ORLANDO, Fla. — An estimated 1.4 million Colombians lived in the United States in 2021, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. And 31% of Colombians in the U.S live in Florida.
Political science experts say there are concerns among many Colombians that President Gustavo Petro’s past — and ideological identity — are a threat to those demanding more democracy.
What You Need To Know
- Political science experts say there are concerns among Colombians that President Gustavo Petro’s past and ideological identity are a threat to those demanding more democracy
- About 1.4 million Colombians lived in the United States in 2021, 31% in Florida
- Alejandra Trujillo moved to Florida in hopes of establishing a stable life
- Maria Puerta Riera, adjunct professor of political science at Valencia College, says political violence is also a reason for Colombians to move away
Experts say Colombia is still dealing with the remnants of the guerrilla and the groups that haven’t accepted the peace accords, emphasizing political violence historically present.
“Assassinations against local leaders and social activists, it's so common in Colombia that people don't really feel like this has been achieved, like peace as a broad term,” says Maria Puerta Riera, adjunct professor of political science at Valencia College. “I do recognize that the political violence is enough for people to just find a way to a safe place.”
Riera says Petro based his presidency on creating opportunities for the poor, social justice, peace and a health care overhaul, but all of those initiatives have failed so far. Instead, he’s been taking care of political scandals, including his son’s criminal indictment.
Riera says that there is a fear that some Venezuela-raised Colombians may leave the nation because of concerns the country is becoming like Venezuela, which is a legitimate issue.
“So, now that Venezuela is in such a dire situation, they went back to Colombia,” Riera says. “So you have to look at it from not just a political perspective, but the cultural perspective. These are binational people who are just terrified that Petro might turn out to be something similar.”
Alejandra Trujillo was born in Medellin, Colombia, but raised in Venezuela. In hopes of establishing a stable life, along with the uncertainty of Petro’s presidency, she decided to move to Orlando and has found a job cleaning at a hotel in St. Cloud.
When she was 4, her mom moved to Venezuela.
“There, I spent most of my life,” Trujillo says.
She remembers her time there, filled with political turmoil, not feeling safe and struggling to find basic needs.
“My daughter made me leave Venezuela because I felt I couldn’t give her basic necessities that a baby needs,” Trujillo says.
In December 2017, she went back to her home country: Colombia.
In August 2022, Petro became Colombia’s first leftist president. Despite his claims to focus on social justice and peace due to his negotiations with the remaining armed groups, his past as a guerrilla member fueled uncertainty and distrust among Colombians.
“The fact that Petro became president, you start imagining things like: what would come after his election for Colombia and so I started thinking about that, and I didn’t want to repeat history, living through the same situation I lived through in Venezuela,” Trujillo says.
Before making a decision to move to Orlando, she worked in restaurants and eventually opened up her own ice cream shop, but the lack of success led her to a lot of disappointment.
“My ice cream shop wasn’t doing too well," Trujillo says. "Since it opened, it would always rain.”
Another reason she moved here: a renewed hope to start a new life with her husband and daughter. She’s been in Florida for nearly one year and keeps in touch with her family in Colombia.
She’s trying to bring her mom to the U.S. and says it’s difficult to leave family behind and start from scratch.
“I left a lot behind, including my family, and the lack of emotional help here is not easy,” Trujillo says.
Although it’s been difficult, she says she’s now giving her daughter a unique quality of life.
“It’s important for my daughter to learn the English language, and in the future, recognize the sacrifice I’ve made for her well-being,” Trujillo says.
Riera says political violence is also a reason for Colombians to find a way to a safe place.
From 2000 to 2021, the Colombian-origin population in the U.S. increased 183%, growing from 500,000 to 1.4 million. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the Colombian foreign-born population living in the U.S. grew from 380,000 in 2000 to 820,000 in 2021.
Riera says although she recognizes the fear that some Colombians have, the chances of Colombia becoming Venezuela are low.
“That wouldn't happen in Colombia, at least I don't think so,” Riera says. “Petro doesn't have the support, and you would need military support, as well as political support, to do what (Hugo) Chavez did in Venezuela. I still think it's very legitimate people having fear. I just think that there is a huge difference between the two countries, and that is their institutions. You would have to basically bend the legislative and the judiciary to accomplish a complete breakdown of a democracy. I don't see that in Colombia.”