Colombia’s first leftist president sworn in

BOGOTA: Former guerrilla fighter and former mayor Gustavo Petro will be sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president on Sunday, with plans for sweeping reforms in a country plagued by economic inequality and drug-related violence.

The 62-year-old former senator succeeds the deeply unpopular Ivan Duque for a four-year term during which he will enjoy the support of a leftist majority in Congress.

Petro’s hard-fought victory in June’s elections has brought Colombia, long ruled by a conservative elite, into an expanding left-wing fold in Latin America that could be consolidated in October with a likely win for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil. .

At a ceremony in Bogota on the eve of his inauguration, Petro said his government would aim to “bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, namely tranquility and peace”.

“Here begins a government that will fight for environmental justice,” he added.

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During the election campaign, Petro promised to raise taxes on the wealthy, invest in health care and education and reform the police after a brutal crackdown on anti-inequality protests last year that was condemned by the international community.

He pledged to suspend oil exploration, promote clean energy and reactivate diplomatic and commercial relations with the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, suspended since 2019.

Petro starts from an “enviable position, with a large majority in Congress and, at the street level, with support that no government has had in recent years”, analyst Jorge Restrepo told AFP. of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (Cerac).

“Critical” debt burden

Petro’s presidency is also historic in another sense: alongside him will be the country’s first-ever Afro-Colombian female vice president, environmental and women’s rights activist Francia Marquez, 40.

The couple will grapple with an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, a spike in violence and deep-rooted anger at the political establishment that culminated in protests last year.

Nearly 40% of Colombia’s 50 million people live in poverty, while 11.7% are unemployed.

Inflation reached 10.2% year-on-year in July.

On Monday, a preparatory commission set up by Petro said he inherited “a level of debt and budget deficit that…is critical.”

Peace talks

Petro, who in his youth was a member of the urban guerrilla group M-19, has vowed to implement outstanding provisions of the 2016 peace accord that saw the rebel FARC movement lay down their arms after nearly six decades of civil conflict.

The former mayor of Bogota also pledged to continue negotiations with the armed group of the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Despite the dissolution of the FARC to become a political party, Colombia has seen an upsurge in violence as thousands of dissidents fight the ELN and powerful cartels for control of drug fields, illegal gold mines and lucrative smuggling routes.

According to the peace research institute Indepaz, there are 90 armed groups with some 10,000 active members in Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer.

Petro offered to allow armed groups to surrender in return for some form of amnesty.

It will be inaugurated at 3 p.m. local time (2000 GMT) in front of a crowd of international guests.

Colombian presidents have only one term.

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