FUSAGASUGA, Colombia (AP) — Flanked by bodyguards with bulletproof shields, Gustavo Petro stood on a stage and lashed out at Colombia’s political elite in a speech to the residents of Fusagasuga, a rural town the place farmers are battling.

The leftist presidential applicant spoke of the will need to shield neighborhood farmers from intensely subsidized foreign competition. In the crowded public sq., supporters waving the flags of opposition functions cheered when Petro promised to oust a political class that “prefers to get the job done with criminals.”

“What we present is a distinctive way to understand Colombia,” Petro reported in an hourlong tackle. “We want a state the place the condition provides essential rights like schooling and wellness, and can finance them since there is a effective economic climate.”

With an emotional anti-institution discourse and guarantees to strengthen state involvement in the economic climate, Petro has garnered a relaxed guide in polls as Colombia heads into Sunday’s presidential election.

The senator, who began his career in politics as a rebel, is aiming to turn out to be the initially leftist president in a nation that has lengthy been ruled by politicians with ties to rich people and potent company groups. The present president — who cannot find reelection — is Ivan Duque, a conservative from Bogota’s elite.

Petro’s supporters say he will aim on lessening longstanding inequalities that have fueled decades of political violence and led to the generation of highly effective drug cartels.

His critics, nevertheless, dread that Petro will upend the country’s current market-welcoming financial state.

Politicians on the proper on a regular basis forged the senator as a populist leader in the mildew of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and issue his motivation to democracy. It is an accusation denied by Petro, who states he needs peaceful changes that will advantage extensive-neglected groups.

“If he wins, we are in for 4 turbulent years” stated Laura Gil, a political scientist at Bogota’s Javeriana College. “He will have to establish that his leftist motion is eager to work within the procedures of democracy and control the most radical users of his coalition, although struggling with correct-wing groups that will make every single hard work to block his proposals.”

Petro has been battling in opposition to the odds for decades in his quest to completely transform Colombian politics.

He began his job as a local community organizer for the M-19 guerrilla movement, helping a team of 400 squatter households just take above a plot of land in the city of Zipaquira.

He received the housing struggle, but was captured and invested two years in jail on weapons costs. He resurfaced in Colombia’s political scene in the early 90s, when his rebel firm made a peace deal with Colombia’s federal government and participated in drafting a new structure.

Petro obtained countrywide recognition as a congressman in 2006, when he investigated conservative legislators with ties to paramilitary groups and exposed proof of their crimes on nationally televised debates.

Facing numerous death threats, he’s operate for Colombia’s presidency twice and served as Bogota’s mayor from 2011 to 2015, where by he led initiatives to cut down bus fares and wrestle the city’s trash assortment system from personal contractors that price the metropolis thousands and thousands of dollars.

Nevertheless some of his thoughts, like cell well being treatment models in bad neighborhoods, proved successful, his administration was also marked by big quantities of unexecuted jobs and recurrent clashes with complex advisers and users of his very own cupboard.

A research financed by the central government proposing a subway in the town was ditched by Petro, who wished to use the cash for a tramway. When that became unfeasible, the mayor returned to the subway notion, but had also tiny time left to execute it, reported Juan Carlos Florez, a historian who was then a metropolis council member.

Petro’s third presidential run will come as Colombia is reeling from superior prices of unemployment and inflation fed by the pandemic. Malnutrition has greater to degrees unseen in a 10 years, and violence carries on in some rural locations despite a 2016 peace deal with the Groundbreaking Armed Forces of Colombia, that was developed to conclusion 50 % a century of conflict that price tag 220,000 life and displaced thousands and thousands.

Now scaled-down armed groups are preventing about drug routes, mines and other methods abandoned by the rebel team regarded as the FARC.

Petro has promised to resume peace talks with a different guerrilla team, the Nationwide Liberation Military, that exactly where suspended all through Duque’s administration and he also proposed a peace offer with the Gulf Clan drug trafficking group that would contain lessened sentences in trade for telling the real truth about their crimes and reparations for their victims.

Petro states he desires to avert further outbreaks of rural violence by creating work opportunities in the countryside and guaranteeing farms are commercially practical. For Petro, that will start out with better import duties on food stuff that can be manufactured in Colombia and owning the state purchases crops from area farmers.

The senator has also proposed cost-free higher education tuition for all youth and providing careers with a fundamental income to “those who cannot uncover get the job done as a result of other implies.”

While these promises sound bold, Petro’s advisors say they are vital.

“We do not think that Colombia’s challenge is whether or not it veers to the left or to the appropriate,” mentioned Alfonso Prada, a centrist politician who joined Petro’s marketing campaign two months back as a debate strategist. “What Gustavo Petro is proposing is having a leap forward, to peace with social justice, providing men and women the likelihood to dwell with dignity.”

But critics have expressed doubts around how Petro will finance his courses.

The applicant, who describes himself as an environmentalist, has reported that oil wells are “poisoning” the countryside and has promised to suspend oil exploration on taking place of work.

He’s vowed to change oil royalties with revenue from tourism and better company taxes, nevertheless his critics say this is unrealistic. In accordance to Colombia’s Central Financial institution, the nation gained $3.1 billion from tourism in 2021, but oil exports created practically 4 occasions as significantly funds.

“We have to have a adjust in this country, but it cannot be a leap of religion with no a parachute,” explained Federico Gutierrez, a previous Medellin mayor who has been Petro’s principal opponent for most of the presidential race. Gutierrez has explained he will defend companies and produce employment by means of greater personal investment decision.

Gutierrez and his allies often look at Petro to Chavez, who undermined the independence of his country’s judiciary, nationalized hundreds of corporations and built guidelines to censure independent media.

Petro has responded with symbolic gestures like signing a notarized pledge that said he will not nationalize personal home. He’s also backtracked on a previous proposal to draft a new structure.

But the candidate and his staff have also recommended that they will meddle with some establishments. In a latest tv debate, Petro known as for changes in the way the central bank’s board of administrators is picked so that “productive sectors” are represented.

Analysts say there will be constraints on Petro’s ability if he gets president. “His motion will not have a majority in congress,” reported Daniel García Peña, a columnist and former aide to Petro who now backs centrist applicant Sergio Fajardo.

Polls counsel that Petro is probably to slide shorter of the 50% mark wanted to prevent a runoff with whomever locations second in the discipline of seven candidates.

Surveys give Petro a comfortable direct from Gutierrez in a head-to-head race, but suggest the election would be very near if he has to facial area Rodolfo Hernandez, a 77-calendar year-outdated real estate tycoon with no ties to political events, who has promised to reduce federal government expending and tackle corruption.

Hernandez, who is paying out for his marketing campaign with his personalized funds, has stated he will turn the presidential palace into a museum, and has promised rewards for citizens who denounce corrupt officials.

Florez stated that the election underlines how Colombia’s population has exhausted of the nation’s institution and is yearning for a chief who defies the position quo.

“Petro is an illustration of how the world is returning to the politics of enthusiasm,” Florez said. “To crusading leaders who possibility it all” for their bring about.