Colombian electors are hungry for a big change in their crisis-hit country

Teachers on a march against the Colombia government of right-wing President Iván Duque


NEXT Sunday 19th of June the final round of presidential elections will take place in Colombia. After having defeated the establishment candidates in the first round, the runners up are Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez.
The first-round vote reflected widespread weariness with the traditional political parties, repulsion at corrupt political institutions, mass hatred of Ivan Duque’s government and a general hunger for change in a crisis-ridden country rated among the most unequal in the world.
Senator Petro, an ex-guerrilla combatant and ex-major of Bogotá, is running on the reformist ‘Pacto Historico’ (Historic Pact) ticket, an electoral coalition of several centrist and left wing parties widely supported by trade unions and grassroot organisations in town and country.
His running mate Francia Marquez, a working class black woman, is an increasingly popular activist, environmentalist and political leader. The duo promises to be ‘the change that Colombia needs’ as theirs would be the first time in the Republic’s history that the presidential palace would be occupied by people outside the ruling elite.
Hernandez, a construction industry magnate and ex-major of Bucaramanga, is supported by the ‘Liga de Gobernantes Anti-Corrupción’ (Anti-Corruption League) which has a simple but resonant slogan in one of the most corrupt countries in the planet: ‘no lying, no treachery, no stealing’.
His vice-presidential candidate is, like Petro’s, also a woman. Marelen Castillo, an engineer and academic researcher, swore to help Hernandez ‘drain the swamp’ of ‘corrupt politicians and scoundrels’ thus solving the problems of poverty and violence that have long afflicted the population of this South American nation.
Both campaigns defend capitalist property and both pledge to administer the capitalist state for the good of the people. Petro seeks to stabilise capitalism by means of progressive reforms whilst Hernandez proposes small government and austerity.
However, it would be a mistake to assume these elections are just about two different proposals for administering the capitalist state.
In fact, there is a more fundamental question, one that unites the unemployed, semi-employed and fully- employed masses of rural and urban workers with students, Black people, indigenous communities, women and all the oppressed who long for change: the question of democratic rights.
The opening of democratic space in order to strengthen our ability to organise and fight for an improvement of living conditions and defend our class interests is a vital question for working people and their allies.
Hernandez has made it clear that stifling and closing down the recent democratic space gained by struggle will be central to his government project.
Hernandez has announced his intentions to rule by decree: ‘starting on the first day of office’ by declaring ‘Internal Commotion’.
Akin to a state of emergency, this would transfer further power from the legislature (Congress) to the executive and give him a freer hand to attack democratic rights and impose restrictions to people’s ability to organise and resist the president’s will.
With his ‘anti-corruption’ and ‘anti-establishment’ demagogy, Hernandez seeks to dupe the masses into accepting his Bonapartist regime, a presidency of ‘a man of destiny’ that hoards ever-increasing and centralised power, necessary to ‘save the nation’ from an existential threat, in this case ‘red tape and corruption’.
A Hernandez victory would be the result of a dispersed, amorphous and very heterogenous mass that would elect him in hope of ‘radical change’ together with the followers of the ‘Uribistas’ and other political forces from all spectrums of bourgeois politics.
The Uribista faction of the ruling class, named after ex-president Alvaro Uribe, controlled the presidency for 20 years and although left mortally wounded by the first round of elections, they remain alive and with an ability to metamorphose in order to serve their class interest.
Hernandez’s government would count with the open support of most factions of the bourgeoisie and land-owning classes, who will attempt an immediate attack on democratic rights to numb the upsurge of the mass movement which has been on a rise since the 2019 national strike and the Spring 2021 uprising which led to the toppling of regressive tax and health care reforms along with the heads of several government officials.
On the other hand, social democrat leader Gustavo Petro’s strength stems, to a large extent, not from his class-collaborationist programme but from the recent experience of class struggles where masses of workers, peasants, students, union members, women, ethnic minorities and other exploited peoples have openly identified with his and Francia Marquez’s programme.
A victory for Petro’s Pacto Historico will raise the morale of workers and the oppressed, a large proportion of whom will see a Petro victory as a vindication of their plight and, for the first time in the nation’s history, a government attentive to the people’s demands.
The result of the next Colombian presidential election will not decide in and of itself the future of the class struggle. There will not be a guaranteed entry to paradise nor an apocalyptic descent to hell.
These will be decided by the class struggle itself, which cannot be reduced to electoral politics.
Nevertheless, a victory for Hernandez will lead to an immediate – albeit not guaranteed to be long lasting demobilisation of large sections of the exploited masses who had bet on a victory of Petro as ‘the natural next step’ following last year’s insurrection.
In spite of their political immaturity, largely disorganised and spontaneous behaviour, and generalised illusions regarding the bourgeois state, these masses have been carving out democratic space, building up links with each other, engaging in political discussion and becoming more self-confident as they fight tooth and nail against the tyrannical rule of ‘Uribista’ Bonapartism.
They have achieved this through fierce struggle against a brutal and murderous regime for whom no barbarity is off the table when it comes to defending the prerogatives of the exploiting classes.
Class conscious workers and their allies should support a Petro victory and regardless of election results, should join shoulder to shoulder in the coming mass struggles which are inevitable as the latifundista, capitalists and bankers’ class will seek to suffocate our resistance and make us pay with our limbs and lives for the crisis of their predatory profit-making system: capitalism.