the M-19 were fighting precisely against that.”

Gustavo Petro, “Una vida, muchas vidas”

Born in Ciénaga de Oro, Córdoba, and holding Italian citizenship thanks to his great-grandfather, Gustavo Petro has a long history of militant activism and public service.

Gustavo Petro protecting himself from death threats during the 2022 presidential campaign. (Photo: Gustavo Petro’s Facebook page)

Although it has been used against him, it is true that Gustavo Petro joined the guerrillas at age 18 while an economics student. He joined the Movimiento 19 de abril, also known as M-19, where he adopted the pseudonym Aureliano, inspired by a Gabriel García Márquez character. He himself has narrated the nuances of his militancy.

When he joined M-19, Colombia was under a state of siege after an electoral fraud that handed victory to Misael Pastrana. In his book, “Una vida, muchas vidas,” Petro narrates the moment he made the decision that would change his life:

“I was 18  years old at the time. It was 1978 and I had been in university for two years. The idea of joining M-19 scared me. It was not a trivial matter. It meant joining an armed force: I knew that the message of that movement penetrated the souls of the Colombian people like a cannon. The magazine Cromos had conducted a survey and 80% of the population sympathized with M-19. We members of the JG3 had already broken with the student left of Bogotá. We were very independent. Our central debate was whether the path to revolution in Colombia was through armed struggle. We were wondering whether we should join the armed organizations… It all happened very fast. We went from the cafeteria circles to abstract discussion, to be seduced not only by the idea that we should organize ourselves with weapons, but that the organization we should belong to was the M-19… Rationally speaking, M-19’s proposal was very logical and popular: we had to redeem the history of our homeland, the soul of the people. For us it was easy to understand that demand because we lived in that world of the people. The hard part was making the decision to take up arms. We did not know all that would come afterwards; we were only 18 years old. But we did intuit that it was a life-or-death decision.”

For Petro, getting close to the M-19 meant he had to understand and break down its theoretical and practical lines. But he spared no details in recounting the surprise and enchantment he found in the guerrilla movement’s proposal as set forth in its Fifth Conference documents:

“I loved the document. The M-19 articulated the socialist proposals of the traditional left at the time, but it went far beyond that to propose something that still seems obvious but isn’t really: a real democracy for Colombia. That debate between socialism and democracy ran throughout the 20th century. With the appearance of the Soviet world, the idea of democracy was undermined, even ignoring those who had created such theories. The elimination of individual liberty marked the end of the concept of democracy, which was something cherished by the workers’ struggles of the world. And in that debate, a bit removed from the centers of the world, in a country called Colombia, M-19 was opting for democracy. Because that was always the objective: it was a democratic proposal, and that is how it began to be called the search for an alternative for Colombia,” (p. 47).

As a member of the M-19, Gustavo Petro was arrested and tortured in 1985. Two years later, in 1987, he was released. It was not until January of 1989 that the M-19 entered a 14-month long peace process, finally reaching a peace agreement in March of 1990 and becoming the first guerrilla group to lay down its arms in Colombia and achieve political participation through elections. Gustavo Petro participated in that process.

Upon leaving the guerrillas, Petro co-founded the political party Alianza Democrática M-19, which played a key role in the National Constituent Assembly of 1991, a process which resulted in a new constitution for the South American country.

His active political participation led him to the House of Representatives in 1991. Later, under death threats, he left the country and was appointed diplomatic attaché in Brussels, Belgium by the Ernesto Samper administration. He resigned the post in 1996.

On his return to Colombia in 1997, Petro ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Bogotá; one year later he returned to the House of Representatives and was re-elected in 2002. However, faced with another threat to his life, he went into exile in the U.S. capital for three months. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued precautionary measures on his behalf, forcing the Colombian State to provide him with protection.

Petro was catapulted onto the national scene when he served as mayor of Bogotá, but that position was not enough to implement his ideas of national transformation. Twice he ran for President of the Republic of Colombia and lost. But three was the charm when on March 13, 2022 he won the nomination of the Pacto Histórico by taking 80.5% in the primary vote. In second place was Francia Márquez with 14.05% of the vote.

Although they were opponents in the primary, ten days later the Petro/Márquez presidential ticket was born.

Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez. (Photo: Gustavo Petro’s Facebook page)

Gustavo Petro is an old sea dog. The attempt to cut short his political career through a ploy to remove him as mayor of Bogotá failed. The death threats and persecution that drove him into exile or the underground give him a very unique profile in this hemisphere. He is an activist government official and an activist who is a government official. At the age of 62 he is now at the helm of one of the hemisphere’s biggest countries in terms of paramilitary activity, drug trafficking, and domination by U.S. imperialism.

This is no secret. In the streets of Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín, people recognize an intelligent man with a long political track record, and also a man whose ego is hard to satisfy. But it is clear that his flaws have not slowed him down. He is advancing at a steady pace and the Casa de Nariño awaits him to represent not only his supporters, but also his detractors.

The night of the victory, Gustavo Petro, wearing a blue jacket with brown patches on the elbows,  embraced Francia Márquez. An embrace that announced that on the path ahead, He will be accompanied by more than his running mate. Francia Márquez has become an indispensable comrade in struggle not only for Petro, but for The Nobodies of Colombia.

Francia Márquez, the struggle of The Nobodies

I asked people what Francia Márquez means to them.

“For me, Francia Márquez means my color, my skin. She means to work, to struggle for our rights; humility, work, getting ahead, better work opportunities, a better quality of life. For me, she means change since we are coming out of 20 years of a government that has been manipulating us and exploiting the people,” responded Mabel Dayana, a young university student in Cali whose smile reveals the hope deposited at the polls.

There are many men and women who see themselves in Francia Márquez, a black woman born in El Cauca, active member of the feminist movement, and defender of territories. Even though Francia did not imagine herself as the candidate, advocating for a collective project rather than an elected position, this propelled her onto the platform.

Francia Elena Márquez Mina is the daughter of miners and farmers. Before she showed up for the first vice-presidential debate, she already had a long track record as a militant and member of social movements.

Mabel Dayana, Cali, Colombia. (Photo: Alina Duarte.)

As a teenager, Francia Elena provided for her two children by working in artisanal gold mining and as a domestic worker in the city of Cali. Her struggle to defend territories goes back to her native Suárez, where she was a representative of the Community Council in the village of La Toma. There she was a firm opponent of the illegal and destructive mining that resulted in the forced displacement of her community and death threats against her, which failed to stop her.

Many women and men in Colombia remember her as part of the “March of the Turbans,” a long and combative mobilization in 2017 in which 70,000 Afro-Colombian women marched from the municipality of Suárez to Bogotá to demand collective titles to their ancestral land, and the right to a life with dignity.

She insists on defending the land and calls it “the big home” or “the greater womb.” This not only led her to receive the Colombian National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights in 2015, but also caught the attention of international activists. In 2018 she was awarded the Goldman Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for the environment, and in 2019 she was awarded the Joan Alsina Prize in Spain.

Despite this national and international attention, and her imminent vice-presidency, Francia Márquez is still attentive to those who communicate with her. She smiles, says hello, and hugs.

I was among a group of journalists visiting Colombia on a mission with Global Exchange, to whom she gifted 24 minutes of her time. Francia talked about being from the Colombian people who have experienced and confronted racism, exclusion, and the imposition of an economic model sold to them as “development.” Such “development,” Márquez said, has taken the country down a virtually impossible path which has led to Colombians killing each other and a war that persists to the present day.

I represent the voices of the grandmothers who wanted a change for this country; many died waiting for it. Others now say: ‘I thought I would die and not live to see the change.’ We are engaged in a struggle for dignity and justice for our people, of men and women who have historically fought for equality, for peace, for social justice, for human dignity, for the struggle to care for our land as a space for life, the big home, the greater womb.”

Francia Márquez before the first round of voting. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

Francia provokes many reactions, and even emotions in some latitudes.

In Medellín, the land of Álvaro Uribe and Pablo Escobar, there is little evidence of support for Petro and Francia. It is almost impossible to find any of their campaign materials. That makes it even more striking that a large yellow house in the El Prado neighborhood has large letters spelling out PETRO on top of it, in capital letters.

It is the headquarters of Comunes, the party created by former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the venue for our meeting with Carlos Orlas, a journalist and member of that party.

Carlos is able to describe what Colombia is going through with all the proper grammar and punctuation and agility of a disciplined journalist who is also a peace activist. The deaths, disappearances, the false positives and the persecution of former combatant men and women warrant serious attention. But when he is asked what Francia Márquez means to him, the solemn mood is broken and his face cannot hide the hope that the future vice-president inspires in him.

