The Importance of Colombia’s Election

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has assumed the mantle of leader of Latin America’s struggle against US hegemony and the US’s colonial treatment of the region. He has called for “the replacement of the Organization of American States (OAS) by a new body that integrates all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.” He wants that new body to be “a truly autonomous body, not a lackey of anyone.” He has demanded an end to "impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions and blockades." He has stressed regional integration and initiated a “new, very close relationship between Mexico and Cuba.” To demonstrate the sincerity of his support for regional inclusion and integration, he recently led a boycott of the US hosted Summit of the Americas.

López Obrador may soon be gaining a powerful partner. Brazil’s latest polls predict a victory for Lula da Silva. Lula DA Silva wore the mantle before López Obrador when he first served as Brazil’s president. Representing Latin America’s two largest economies, López Obrador and Lula DA Silva would make a formidable partnership.

But, though less in the spotlight, something equally important has happened in Latin American politics. On June 19, Colombia elected Gustavo Petro as president. Petro is the first president to be elected in Colombia in over three quarters of a century who leans to the left and away from Colombia’s elites and fealty to the United States.

But the significance of Petro’s election goes well beyond his position on the political spectrum or that Colombia is the third largest country in Latin America, meaning that, if Lula DA Silva is elected, he and López Obrador will lead a group of countries with left leaning governments who seek to integrate the region and balance American hegemony regionally that includes the seven largest nations in the region.

The significance is not just what Latin America gains but what the US loses. Colombia has long been the key to US projection into Latin America and a base of operations against Venezuela, a key nation in the challenge to US hegemony in its hemisphere. Biden has "said many times that Colombia is the keystone of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean." He has called the relationship between the two nations "the essential partnership we need in this hemisphere," and Colombia "the linchpin . . . to the whole hemisphere." The election of Petro could usher in the loss of this "essential partnership."

The US has long fostered extremely close ties with Colombia’s military and security forces. Columbia has been one of the biggest recipients of US aid, pulling in nearly nine billion dollars’ worth of military aid despite having, what Noam Chomsky has called, "by far the worst human rights record in the hemisphere".

Petro’s election signals a challenge to both regional and global hegemony for the US. Long the key ally in the region in opposing and isolating Venezuela and its elected president, Nicolás Maduro, Petro made re-establishing ties with Maduro and Venezuela a campaign promise. Some expect the reestablishing of relations to "be a radical, profound change" and "a 180-degree turn."

His election also signals a strengthening threat to US hegemony globally. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and an expert on Latin America, told me that, if Lula returns as president of Brazil, he will "be active in promoting economic integration in the hemisphere" but he will also "pursue good relations with both the US and China." Though China has now passed the US as the top trading partner of South America, as part of its "essential partnership" with the US, Colombia has focussed economically on the US and generally not participated in Latin America’s growing relationship with China and Russia. That loyalty to a US led unipolar world may be challenged, and Petro is likely to join Lula in pursuing good relations with both the American pole and the Chinese-Russian fostered larger multipolar world.

The election of Petro continues the tide of Latin American nations, including Argentina, Chile, Peru, Honduras and Bolivia, to elect governments that not only lean left but lean toward Latin American integration and a balancing of regional US hegemony. Joining Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and lining up behind Mexico and, possibly, soon Brazil, this tide will be a powerful force confronting US hegemony in the region. It may also be a powerful balancing force against US hegemony globally.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.