Despite the rain, a massive street party to celebrate democracy started in Colombia on Sunday evening and lasted through the night. Though the hangover is likely to be severe, cities erupted with joy and relief. Most final polls, taken a week before yesterday’s election, showed Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández more or less even, but Petro won by 50.44 to 47.3, with 11.28 million votes, nearly three million more than he got in the first round on 29 May. Hernández, who got 10.57 million votes, over five million more than in the first round, conceded immediately and quietly, from his home in Bucaramanga, Santander. President Iván Duque announced he would begin to work with Petro’s team to handover power on 7 August. Petro invited the Colombian people to celebrate their victory.
The first round of Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday was followed by several moderate earthquakes in Antioquia and Santander. The former is home to the right-wing candidate Federico ‘Fico’ Gutiérrez, and the only department that he won; the latter to Rodolfo Hernández, ‘the little old guy on TikTok’, who ran as an anti-corruption ‘outsider’ candidate, like Trump, Bolsonaro or Alberto Fujimori. Boosted by former president Álvaro Uribe’s supporters, Fico performed more or less as expected, picking up 23.9 per cent of the vote, while Hernández, a 77-year-old businessman and former mayor of Bucaramanga, took 28.2 per cent, to everyone’s surprise, even though polls registered his surge in the final weeks of campaigning. The frontrunner, Gustavo Petro, took 40.3 per cent, an improvement on his performance in 2018 – and the first time a candidate from the left has ever won the first round – but not enough, it would seem, to defeat the right in the second round of voting on 19 June.
Bolsonaro shares Putin’s loathing of communism and the USSR, and tries to associate Lula and the PT with both. That didn’t stop him, during his recent junket to Moscow, paying tribute to the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis in the Second World War; a position all the more incoherent because neo-Nazis have occupied prominent places in Bolsonaro’s administration.
When the coup that overthrew Evo Morales in 2019 brought an unknown senator and political newcomer, Jeanine Áñez, to the Bolivian presidency, the Brazilian government was the first to offer official recognition. In the run up to the coup, one of the leading plotters, Fernando ‘Macho’ Camacho, currently the governor of Santa Cruz, met with Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo.
The holiday season hit Brazil like a tsunami: on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, after five years of record drought, two dams burst, as record rains and flooding put at least 116 communities underwater, killed 21 people, displaced at least 50,000, affected more than 417,000, and destroyed infrastructure (and vaccines) throughout southern Bahia; a flu epidemic broke out nationwide at the moment that Omicron arrived. The unseasonal rains led to an increase in mosquitos: though Zika and dengue fever numbers are still down, Chikungunya is way up.
It’s just over two years since former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was freed from jail, and eight months since he was declared innocent of all charges brought against him. As Brazil heads towards elections in October 2022, with the economy in recession, Lula holds a commanding lead over his electoral rivals, President Jair Bolsonaro and his former justice minister, Sergio Moro – the judge who put Lula in jail. But anything could happen between now and election day, especially since Donald Trump’s political star appears to be waxing again. Bolsonaro – who once said to Trump in public, unsolicited and unrequited, ‘I love you’ – has long taken the former US president as a role model.
As the Covid-19 pandemic abates in Salvador da Bahia, beneath a surface of relaxed tranquillity – the comedian Gregorio Duvivier calls it ‘positividade tóxica’ – run deep currents of fear, tension and violent terror: they are not new, but they have intensified. On weekend afternoons, a military police helicopter hovers over bathers in the water at Porto da Barra beach, shuttling back and forth between the Porto and the Farol da Barra. It’s part of ‘Operation Peace’.
In Salvador, the protest march on 19 June snaked in a wave of red T-shirts and banners from Campo Grande through Vitória and Graça to Porto da Barra in the south of the city, and from there to the white lighthouse of Farol da Barra, surrounded by the deep blue of the Baía de Todos os Santos. The march on 3 July took a different route, down Avenida Centenario and past the Morro de Cristo, to the same destination. Both were reasonably large, loud, diverse, young and festive, with several left-wing political parties and movements, as well as competing PA systems and drummers with chants, rants, music and dancing. Afro-Brazilians of all ages were well represented. There were no robocop riot police: hardly any police at all, in fact, except to direct traffic. Some older residents unfurled red PT flags from their windows. As the event headed towards closing, people sat on the hillside to watch the sun set in a marbled sky.
Long one of Latin America’s most conservative countries, Colombia is undergoing a sea change. The second general strike in as many years evolved rapidly into a nationwide urban insurrection. ‘La Resistencia’ has endured for a month in the teeth of ferocious repression (remember that Lenin celebrated the Bolshevik Revolution once it had outlasted the Paris Commune). Soon after the protests started on 28 April, the proposed tax reform package that had triggered the strike was withdrawn, proposed healthcare reforms died in committee, and the finance minister and the foreign minister were forced to step down. There were (toothless) calls for dialogue and de-escalation from the international community. Yet the overwhelmingly non-violent protests have continued, as has the government’s response using deadly force.
With public university students (including those I teach at the Universidad Nacional in Medellín) and young people in the lead, Colombia’s vibrant, diverse and terrorised social movements have all come out at once, which does not imply programmatic unity. The geographic scope of the mobilisation has been as impressive as its sectoral breadth, and the demands are widely divergent.