Carlos Orlas, journalist and member of the Comunes party in Medellín. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

“Francia represents the land, the land that has suffered so much but has still blossomed; the land that resists. It is not that she talks about a life project around defending life, the rivers, the mountains, and that she shows this with her actions. It is not just a policy formulated around saying this. Rather this is what she has done, and that is very compelling. Francia is the people. She is an elder woman and we must value this because that is really new here. We have always been governed by the elites from Bogotá, with some interludes for the elites of Antioquia. But a woman who comes from such strong roots in El Cauca—where Colombia’s mightiest rivers spring in the Colombian Massif—is key. That woman is pure love.”

Not only is Francia synonymous with love among her supporters, so is her slogan “vivir sabroso” (living the good life). This simple phrase shook up the Colombian elites at the same time that it spurred empathy and unity among those historically excluded.

For our people, Vivir Sabroso means living in community, living in a collective construction of seeing ourselves as an extended family. It means living with nature and acknowledging that we are part of it and live in harmony with it if we as a people establish rules for our relationship with nature. Vivir Sabroso means the end of war in this country. It means to live without fear, that we women can go down to the corner without fear of being raped or killed. That young people will not have their eyes shot out because they are demanding education in this country.

To live without fear is to live with rights, to live in peace, to live with joy; to be able to express oneself through art, culture, and sports. It is to be able to enjoy the rich biodiversity we have in this country. That is what Vivir Sabroso means. And we have enjoyed this in the Pacific coast region of Colombia when we play the marimba, when we go and drink “bichi” and begin to talk about ourselves.”

The “nobodies” participating in the presidential campaign to support Petro and Márquez. (Photo: Alina Duarte.)

Francia has made it clear. Hers is a collective struggle and is summarized by her phrase, “I am because we are.” It is also the constant cry of a Black woman fighting with other women for a world of equals.

Clearly, in the coming years it will not suffice to want to vivir sabroso, or simply insist that “I am because we are.” The battle lines are drawn. Márquez will go from being opposition to serving in government, with the great challenge this implies. The challenge is to take the struggle that she has been waging for at least two decades, a collective struggle, beyond the polls and beyond narratives.

“Colombia will turn into Venezuela”: the battle over narratives

“Our approach was to defend peace, but Uribe’s people came back into power. How did that happen? Through fear, with rhetoric about Venezuela. The only way they could achieve that popular majority was based on a lie and not a proposal. During Uribe’s first and second terms, the mantra was destruction of the FARC, which somehow appealed to a society that felt threatened. But in 2018 they proposed nothing. They simply got people to think that if I won, Colombia would turn into Venezuela. That was all.”

Gustavo Petro, Una vida muchas vidas.

The specter of “turning into Venezuela,” present in political debates over the past two decades throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, had to be present in Colombia, specifically regarding candidate Gustavo Petro.

Media claims that Petro was and is synonymous with Venezuela did not start in 2022. The media battle over “Venezuelanization”—as Petro himself said in his book Una vida muchas vidas—started years earlier. He specifically pinpoints the 2018 presidential campaign, after the media had worn out, but did not desist from, other narratives such as his alleged relationship with the FARC.

One of the main people in charge of attacking the incoming president was former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, one of the most recalcitrant opponents of Gustavo Petro.

Months prior to the election, with several media outlets present, Uribe said that with Gustavo Petro “Colombia could have the worst neo-communism in the region because Mr. Petro is much smarter than [Hugo] Chávez, Mr. Petro is much smarter than [Pedro] Castillo, than President [Alberto] Fernández of Argentina, and Mr. Petro is much smarter than Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. That is why I have stated very thoughtfully that Chávez was not the teacher; it was Petro who taught Chávez. Colombia could have the most dangerous communism in the region because it has the smartest neo-communist leader, who is Mr. Petro.”

However, despite the barrage of corporate media reports asserting that the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Gustavo Petro had close ties, the only record of an encounter between the two occurred in 1994.

Gustavo Petro and Hugo Chávez, 1994. (Photo: social media)

After his incarceration following a failed coup attempt in 1992, Hugo Chávez was released in 1994 and attended an event on Bolivarian thought at the Simón Rodríguez Cultural Foundation in Bogotá.

But such evidence is not enough to discredit the campaign about the “Venezuelanization” that Gustavo Petro would purportedly usher in.

