When the left-wing politician and ex-guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro won the presidential elections in Colombia in June against a right-wing populist candidate, there was a great surprise.

That in traditionally conservative Colombia – where countless left-wing journalists, activists and politicians have been killed by right-wing paramilitary gangs in recent decades and where more than half of the population still rejected a peace process with the former FARC guerrillas in 2016 – that here in particular a former guerrilla being elected to the highest office was almost unimaginable.

But it happened.

Petro will be the first left-wing president in Colombia's history.

In addition, Petro's victory seems to confirm a development that has been taking place beyond Colombia's borders for some time, namely a leftward turn in the politics of several Latin American countries.

In the last four years, left-wing candidates have prevailed in presidential elections in Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

Colombia now joins this group.

And in October in Brazil, former trade unionist Luiz Inácio da Silva, known as Lula – who was president between 2003 and 2011 – could win the elections against Jair Bolsonaro, the current president.

Bolsonaro is notorious around the world for his anti-democratic, racist, misogynist statements and for his indifference to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Does the continent turn red?

If Lula prevails – which polls suggest the chances are good – the six largest and economically strongest countries in Latin America would have heads of state with a left-leaning agenda.

In view of this development, various international media are already talking about the “red continent”, a “new left” and a “progressive wave” in Latin America.

It is not the first time in recent decades that Latin America's political panorama has been described in similar terms.

In a continent whose history has repeatedly given the impression of being cyclical – caught between inequality, corruption and social and economic crises, great promises by messianic politicians, intermediate phases of modernization and then the persistence of old problems – the current trend is reminiscent of the first years of this century.

At that time, several countries in the region were governed by left-wing presidents: Brazil by Lula, Argentina by Néstor Kirchner and later by his wife Cristina Fernández, Bolivia by Evo Morales, Nicaragua by Daniel Ortega, Ecuador by Rafael Correa, Uruguay by Pepe Mujica, Venezuela by Hugo Chávez and after his death in 2013 by Nicolás Maduro.

As is well known, Chávez and Maduro spoke of a “socialism of the 21st century”, a renewal of outdated left-wing ideas, as a reference to the old socialist regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba.

This endeavor has brought Venezuela to the brink of national collapse.