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Florida voters pick opponent over 1st leftist president elected to lead Colombia

Over 100,000 Colombians are registered to vote in Florida, where the largest concentration of that population lives in the United States.
Colombian left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro gives the thumb up as he arrives at a polling station during the presidential runoff election in Bogota, on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Colombian left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro gives the thumb up as he arrives at a polling station during the presidential runoff election in Bogota, on Sunday, June 19, 2022. [ DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP | Getty Images North America ]
Published Jun. 22|Updated Jun. 22

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly won a runoff election over a political outsider millionaire, ushering in a new era of politics for Colombia by becoming the country’s first leftist president.

Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, got nearly 51% of the votes on Sunday, while real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández had nearly 48%, with almost all ballots counted, according to results released by election authorities.

About 21.6 million of the 39 million eligible voters cast a ballot Sunday. Abstentionism has been above 40% in every presidential election since 1990.

In Florida, Hernandez received more than 90% of the vote while his opponent got just over 6%, said community activist Fabio Andrade, who heads the nonprofit Americas Community Center in Weston. Over 100,000 Colombians are registered to vote in Florida, where the largest concentration of that population lives in the United States.

Other detailed information related to the election results, such as the exact number of votes per candidate at each polling site in Florida and other states, were not immediately available.

According to Pedro Agustin Valencia, Colombia’s consul general in Miami, about 50,200 Colombians cast a ballot Sunday in South Florida and 16,200 at voting sites distributed in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa. In Tampa Bay, voters cast their ballots at Futbol 5, a West Tampa soccer facility.

In the United States, where 324,858 Colombians are registered to vote, Hernandez got nearly 80% (104,889 votes) and Petro had 19% (25,159 votes), according to the nation’s electoral authority.

The results around the world were not a surprise, either. Hernández nabbed nearly 61% (185,557 votes) while Petro had more than 37% (114,610 votes).

Related: Colombian elections

Petro’s victory underlined a drastic change in presidential politics for a country that has long marginalized the left for its perceived association with the armed conflict. Petro himself was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

“Today is a day of celebration for the people. Let them celebrate the first popular victory,” Petro tweeted.

Outgoing conservative President Iván Duque congratulated Petro, 62, shortly after results were announced, and Hernández quickly conceded his defeat.

“I accept the result, as it should be, if we want our institutions to be firm,” Hernández said in a video on social media. “I sincerely hope that this decision is beneficial for everyone.”

Polls ahead of the runoff had indicated Petro and Hernández — both former mayors — were in a tight race since they topped four other candidates in the initial May 29 election. Neither got enough votes to win outright and headed into the runoff.

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Petro won 40% of the votes in the initial round and Hernández 28%, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernández began to attract so-called anti-Petrista voters.

Colombia also elected its first Black woman to be vice president. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, is a lawyer and environmental leader whose opposition to illegal mining has resulted in threats and a grenade attack in 2019.

The vote came amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence — factors that led voters in the election’s first round last month to turn their backs on long-governing centrist and right-leaning politicians and choose two outsiders in Latin America’s third-most populous nation.

Times staff writer Juan Carlos Chavez contributed to this report.

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