Days before the runoff election, the cover of Semana, one of Colombia’s largest circulating magazines, showed the faces of the now defeated Rodolfo Hernández and Gustavo Petro, with a headline that took up 1/3 of the space: “Former Guerilla or Engineer?”

That was not all. Days before the first round of voting, opinion columns in that magazine alleged the same thing. One of them, signed by Semana columnist Maria Andrea Nieto ran the headline, “Colombia is not Venezuela!” It sought to convince readers that despite Colombia’s systematic violence which in 2022 alone, as of May 29, had seen 108 human rights defenders assassinated, 53 massacres and 28 assassinations of signers of the failed peace accords, Colombia was more democratic than Venezuela, no buts about it.

However, Venezuela is still one of the cards played in such “arguments.”’

Before the election was even held, in another issue of the same publication, Salud Hernández Mora published a piece under the headline, “Will Petro Accept another Defeat?” According to this author, the Pacto Histórico is the only one capable of “setting the streets on fire and stomping on democracy.”

Opinion column in Semana magazine before the first round of voting in May of 2022.

Even with most of the headlines in the corporate media against it, the Pacto Histórico showed that a break with the past is possible. In a country with just over 39 million registered voters, 11,291,986 voted for the Pacto Histórico.

The “Venezuelanization” narrative, scandalous magazine covers, and scurrilous headlines were all unable to stem the tide of popular indignation.

Colombia is, and will again be, part of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The United States seems destined by providence
to plague the Americas with suffering in the name of freedom.”

Simón Bolívar

It is not surprising and is even understandable that Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez have refrained from showing any sympathy toward the so-called progressive governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, given the extensive, over-the-top media campaign being waged against them by the right and far-right of not only Colombia, but the world. However, and contrary to the expectations of the regional left itself, a few weeks have sufficed to see which way the winds are blowing in Colombia’s foreign policy.

If we start from the premise that Colombia’s relationship of economic, political, and military dependence on the United States will far from end during the Pacto Histórico’s term, we understand why one of the first foreign delegations to establish a dialogue with the incoming government was the Biden administration.

Jonathan Finer, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, meeting with Petro. (Petro’s Facebook page.)

Colombia, the main U.S. military ally in the region, hosts seven U.S. military bases in its territory. And economically, it is undeniable that Colombia’s leading trade partner is the United States.

Jonathan Finer, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, headed the delegation that met with the president-elect to ensure that they covered “the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship … including combating climate change, economic development, migration, security, counter narcotics, and many, many other issues. We hope to work closely with the president-elect and his team, including the vice-president elect.”

Petro described the meeting in positive terms as “interest in building around common work, among equal partners, trying to lay the groundwork that allows us to more effectively resolve issues, circumstances, and situations that weigh on the Americas.”

The new government’s relationship with Venezuela

While, for the time being, joint statements with the U.S. government do not mark a 180-degree turn, there are some actions which specifically have marked a change in the government-elect’s foreign policy: its relationship with Venezuela.

After two decades of open hostility towards Colombia’s neighbor, a new stage seems to be opening in bilateral relations. The incoming administration announced its willingness to re-establish relations between the two countries, exchange ambassadors, and thereby reopen the borders which were closed as part of the regional siege against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria with Colombia’s Foreign-Minister designate, Álvaro Leyva, July 28 on the Colombia-Venezuela border in Táchira. (Photo: Carlos Faria on Twitter.)

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria met this past July 28th with the Foreign Minister proposed by the government-elect of Colombia, Álvaro Leyva. Faria expressed “a willingness to gradually move toward normalization of relations between our two countries, resuming our historical ties of friendship, cooperation, and complementarity.”

Venezuela may be the most significant change in Colombia’s new foreign policy, but it is not the only one.

As a sort of foreign minister of the Colombian left, Francia Márquez has sought to establish ties with governments and leaders of the Latin American left and with social movements and organizations in the region.

In a tour of South America, Márquez outlined the ideological sympathies of the incoming administration.

Her first stop was Brazil. To the great joy of both, leader Francia did not hold back from yelling “Viva Lula” in a moment which could only be interpreted as support for the campaign of the former Brazilian president in the upcoming October 2 vote. All indications are that Lula will be returned to office.

