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Colombia elects Gustavo Petro in historic presidential election

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Colombia has elected a new president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Gustavo Petro won last night. He is a former mayor of the gigantic city of Bogota. He has a colorful past. In his youth, he joined a guerrilla movement and was imprisoned for a time. Now he's considered Colombia's first leftist to be elected president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT-ELECT GUSTAVO PETRO: (Speaking Spanish).

INSKEEP: He declared a new history for Colombia last night.

FADEL: But is Petro up to the challenge? Reporter Manuel Rueda joins us now from Bogota. Good morning.

MANUEL RUEDA: Good morning.

FADEL: So a narrow victory after a closely fought race. You were at Petro headquarters last night, right? What was it like?

RUEDA: Well, it was a pretty electric atmosphere. You know, you had the sense that it was something quite historic.

FADEL: Yeah.

RUEDA: It was a basketball arena that's also used for concerts. And there were, like, 8,000 people there making a lot of noise.

FADEL: And what can we expect from a Petro presidency? There are enormous expectations for this new leader of a country that's facing a lot of challenges, right?

RUEDA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Petro's campaign was focused on mentioning the social and economic inequalities and talking about how he wants to decrease those. And basically, the heart of his campaign is to get the government, the state, more involved in issues like solving unemployment, education, health problems. He's kind of like a Roosevelt from the 1930s, where it's like a New Deal for Colombia.

FADEL: Now, the night also brought another moment of history. Colombia has its first Black vice president, Francia Marquez. Tell us more about who she is.

RUEDA: Well, she's a very interesting character because what she says is that she joined politics to save her life, to save her community. And she comes from a very small place in the western mountains of Colombia and basically started out as an activist against the gold mining, against illegal gold mining. So she represents not just Afro Colombian population but the social community leaders in rural areas of Colombia who work in very dangerous conditions and often face death threats.

FADEL: Now, this election is another blow to establishment politics, not just in Colombia but in the region, right?

RUEDA: Yeah, absolutely. What you're seeing, you know, since the pandemic began across different countries of Latin America is that the opposition candidates are winning. The outsiders are winning. In some cases, it's leftist parties, like what happened in Peru and Chile last year. But for example, in Ecuador, it was a conservative politician who was from the opposition who won the election. So it's very hard in the current circumstances for incumbents to stay in power.

FADEL: And how is the victory being seen in the region?

RUEDA: Well, for some countries, it means something - for example, Colombia will probably reestablish relations with Venezuela. For the United States, it's going to be a challenge because Petro, as a senator, has been very critical of U.S. drug policy in the so-called war on drugs. So that relation is going to have more friction now, especially when it comes to anti-narcotics policies.

FADEL: Thank you very much. That's reporter Manuel Rueda in Bogota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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