Bernie Sanders admirer Petro leads Colombia's presidential race as nation heads to polls Sunday

As a declared candidate for the presidency, Gustavo Petro had a conversation with Sanders about strengthening "the ties between U.S. and Colombian progressivism."

Updated: May 28, 2022 - 10:49pm

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Colombian Sen. Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla who leads Colombia's race for president as the nation goes to the polls Sunday, has expressed support for American progressive icon Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), himself a two-time candidate for president, running in the Democratic primaries in 2016 and 2020.

As a declared candidate for the presidency, Petro had a conversation with Sanders in September 2021 that he posted about on social media. Petro, former mayor of Bogota, said the two discussed three priorities:

"Host a Carter Center election mission with computer experts to audit voter count software, observe that US military and police aid to Colombia is subject to strict compliance with human rights in the country and strengthen the ties between US and Colombian progressivism," according to Petro's tweets translated from Spanish.

During the 2016 Democratic primary, Petro tweeted a message of support for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, who ultimately dropped out of the race, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up the party's presidential nomination.

"Bernie Sanders was the possibility of a green capitalism that would overcome its crisis, but they frauded him," Petro wrote on Twitter, as translated from Spanish. "Europe and the US build barbarism." 

Similar to Sanders, Petro often discusses the need to transition the economy away from fossil fuels. Sanders supports banning oil exploration on public lands. Petro goes one major step further, pledging to ban all oil exploration in Colombia if he wins the presidency.

The oil industry in Colombia is reportedly worried about a Petro presidency. Oil is currently Colombia's largest legal export, based on 2021 data. Some industry leaders have said Petro's ban on oil exploration would be challenged in court should he win and follow through with his campaign promise to implement it on day one.

Investors, meanwhile, have raised concerns about Petro's overall economic policies, according to a Reuters report.

According to the U.S. State Department, Colombia is "one of the oldest democracies in Latin America." The State Department describes the U.S.-Colombia relationship as a shared commitment to "promoting security, prosperity, and democratic governance in Colombia and across the Western Hemisphere."

Petro frequently criticizes U.S. and Colombian efforts to disrupt the drug trade. Petro wants the government to provide alternatives for farmers currently growing coca and focus less on eradicating illegal crops through aerial operations. 

Adam Isacson, a defense policy expert with the Washington Office on Latin America, predicted that if Petro wins the presidency "there will be more disagreement and distance" between the U.S. and Colombia.

Just the News asked Sanders' office if the senator had any other conversations with Petro since September 2021 but has not received a response. 

Petro, who has a strong social media following, has been leading in most polls with around 30% support. Younger voters appear to have gravitated toward his message of more government involvement in the economy.

Opposing Petro in the May 29 election is former Mayor of Medellin Federico "Fico" Gutierrez, who is running in second in recent polls. Gutierrez has compared Petro to socialist leaders such as Nicolas Maduro, who rules Venezuela, which borders Colombia. Venezuela's mostly state-run economy has nearly collapsed under Maduro's authoritarian rule. Its state-run oil industry is the main pillar of the economy.

Venezuela has been experiencing hyperinflation. The dire economic conditions in the country have driven citizens to seek work in neighboring Colombia. Under Colombian President Ivan Duque, the country has accepted close to 2 million refugees from Venezuela. 

Rodolfo Hernandez, a right-of-center independent Colombian populist, is gaining support and could pull votes from Gutierrez in the election, giving Petro an edge. However, if none of the candidates reach 50% in Sunday's election, the top two candidates compete in late June.