Lula and Francia Márquez this past July 26th. (Photo: Francia Márquez on Twitter)

Francia also took advantage of her stop in Río de Janeiro to establish ties with the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement-MST), with activists, and with the Afro-Brazilian community—specifically with Black women running for the legislature in that South American country.

Further south, she was received by former Argentinian president and current Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirschner, as well as the current President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández. Francia Márquez did not hesitate to approach the local social movements in an encounter that gave a glimpse of some of the priorities on her agenda, such as the legalization of drugs.

Before a packed auditorium that also included Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Nora Cortiñas, a Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Márquez stated:

“May Colombia lead a debate in the region about a path towards legalization of drugs. I understand that the approach of criminalizing them has had negative impacts, especially on the rights of impoverished and racialized populations, women, young people, and ethnic peoples. These are the ones who have been disproportionately impacted by such policies.”

After Argentina, Márquez headed to Chile, where she was received by President Gabriel Boric. The support offered by the Chilean president was noteworthy. The vice-president-elect welcomed the fact that Boric “has not only expressed his willingness to accompany us in the task of attaining peace, but has offered his home, Chile, to be a venue for peace talks between the Colombian State and the National Liberation Army (ELN).”

And if Márquez’ South American tour sought to strengthen ties with progressive movements, governments, and prominent figures, Bolivia could not be left out.

During his meeting with Francia, President Luis Arce Catacora said that “southern winds are blowing more strongly and strengthening the Patria Grande (Great Homeland).” And former President Evo Morales said that they shared “experiences from the long struggle for the rights of the people most impoverished and excluded by neoliberal policies.”

[Screenshots of tweets by Francia Márquez: “I was happy to meet with @evoespueblo, teacher of life. From him we learned about the dignity of our people, to stand firm despite adversity. Today the struggle of the Bolivian and Colombian people is united to acknowledge that in our differences is a united and sovereign Latin America,” and by Evo Morales: “The beautiful words of Francia Márquez M pay homage to the Bolivian people. We are pleased because now, together with brother @gustavopetro, Colombia is advancing towards unity in diversity, redeeming the plurinationality of Latin America.”]

Bolivia was no exception in terms of Francia’s outreach to social movements. Surrounded by women, workers, peasants, indigenous people, community feminism activists, Márquez was welcomed with open arms.

And although Mexico was not on Francia Márquez’ Latin American tour, the support of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is undeniable. Just a few hours after the electoral victory he congratulated the government-elect and took a lot of time during his morning press conference on June 20th to say that he had spoken to Gustavo Petro on the phone and that his victory was historic.

A less visible meeting that also happened was a zoom call between the vice-president-elect and the Head of Government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, on July 7th. Sheinbaum described Márquez as a “symbol of struggle, inclusion, love, and hope for all of Latin America, especially women.”

In the few short weeks of the transition period while an administration was put together, the foreign policy priorities of the new Colombian government have become crystal clear. Petro and Márquez will seek to be part of the Latin America that has often been denied to Colombia because of U.S. influence.

The Pacto Histórico will also be among the peoples of the region.

The coin toss

The Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez administration faces the coming challenge of a country profoundly marked by the unraveling of the social fabric, and by a political, ideological, and electoral right wing that will have a hard time separating itself from the paramilitaries, drug traffickers, and the interests of U.S. imperialism.

The Pacto Histórico government will have an historic duty to open new paths in a country that is still seeking peace, but has not yet found it.

Between the date when the Cartagena de Indias Peace Accords were signed, September 26, 2016, and July 29, 2022, 1,335 leaders and human rights defenders were murdered. 319 massacres were committed and at least 334 signers of the peace accords were assassinated, while unofficial estimates speak of more than 600.

That is where the light of the Pacto HistóricoThe Nobodies—shines.

They have alliances, conscience, and bravery on their side. They have allied governments that have spared no efforts in establishing networks to help bring Colombia and the Patria Grande out of the long, dark night of neoliberalism.

The Nobodies want to be in government and they will be. But they want and can be more than that.

The author of this analysis, Alina Duarte, with Francia Márquez.
Mural on the streets of Cali. (Photo: Alina Duarte)

[Alina Duarte is a journalist and Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA.]

This analysis was edited by COHA Director, Patricio Zamorano.

This article was translated from the original Spanish by Jill Clark-Gollub, COHA Assistant Editor/Translator.

[1] Translated by Cedric Belfrage with some edits by COHA.

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