Ex-rebel emerges as favorite in Colombian presidential race


Flanked by bodyguards with bulletproof shields, Gustavo Petro stood on a stage and lashed out at Colombia’s political elite in a speech to the residents of Fusagasuga, a rural town where farmers are struggling.

The leftist presidential candidate spoke of the need to protect local farmers from heavily subsidized foreign competitors. In the crowded public square, supporters waving the flags of opposition parties cheered when Petro promised to oust a political class that “prefers to work with criminals.”

“What we offer is a different way to perceive Colombia,” Petro said in an hourlong address. “We want a country where the state provides fundamental rights like education and health, and can finance them because there is a productive economy.”

With an emotional anti-establishment discourse and promises to boost state involvement in the economy, Petro has garnered a comfortable lead in polls as Colombia heads into Sunday’s presidential election.

The senator, who began his career in politics as a rebel, is aiming to become the first leftist president in a nation that has long been ruled by politicians with ties to wealthy families and powerful business groups. The current president — who cannot seek reelection — is Ivan Duque, a conservative from Bogota’s elite.


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