Politics An Interview With Colombia’s Gustavo Petro
Gustavo Petro used to be a member of a notorious Colombian guerrilla group. Now, he’s running for president
more than three decades ago, the m-19,
a center-left Colombian guerrilla group, stormed the Palace of Justice, the country’s top court, to condemn then–president Belisario Betancur for allegedly violating a truce. A 28-hour siege ensued, as militants squared off against the armed forces, leaving dozens dead, the building burned and the country mired in chaos.
A month before the siege, in October 1985, the national army detained a young militant named Gustavo Petro—who was not part of the raid—and tortured him for days at a cavalry school. After his release, Petro helped craft a peace treaty between the militants and the government.
Now, he wants to be Colombia’s next president. As of publication, Petro, who is running for the progressive Colombia Humana Movement, was slightly trailing Iván Duque, his staunchest rival. (Duque was nominated by Democratic Center—a center-right party spearheaded by former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.)
It’s not Petro’s first foray into politics. The 58-year-old served as a congressman in the early 2000s and later became mayor of Bogotá—a term that almost ended in scandal. In 2013, Petro became embroiled in an alleged scandal involving the city’s sanitation program that temporarily forced him out of office. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and he came back to finish his term.
But as Colombians get ready to vote on May 27, the turmoil in neighboring Venezuela is getting more attention than Petro’s time running Bogotá. Critics say he hasn’t adequately condemned the left-leaning movement chavismo, whose policies have arguably created a humanitarian crisis along the Colombian border. Petro argues otherwise, but this is no mere ideological debate: In March, shots were fired at his bulletproof vehicle during a campaign rally.
As the authorities continue to investigate what happened, Petro spoke to Newsweek about U.S. President Donald Trump, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and why politics is a matter of life and death.