Long earlier than Gustavo Petro emerged as a leftist candidate for president, he was a part of the M-19, an city guerrilla group that sought to grab energy by means of violence within the title of selling social justice.
For some Colombian voters, his previous is a supply of concern after a long time of armed battle. For others, it affords a signal of hope for one among most inequitable nations in Latin America.
The M-19 was born in 1970 as a response to alleged fraud in that yr’s presidential elections. It was far smaller than the nation’s important guerrilla drive, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which was Marxist and sought haven in Colombia’s jungles and rural areas.
The M-19 was an city navy group fashioned by college college students, activists and artists who needed to topple a governing system they believed did not bridge a persistent divide between the wealthy and the poor.
“The M-19 was born in arms to build a democracy,” Mr. Petro informed The New York Times in an interview.
It initially tried to advertise a Robin Hood picture, robbing milk from grocery store vehicles to distribute in poor neighborhoods and, in a symbolic act of rebel, stole a sword from a museum that Simón Bolívar utilized in Colombia’s warfare for independence.
Mr. Petro, 62, joined the group when he was 17 and an economics pupil, dismayed by the poverty he witnessed within the city the place has dwelling, outdoors Bogotá, the capital.
While the M-19 was much less brutal than different insurgent teams, it did orchestrate what is taken into account one of many bloodiest acts within the nation’s current historical past: the 1985 siege of Colombia’s nationwide judicial constructing that led to a battle with the police and the navy, leaving 94 individuals lifeless.
The group additionally stole 5,000 weapons from the Colombian navy and used kidnapping as a tactic to attempt to wrest concessions from the federal government.
Mr. Petro, who spent 10 years within the M-19, largely stockpiled stolen weapons, mentioned Sandra Borda, a political science professor on the University of the Andes in Bogotá.
“What’s key is that he wasn’t part of the main circle who made the decisions in M-19. He was very young at that moment,” she mentioned. “He didn’t participate in the most important operations of the M-19, the military operations.”
At the time of the justice constructing takeover, Mr. Petro was in jail for his involvement with the group and he has described being overwhelmed and electrocuted by the authorities.
The group finally demobilized in 1990, which was thought-about one of the crucial profitable peace processes within the nation’s lengthy historical past of battle. It become a political occasion that helped rewrite the nation’s structure to focus extra on equality and human rights.
Mr. Petro ran for Senate as a member of the occasion, launching his political profession.
Sofía Villamil and Julie Turkewitz contributed reporting from Bogotá.