In nine weeks, Gustavo Petro could become the first leftist president in Colombia’s history—though by then, he told me, he could also be dead. In February, while he was campaigning in northwestern Colombia, a bullet pierced Petro’s armored van in what he says was an assassination attempt. It hit the window inches away from his head. This, of course, wasn’t Petro’s first brush with death. In the 1980s, paramilitary groups gunned down thousands of left-wing figures. And in 1985, as a combatant of the M-19 guerrilla group, Petro was jailed and tortured by the Colombian government. Later, while serving as a senator and then during his tenure as mayor of Bogotá, he received countless death threats.
While attacks against a left-leaning politician are nothing new in Colombia, the sheer popularity of such a progressive politician is unprecedented. Petro’s rallies draw massive crowds, and he has been consistently polling as one of the top two candidates ahead of the presidential election on May 27. His main opponent, Ivan Duque, is a pro-business, center-right politician, who was handpicked by ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a towering figure among the country’s conservatives for his staunch opposition to the peace deal signed between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group.
Petro sat down with me in New York City and discussed his candidacy, the prospects for peace, and how he’d manage his relationship with President Donald Trump. This interview has been condensed, edited, and translated from Spanish.
Miguel Salazar: How do you see your chances of winning the presidency in a country as historically conservative as Colombia?