Gustavo Petro sworn in as President of Colombia | Political news

Gustavo Petro, a former rebel fighter, was sworn in as Colombia’s first left-wing president.

The former member of the armed group M-19 was sworn in on Sunday afternoon in Bogotá’s Bolivar Square, pledging to unite the polarized country in the fight against inequality and climate change, and to achieve peace with rebel groups and criminal gangs.

His inauguration was attended by some 100,000 guests, including Spain’s King Felipe VI, at least nine Latin American presidents and other Colombians invited by Petro.

“I don’t want two countries, just like I don’t want two societies. I want a strong, fair and united Colombia,” an emotional Petro said in his inaugural speech. “The challenges and tests we face as a nation demand a period of basic unity and consensus.”

Petro, a 62-year-old former senator, has vowed to relaunch abortive peace talks with National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and apply a 2016 peace accord to ex-FARC fighters who reject it .

Its foreign minister said the government would engage in dialogue with the gangs and potentially give its members sentence reductions in return for information on drug trafficking.

Armed groups should agree to this deal, Petro said.

“We call on all those who are armed to leave their weapons in the mist of the past. Accepting legal benefits in exchange for peace, in exchange for the definitive non-repetition of violence,” Petro told the jubilant crowd gathered under the bright Andean sun.

Supporters of Colombian President Gustavo Petro display a painting of him with Vice President Francia Marquez during their swearing-in ceremony in Bolivar Square in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday August 7, 2022 [Fernando Vergara/ AP]
Chilean President Gabriel Boric waves during the swearing-in ceremony for new Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogota, Colombia on Sunday.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric salutes during the swearing-in ceremony for new Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday August 7, 2022 [Fernando Vergara/ AP]

He also called for a new international strategy to fight drug trafficking, saying the US-led war on drugs has failed.

“It’s time to have a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed, that it has killed a million Latin Americans for 40 years and that it leaves 70,000 North Americans dead from drug overdoses. every year. The war on drugs has strengthened mafias and weakened states,” he said.

Climate change must be tackled internationally, but especially by the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases, Petro added, saying that Colombia would transition to an economy without coal and oil.

During the election campaign, Petro said that Colombia would stop granting new licenses for oil exploration and ban hydraulic fracturing projects, even though the oil industry accounts for almost 50% of the country’s legal exports. He plans to fund social spending with a $10 billion-a-year tax reform that would raise taxes on the wealthy and cut tax breaks for corporations.

Petro also said the top priority was to fight hunger in the country of 50 million people, where nearly half the population lives in some level of poverty. He also pledged to make changes to free public college education and health care, and built a broad coalition in Congress of left and center parties to pass his platform.

The new president starts from an “enviable position, with a large majority in Congress and, from the point of view of the street, with a support that no government has had in recent years”, told AFP l analyst Jorge Restrepo of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis. agency.

But others said Petro should prioritize his political goals.

“He has a very ambitious agenda,” said Yan Basset, a political scientist at Rosario University in Bogota. “But he will have to prioritize. The risk Petro faces is that he seeks too many reforms at once and gets nothing” through the Colombian Congress.

New Vice President Francia Marquez, an environmental activist and former housekeeper, is the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold her post. Their cabinet includes an internationally renowned professor, Jose Antonio Ocampo, as Minister of Finance and an academic who studies the negative impacts of industries as Minister of Mines. The Ministry of Labor will be headed by the leader of the Colombian Communist Party.

Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez and Colombian President Gustavo Petro embrace during the swearing-in ceremony in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia.
Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez and Colombian President Gustavo Petro embrace during the swearing-in ceremony in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia, August 7, 2022 [Luisa Gonzalez/ Reuters]

Thousands of supporters celebrated in Bogota and on large screens set up in public places across the country.

“I didn’t think I would live to see this finally happen,” said Nelson Molina, a 56-year-old plumber who wore a Petro t-shirt and hat. “I know we won’t change overnight, this is just the beginning.”

Groups of people were also celebrating on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border, with dozens gathering on either side of a crossing point on the Simon Bolivar Bridge outside the Colombian city of Cucuta.

Petro, former mayor of Bogota, has promised to reopen diplomatic relations with Venezuela, allowing the resumption of trade between the two countries and consular services.

Petro’s first order as president was for the military to bring the sword of Latin American liberation hero Simon Bolivar – stolen by Petro’s former M-19 comrades in 1974 – for display on the place, after his predecessor Ivan Duque did not allow its use in the ceremony.

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