Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s newly elected president, greets supporters on election day, June 19, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Humane Colombia Twitter feed
Gov. Ron DeSantis delved into foreign policy Monday by lamenting the election of leftist Gustavo Petro as president of Colombia, calling it a “very, very disappointing and very, very troubling result.”
Petro, of the Humane Colombia party, is a former leftist rebel affiliated with the 19th of April Movement, or M-19, a guerrilla force founded around 1970 that entered peace talks with the government in the late 1980s, as reported by CNN. He won in Sunday’s balloting with a little more than half the votes.
“The results of that election have been very, very troubling for people that believe in freedom in the Western Hemisphere. To elect a former narcoterrorist and a Marxist to lead Colombia is going to be disastrous,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Nassau County, in Northeast Florida.
“We’ve stood with the people here in Florida that have ties to Colombia. We’ve had a great relationship with Colombia as a state. We were all hoping that the outcome would be different,” the governor said.
“But we’ve got a problem in the Western Hemisphere with Marxism and totalitarianism really spreading. You know, we thought 25 years ago, the Cold War and all this stuff, and it just keeps rearing its head.
“So, we’ll continue to stand with the people of Florida here who are passionate about freedom in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Colombia. But a very, very disappointing and very, very troubling result in that election.”
During the 1980s, U.S. intelligence agencies tied M-19 to the Medellin Cartel, according to a contemporaneous Washington Post report. Later, the United States spent billions of dollars backing the Colombian government against a renewed insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which signed a peace deal in 2016.
DeSantis spoke during a news conference in the town of Callahan, where he announced a $4 million infrastructure grant to build a clean water supply plant for an 1,800-acre industrial park.
This was not DeSantis’ first foray into Latin American politics. In 2019, he received briefings from then-National Security adviser John Bolton about unrest under Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. At that time, the governor was less gung-ho than U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who urged deployment of U.S. military forces for, at least, humanitarian assistance.
Leftists have been gaining ground in Latin America, NPR reported, with Chile, Honduras, and Peru electing leftist presidents 2021. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also on the left, is leading the polls in this year’s Brazilian presidential election.
According to an NBC report, Florida is home to thousands of middle- and upper-class Colombians who fled political violence and kidnappings during the 2000s. Some 275,000 were eligible to vote in Florida during the 2020 elections.
That’s enough to matter in a state where elections can feature incredibly tight margins. For example, Republican DeSantis — who’s running for reelection in November — won his 2018 race against Democrat Andrew Gillum by 32,463 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast.
Among those voters with Colombian roots is Democrat Annette Taddeo, a state senator from South Florida who campaigned for governor before quitting that race to seek election to the U.S. House. She sent Petro a message on her Twitter feed.
Colombia has been the U.S.’s longest standing ally in Latin America. A relationship that has lasted 200 yrs. @petrogustavo, Colombians both home & abroad hope you honor that relationship & do not impede on freedom of the press, property rights & upholding Colombia’s constitution,” Taddeo wrote.
“Just as the transition will be a democratic process so should your term,” she added.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz issued a written statement.
“I respect the voice of the Colombian people who have chosen their new president through democratic elections. However, I am concerned that the newly elected leader, Gustavo Petro, has in the past aligned himself with the policies of the Castros, Hugo Chavez, and Nicolas Maduro, which have brought so much pain and suffering to Cubans and Venezuelans,” Diaz said.
“My sincerest hope is that Petro respects the Colombian Constitution and protects private property, freedom of the press, and the private industry that has brought Colombia so much prosperity in the past decades. May God guide him to do what is right for our Colombian brothers and sisters.”
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