Gustavo Petro

Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro has been a major force on the national political scene for quite some time. Born in the Caribbean coastal Cordoba province in 1960, his family soon relocated to Zipaquira, a small town just north of Bogota in the department of Cundinamarca. He quickly distinguished himself as a foremost scholar, and soon became active in political protest movements, joining the April 19th Movement at a young age. During this time he also aspired to local political office, being elected to the city council of Zipaquira in 1984. Following a public demonstration against the government, Petro went into hiding, and was captured by the government in 1985, and spent two years in prison on a weapons charge. Following his release, Petro returned to be involved in the leadership of the M-19 movement.

In November of 1985, M-19 orchestrated the infamous siege of the Palace of Justice. Just before noon, they stormed the Supreme Court, in la Plaza de Bolivar in downtown Bogota, and took 24 of the nation's 25 Supreme Court justices hostage. They then demanded that President Belisario Betancur appear before the court and be put on trial. Betancur refused and mobilized a military assault on the building, which left 35 M-19 members, 11 justices, 48 soldiers, and various hostages, dead. Some speculated that the massacre was in fact funded by Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar, in a move to destroy incriminating documents located in the Supreme Court building, although the government released a report refuting those allegations.

Petro was not involved in the siege, and his role was that of intellectual and organizer. Following the horrific events of the siege, the group signed a peace treaty with the government in 1990, and the group received immunity. Petro went into academia and earned a master's degree in economics from la Javeriana University, and earned further graduate degrees in Spain and Belgium.

Gustavo Petro 2In 1998 he returned to Colombia, and founded the Polo Democratic political movement with former Pasto mayor Antonio Navarro Wolff. Petro was elected several times to the Colombian congress, representing Bogota, and then served two terms in the Senate. He won recognition from both his colleagues and the press for his exemplary service as a legislator, and made a name for himself as a tireless critic of the Uribe administration and a watchdog of corruption. In particular, he was highly critical of the alleged close relationship between various members of the government and shadowy paramilitary forces, most notably the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Petro ran for president in 2010 as an opposition candidate to establishment candidate Juan Manuel Santos, the nominee of Alvaro Uribe's Partido de la U. Santos, Minister of Defense under Uribe, took an early lead, and Petro was never able to gain traction. Petro placed fourth, receiving 9% of the vote.

It was Antanas Mockus, a philosopher, mathematician, and former Bogota mayor, who emerged as the voice of the opposition, going on to face Santos in the second round and losing badly.

Gustavo Petro 3Petro resurrected his political career in 2011, breaking with the Polo Democratico party, and forming the Movimiento Progresistas (Progressive Movement). He won a narrow victory in a three way race with 32% of the vote. His administration has been marked by controversies over sanitation, transportation and the implementation of the Transmilenio expansion, and education. It has not been an easy road for Petro, and he is currently battling low approval ratings, but there is no doubt that Petro's ultimate aspiration is the presidency. With the declining fortunes Juan Manuel Santos, who is embroiled in a very public feud with his former mentor Uribe, perhaps Petro will have a shot again in 2014.

Petro, like Dilma Rouseff in Brazil, and Jose Mujica in Uruguay, represents the capacity of the intellectual revolutionary class in youth to aspire to lead nations later in life.

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