Ex-rebel sworn in as Colombian president in historic turn: NPR

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro speaks to students at Externado University in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022.

Fernando Vergara/AP

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Fernando Vergara/AP

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro speaks to students at Externado University in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022.

Fernando Vergara/AP

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s first leftist president will be sworn in on Sunday, promising 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 proposed moderate changes to the market economy but failed to connect with voters frustrated by rising poverty and violence against human rights leaders and environmental groups in rural areas.

Petro is part of a growing group of left-leaning politicians and political outsiders who have won elections in Latin America since the pandemic erupted and hurt incumbents who have struggled against its economic aftershocks.

The ex-rebel’s victory was also exceptional for Colombia, where voters had historically been reluctant to back leftist politicians, often accused of being soft on crime or allied with guerrillas.

A 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia diverted much of the voters’ attention from the violent conflicts taking place in rural areas and highlighted issues such as poverty and corruption, fueling the popularity of left-wing parties in national elections. .

Petro, 62, has promised to tackle Colombia’s social and economic inequalities by increasing spending on poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas. He described US drug policies, such as the forced eradication of illegal coca crops, as a “big failure”. But he said he would like to work with Washington “on an equal footing”, building projects to fight climate change or bring infrastructure to rural areas where many farmers say coca leaves are the only sustainable culture.

Petro also formed alliances with environmentalists during his presidential campaign and promised to make Colombia 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 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 he wanted to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups who are currently fighting for drug routes, gold mines and other resources abandoned by the FARC after their peace agreement with the government.

“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 is tackling too many reforms at once and getting nothing” through Colombia’s 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 large screens will also be placed in the parks of downtown Bogota so that tens of thousands of citizens without invitations to the main event can also participate in the festivities. It’s a big change for Colombia where previous presidential inaugurations were more somber events limited to a few hundred VIP guests.

“We want the Colombian people to be the protagonists,” Petro press chief Marisol Rojas said in a statement. “This inauguration will be the first taste of a new form of government, where all forms of life are respected, and where everyone is integrated.”

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