Following a historic election victory in June, Colombia’s first ever leftist president, Gustavo Petro, assumed office Sunday before a crowd of hundreds of thousands. He pledged to “bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, which is tranquility and peace.”
Having campaigned on a radical agenda to redistribute wealth, end the war on drugs and tackle the climate crisis, Petro is looking to break with the country’s conservative politics.
But the new leader has the potential not only to transform the political landscape of Colombia, but to accelerate the decline of U.S. influence in the wider Latin America region, experts tell TIME.
Here, Petro’s agenda, and how it could change the U.S.’s role in Latin America:
Who is Gustavo Petro?
The former guerilla campaigned on a left-wing agenda, with plans to redistribute wealth, overhaul the police in light of a brutal crackdown in 2021 against mass protests over inequality and wean Colombia off oil and coal. Such proposals have stoked fear in Colombia’s conservative elites and wealthy investors alike.
The 62-year-old Petro was a member of the now-disbanded M-19 guerilla group, the second-largest in the 1980s after FARC. Far-right groups were responsible for most paramilitary crimes during Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict but so were left-wing ones, according to the U.N. Many Colombians continue to associate leftist guerrilla movements with violence and instability.
Petro rejected armed struggle in the late 1980s, but these links have made him persona non grata in many circles. Nonetheless, he went on to secure positions in both houses of Congress, and was mayor of Bogotá from 2012 to 2016. Allegations of public service mismanagement resulted in his temporary removal from office in 2014 (Petro has said his removal was politically motivated). He first ran for president in 2018, but was beaten by the right-wing Iván Duque by 12 percentage points in the run-off ballot.