Gustavo Petro: from ‘Comrade Aureliano’ to Colombian president

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The former leftwing guerrilla has well-honed survival instincts and a reputation for being hard to work with

Gideon Long in Bogotá

When Gustavo Petro joined Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla movement in the late 1970s, he assumed the nom de guerre Aureliano in homage to Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a character in Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. The choice was apt. Like the fictional colonel, Petro is a dogged survivor of setbacks, defeats and attempts on his life.

Last Sunday, the 62-year-old economist won Colombia’s presidential election at his third attempt. In August he will be sworn in as the first truly leftwing leader in the country’s history.

“For the first time, a man who doesn’t belong to the elite, who’s not from the traditional parties, who’s not from the same old families, will be president,” says Darío Villamizar, a former M-19 militant who has written extensively about Colombia’s guerrillas and has known Petro for years. “That’s the great importance of this moment.”