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Translator: Larissa Kassner

On June 19, 2022, Colombia experienced the most significant historical moment of its republican life. It has been 116 years of oligarchic rule, with a rotation between liberals and conservatives, electoral fraud, and the assassination of popular leaders. Gustavo Petro, as the new president, represents the victory of the progressive field in the country, and the presence of Francia Marques – a Black woman, quilombola, anti-racist activist, advocate for human rights and the environment – completes the synthesis of the struggles to be waged towards a truly democratic Colombia, with policies aimed at the well-being of the majority.

Those attempting to label Gustavo Petro's political position range from the left to the center-left. He served as the mayor of Bogotá, a parliamentarian, and, yes, a guerrilla fighter. In his youth, he was a member of the April 19 Movement (M-19), named in reference to a scandalously fraudulent election back in 1970. It was a leftist organization, but with nationalist roots, aiming to establish real democracy in Colombia. The victory of the left in the country symbolizes a significant achievement for the advancement of the democratic project in Latin territories, but it also carries great responsibilities in the process of creating measures to address the numerous socioeconomic and political problems faced by the nation.

The electoral process in Colombia was marked by speculations related to possible electoral fraud, given the imprisonment of political leaders from social organizations that had participated in protests against the government of Iván Duque, as well as the spread of false or biased information about the candidates by the media. As an attempt to ensure the transparency of the voting systems, the Democracy Observatory of the Mercosur Parliament participated in the process of monitoring the activities. Analyzing the political landscape presented by Latin American and the Caribbean countries, including the exponential growth of dictatorial actions and speeches, as well as constant doubts about the legitimacy of the electoral system, suspicions highlighted by presidents who do not trust the state institutions, conducting such oversight exercises appears to be a necessary precaution.

In Brazil, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) invited the Democracy Observatory and other international organizations to send observation missions for the Brazilian elections, scheduled for October 2022. The country has experienced peaceful elections with electronic voting machines for nearly thirty years, but international observation becomes important this year due to the constant attacks on democracy by President Jair Bolsonaro. These attacks have reached a level where the number of national and international authorities recognizing the risk of a coup attempt by the current president has grown.

In Latin America, in addition to violations of social rights, the transgression of civil and political rights is a constant threat, always lurking in territories influenced by dictatorial traditions. A clear and current example is the situation in Nicaragua and the ongoing downfall of its democratic institutions. The Nicaraguan elections held last year resulted in another term for Daniel Ortega and were a stage for antidemocratic actions, including the arrest of candidates, media coverage bans, and the prevention of observer presence, as proposed by the Organization of American States (OAS). Ortega's deeds clearly demonstrate the importance of oversight processes to ensure free and democratic elections.

Colombia and Its Historical Background

Internationally recognized as the most stable democracy in the region due to its relatively short period of dictatorial or military rule – only between 1953 and 1957 – Colombia has experienced a political dynamic characterized by the alternation between traditional elites and the formation of guerrilla movements that fought against inequality, state violence and land issues. This led to the longest-running armed conflict on the continent, during which the drug trafficking baronage consolidated its power. The land concentration and violence intensified, paramilitary armies grew stronger, and the country saw its democracy destabilize, clearing the way to an authoritarian and corrupt state marked by the alliance between political elites and drug traffickers. This was the reality from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

The 1990s marked the implementation of neoliberal policies in line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s preferences, which worsened the previously introduced conditions and destabilized the national industry. Although there was an increase in the export of primary products, agricultural and mining, these sectors were predominantly controlled by foreign companies. This process resulted in further land concentration and the rise of paramilitary activities in rural areas, as well as illegitimate exports, primarily the result of collaboration between large landowners, illegal armed groups, and sectors of the political class.

The neoliberal agenda is well-known: privatizations, precarization of labor relations in both the public and private sectors, an increasing difficulty for the population to access higher education, retirement and healthcare systems in the hands of private entities, and healthcare access closely tied to employment contracts, a condition that doesn't apply to half of the employed population in the informal sector.

OBSERVACTIVA and Conflict Mapping

The current political situation in Colombia, marked by deep scars from its political past, is characterized by numerous conflictual situations that lead to various violations of rights. The capture, analysis, and mapping of conflicts, both existing and potential, involving civil society, the state, and other entities, including private ones, is the focus of the Observatory of Conflictuality in Social and Environmental Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean (OBSERVACTIVA), active since the second half of 2021. Identifying these issues and their origins is crucial, especially when many of these conflicts unfold over several years. In recent months, ObservActiva has been able to recognize some of the conflictual circumstances in Colombia, particularly those arising from a context of violence.

The growth of paramilitary organizations, combined with state neglect, has placed many individuals in vulnerable circumstances, constituting a major problem with national expansion. An example of this situation is the significant displacement of indigenous groups throughout Colombia, such as the Embera community. Besides increasing violence levels, paramilitary presence in these areas hinders the arrival of food in the communities, especially rural ones, creating a new landscape of food insecurity and malnutrition in the country. These conditions push communities into urban areas, and the absence of policies tailored to them further exacerbates their vulnerability.

The signing of the Peace Agreement in September 2016 created the false hope that democracy in the country would be protected by ending internal wars and preserving Colombian lives. Many of the proposals in the agreement, signed between former President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP), remained on paper. It's worth noting that Colombia is currently considered one of the most dangerous territories for actions defending peace and human rights, a situation confirmed by the number of individuals associated with social movements who have been assassinated in recent years.

In addition to drug trafficking and paramilitary actions, police violence has been a major concern. In 2020, the police force was accused of committing numerous massacres and abuses during peaceful demonstrations that ended in the deaths of several individuals. Therefore, it is evident that violence in the country has various origins but is rooted in the desires of traditional elites and their practices of repression and authoritarianism.

A second widely identified conflict is related to the increase in food insecurity, characterized as an additional condition to the process of deteriorating quality of life in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the living conditions of the Colombian population, with approximately 42% currently living below the poverty line. This situation can be compounded by the absence of policies for wealth, income, or land distribution, poverty alleviation, and hunger eradication.


With their victory, Petro and Francia take on the enormous responsibility of materializing the hopes and dreams of a people who, in a country where voting is optional, went to great lengths to cast their votes, using boats, walking for kilometers, and waiting in long lines, demonstrating the depth of their desire for democracy, peace, and a better life for all. Establishing a direct line of communication between the new head of the Executive and citizens, including those who did not vote for Petro, is essential as a foundation for propelling the new cycle to be built in the country.

Colombia's victory symbolizes a glimmer of hope for many Latin American and Caribbean countries that have experienced increasing social inequality and hunger under the leadership of the right and far-right with their neoliberal policies in service of financial capital.

July 4th, 2022

Curatorship of the World Social Forum on Health and Social Security


Colombia: neoliberal policies at the root of the causes of the social explosion (

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