Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described the election of Marxist Gustavo Petro, a former member of the left-wing M19 terrorist guerrilla, to the presidency of Colombia as “disastrous” in remarks on Monday, proclaiming that “we’ve got a problem” in Latin America with the rise of “totalitarianism.”
DeSantis was responding to national election results on Sunday that gave Petro, also the former mayor of the national capital of Bogotá, a slight lead over surprise challenger Rodolfo Hernández and prompted the latter to concede, making Petro Colombia’s first president-elect. Despite dramatically declaring that the presidential election was hopelessly rigged as recently as last Thursday, insulting Colombia’s top election integrity official as a “liar,” Petro has yet to challenge the election results at press time.
Colombian election officials documented nearly 400 instances of “irregularities,” including vote-buying and voter intimidation, in Sunday’s election.
Petro is the first leftist president in the modern history of Colombia, a testament to Colombia’s longstanding tradition of conservative politics.
DeSantis presides over the state with by far the largest Colombian-American population in the country, followed distantly by New York and New Jersey. Florida is home to an increasingly diverse community of anti-socialist Hispanic-Americans generally who largely support their governor’s conservative policies.
“We watched the election results down in Colombia, and we have a lot of great Colombian-Americans here in our state who are very concerned about what was going on,” DeSantis told reporters on Monday, “and I think the results of that election have been very, very troubling for people that believe in freedom in the Western Hemisphere.”
“To elect a former narco-terrorist and a Marxist to lead Colombia is going to be disastrous. so we stood with the people here in Florida that have ties to Colombia,” DeSantis said. “We’ve had a great relationship with Colombia as a state. We were all hoping that the outcome would be different.”
DeSantis went on to warn, “we’ve got a problem in the Western Hemisphere with Marxism and totalitarianism really spreading.”
“We thought 25 years ago, the Cold War and all this stuff, and it [Marxism] just keeps rearing its head. We’ll continue to stand with the people of Florida here who are passionate about freedom in the Western Hemisphere,” he promised, “particularly in Colombia – but very, very disappointing and very, very troubling result in that election.”
Colombia follows Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina in electing radical leftists president since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began, a testament to how poorly conservative and center-right governments handled the crisis in the region. In October, Brazilians will go to the polls for a presidential race largely considered a referendum on conservative President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Bolsonaro was a regional outlier in opposing Chinese coronavirus lockdowns and business restrictions.
Petro’s election has been a particularly alarming development because, unlike the other leftist leaders elected, he has openly admitted to being a member of a terrorist organization. Petro claimed in his book that he joined M19 as a youth because he thought it different from the outrageous violent behavior of similar guerrillas like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), but has never expressed remorse for joining the group or condemned it.
M19 specialized in bombing civilian targets and political sites like the Dominican embassy.
DeSantis’s concerned remarks differ significantly from the approach that the administration of leftist President Joe Biden has taken towards Petro.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a congratulatory message on Sunday describing the election as “free and fair” – contradicting Petro himself – and stating that he looked forward “to working with President-Elect Petro to further strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future.”