Colombia: New President Gustavo Petro is sworn in and offers an agreement to armed groups

Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia, was sworn in on Sunday in front of hundreds of thousands of people in Bogota. He succeeds the very unpopular Ivan Duque (2018-2022) for a four-year term which he begins with the support of a left-wing majority in Congress.

Colombia, long ruled by a conservative elite, is thus on a trajectory common to other Latin American countries that are experiencing a left turn.

“I swear to God and I promise the people to faithfully respect the Constitution and the laws of Colombia”, declared during his inauguration ceremony the 62-year-old former senator and ex-guerrilla, who promised radical transformations , particularly in terms of the environment and the fight against strong inequalities and violence linked to drug trafficking.

The “war on drugs” has failed

Gustavo Petro, who left the armed rebellion three decades ago, was sworn in at Bolivar Square in Bogota before a large delegation of international guests and a huge crowd. In his inauguration speech, he offered armed groups operating in the country “legal advantages” if they sign the peace treaty. “We call on (…) all armed groups to relegate weapons to the nebulae of the past. To accept legal benefits in exchange for peace and in exchange for a definitive end to violence,” said Colombia’s first left-wing president.

He also called for ending the failed “war on drugs” and moving to a “strong drug prevention policy” in developed countries. “It’s time to have a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed,” said the leftist leader of the world’s biggest cocaine producer.

“The first government, which we hope will be a government of peace, is about to begin. We hope he can bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, namely tranquility and peace,” the new president said on Saturday in Bogota during a first induction ceremony with indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant peoples.

Francia Marquez, first Afro-Colombian vice-president

The former opposition leader for two decades takes office with a battery of reforms in mind that have raised high expectations among his supporters since his victory on June 19. Alongside her, environmentalist Francia Marquez, 40, will be sworn in as the first Afro-Colombian vice president of a nation, which has historically been ruled by white male elites.

Gustavo Petro starts from an “enviable position, with a large majority in Parliament and enjoys, at street level, support that no government has had in recent years”, estimates expert Jorge Restrepo, from the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (Cerac).

He has formed a plural government, with women at the head of several portfolios, with the mission of advancing the reforms which will begin their legislative journey on Monday. In search of resources to finance social reform plans, bills intend to increase taxes on the richest, improve their collection and tax sugary drinks.

But “the level of debt and fiscal deficit that we found is critical,” said Daniel Rojas, one of the coordinators of the transition commission with the government of his predecessor Ivan Duque. Despite everything, Gustavo Petro intends to fulfill his promise to reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest by developing access to credit, increasing aid and emphasizing education. “I will fight for social justice in one of the most outrageous societies of inequality on Earth,” he said on Saturday.

A country still plagued by violence

While Colombia’s economy has recovered from the pandemic and returned to growth, July’s 10.2% year-on-year inflation, unemployment (11.7%) and 39% poverty make President Petro’s challenges still taller.

“People expect some of the changes promised during the campaign to be implemented quickly, which, added to the economic situation (…) generates an atmosphere of tension”, warns Patricia Muñoz, political scientist at the Javeriana University.

Internationally, Gustavo Petro will reactivate the diplomatic and commercial relations severed since 2019 with neighboring Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro, and seek support to resume peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last recognized guerrilla. in the country.

Although the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Marxists) in 2016 has reduced violence, Colombia has not yet extinguished the continent’s last internal armed conflict. In addition to the ELN, powerful gangs of drug traffickers such as the Clan del Golfo, led by Baron “Otoniel” extradited this year to the United States, impose their law in several regions of the country. And FARC dissidents are also challenging the state with resources from illegal mining and, above all, drug trafficking, as Colombia remains the largest producer of cocaine in the world.

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