Colombia’s first left-wing president will be sworn in on Sunday, vowing to fight inequality and heralding a turning point in the history of a country haunted by a long war between the government and guerrilla groups.
Senator Gustavo Petro, a former member of the Colombian guerrilla group M-19, won the presidential election in June by defeating conservative parties that introduced moderate changes to the market-friendly economy, but failed to connect with voters frustrated with growing poverty and violence against human rights leaders and groups environment in rural areas.
Petro is part of a growing group of left-wing politicians and foreign politicians who have won elections in Latin America since the outbreak of the pandemic and hurt occupants who have suffered its economic fallout.
The former rebel victory was also exceptional for Colombia, where voters have historically been reluctant to support left-wing politicians who have often been accused of leniency with crime or of allying with the rebels.
The 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC shifted much of the voter focus away from violent conflicts raging in rural areas, and highlighted problems such as poverty and corruption, fueling the popularity of left-wing parties in national elections. .
Petro, 62, promised to address Colombia’s social and economic disparities by increasing spending on anti-poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas. He has called US-led anti-drug policies, such as the forced eradication of illegal coca crops, a “big failure”. But he said he would like to work with Washington “on an equal footing,” to build schemes to combat climate change or bring infrastructure to rural areas where many farmers say coca leaves are the only viable crop.
Petro also formed alliances with environmentalists during his presidential campaign and promised to turn Colombia into a “global power for life” by slowing deforestation and taking steps to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The new president said Colombia would stop granting new oil exploration licenses and would ban hydraulic fracturing projects, even though the oil industry makes up nearly 50% of the country’s legal exports. He plans to fund social spending with a $10 billion annually tax reform that would raise taxes on the wealthy and eliminate tax breaks for corporations.
Petro also said he wanted to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups that are currently fighting over drug routes, gold mines and other resources abandoned by the FARC after the peace deal with the government.
“He has a very ambitious agenda,” said Jan Bassett, a professor of political science at the University of Rosario in Bogota. But he will have to give priority. The danger for Petro is that he pursues too many reforms at once and gets nothing “through the Colombian Congress.
At least 10 heads of state are expected to attend Petro’s inauguration, which will take place in a large colonial-era plaza in front of the Colombian Congress. Stages with live music and big screens will also be placed in parks throughout downtown Bogota so that tens of thousands of citizens without invitations to the main event can also join the festivities. This is a big change for Colombia where previous presidential editorials were more bleak and were limited to a few hundred VIPs.
“We want the Colombian people to be the heroes,” Petro’s chief press officer, Marisol Rojas, said in a statement. “This inauguration will be the first taste of a new form of government, where all life is respected, and where it suits all.”