Former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly won Colombia’s presidential race on Sunday, 19 June, marking the country’s first leftist president. Petro’s opponent was businessman and political outsider Rodolfo Hernandez and the vote was a close one, with 50.48 per cent going to Petro and 47.26 per cent to Harnandez.
This was Petro’s third bid for the presidency and marks a significant change in Colombian politics. Other Central and South American countries have elected leftist presidents in 2021, such as Chile, Peru and Honduras. Additionally, in Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls ahead of this year’s upcoming election.
A former rebel with the country’s M-19 movement, the new Colombian president-elect was jailed and later granted amnesty for his involvement with the guerrilla movement.
Petro tweeted a message of unity after the polls were called late last night: “Today is a day of celebration for the people. Let them celebrate the first popular victory. May so many sufferings be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the Homeland.”
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Who is Colombia’s new president elect?
Gustavo Petro was born on 19 April 1960 in Ciénaga de Oro in Colombia’s Cordoba department. In the 1970s, his family emigrated inland, north of the capital Bogotá, in search of more prosperous work opportunities.
He studied at Colegio Hermanos De La Salle and founded the school’s newspaper, Letter To The People (Carta Al Pueblo). Later, he obtained higher-education diplomas from the private External University of Colombia, the Graduate School of Public Administration, the religious, elite-oriented Pontifical University’ and the University of Salamanca in Spain.
Petro started his political career after the rebel movement he had been part of demobilised and was recognised as a legitimate political party. In 2002, he served on the Chamber of Representatives for Bogotá, a city whose mayor he later became – from 2012 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015.
During his time as a congressman he formed an alternative coalition, the Alternative Democratic Pole, which brought together many of the country’s leftist politicians.
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Petro is 62 years old and has been married three times. He has five children in total.
Colombian president was once a leader in M-19 rebel movement
At the age of 17, Petro became involved with the country’s 19th of April Movement (known as M-19), which sprung up in 1974 in opposition to the National Front movement following allegations of fraud in the 1970 elections. The movement’s stated aim was to open up democracy in Colombia after a long period in which political power was split alternatingly between two dominating parties.
While involved with the M-19 movement, Petro became involved in its military activities and slowly climbed the ranks. In 1981, he was elected ombudsman of the Zipaquirá municipality and, from 1984 to 1986, he served as councilman for the organisation.
In 1985, Petro was arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and served 18 months in prison. He was granted amnesty after serving his sentence.
Later, when the movement became demobilised and incorporated into the country’s politics, Petro and other former members formed the M-19 Democratic Alliance. The party gained significant popularity and a number of congress seats.
Petro’s tumultuous love life and three marriages
Gustavo Petro is currently with his third wife, Verónica Alcocer García, whom he married in 2003. He had two significant relationships before.
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His first marriage was to childhood sweetheart Katia Burgos. They eloped at the age of 26 as Burgos’s family did not approve of their relationship.
Their union resulted in a son, Nicolás, who was raised mainly by Katia and her mother-in-law, Clara Nubia-Urrego, after Petro had gone on the run for his rebel involvement. When news of his capture and imprisonment reached the family, Katia and her brother-in-law, Juan Fernando, trekked more than 100km to where Petro was jailed. On arrival, Katia discovered Petro had moved on with a new girlfriend, Mary Luz Herrán, whose weekly prison visit coincided with that of Petro’s family.
Mary Luz Herrán was ten years younger than Petro, then 26, when they met through a mutual friend while the rebel fighter was undercover in Herrán’s home town. For almost a year, Petro courted the youngster and convinced her to break off her relationship with a boyfriend she planned to marry. Herrán only found out about Petro’s wife and child after he was captured.
On learning of his deceit, Herrán called it quits and intended to stay gone, had it not been for Petro’s relentless attempts as soon as he was released from prison. Finally, the couple got together once more and stayed that way for the next 15 years.
Their relationship would last throughout the beginning of Petro’s political career and result in two children, Andrea and Andrés, named after the couple’s aliases in the M-19 movement.
Andrea and Andrés now live their lives away from the political spotlight – Andrea with her family and two children in Paris and Andrés under political asylum in Montreal.
Who is Gustavo Petro’s current wife, Verónica Alcocer?
Gustavo Petro married his third wife, Verónica Alcocer, in 2003, after the breakdown of his marriage to Herrán. The two first met when Alcocer, 17 years his junior and a law student, attended a conference at which Petro had to step in for the no-show main speaker.
Verónica was 22 years old at the time and studying at her third university. She had a young son, Nicolás, from a previous relationship.
As with Katia Burgos, Petro had to win over Verónica’s devout Catholic family. Verónica was born into a family with strong ties to law. Her father was famous lawyer Jorge Emilio Alcocer and her cousin, an ex-senator with the liberal party. Despite a rocky start, Petro finally won over his future father-in-law and, according to Verónica, the death of her father was the first time she saw her husband weeping inconsolably.
In a campaign video, Gustavo Petro praised his wife for her extroverted character, love of life and dancing skills: “I love that she is very beautiful. I had tried to ask Verónica to dance and couldn’t keep up. She’s an excellent dancer and so, I failed. And now, here we are, 20 years later and with two daughters, already my longest relationship ever.”
Gustavo and Verónica have two daughters, Sofía and Antonella, and have raised Nicolás since they became a couple.
On learning of his presidential victory last night, Petro and his wife sealed the good news with a passionate kiss in front of millions of supporters.