Former rebel Gustavo Petro sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia’s first left-wing president was sworn in on Sunday and pledged to fight inequality, marking a turning point in the history of a country haunted by a long war between the government and guerrilla groups.

sen. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the Colombian guerrilla group M-19, won the presidential election in June by defeating conservative parties who were making moderate changes to the market-friendly economy, but failed to connect with voters frustrated by rising poverty and poverty. violence against human rights leaders and environmental groups in rural areas.

Petro is part of a growing group of leftist politicians and political outsiders who have won elections in Latin America since the outbreak of the pandemic, hurting incumbents struggling with the economic aftershocks.

The ex-rebel’s victory was also exceptional for Colombia, where voters have historically been reluctant to support leftist politicians, often accused of being weak against crime or allying guerrillas.

A 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia turned voters away from focusing on the violent conflicts unfolding in rural areas and brought issues like poverty and corruption to the fore, fueling the popularity of left-wing parties. fueled in national elections. .

Petro, 62, has pledged to address social and economic inequalities in Colombia by increasing spending on poverty reduction programs and increasing investment in rural areas. He has described US-led anti-narcotics policies, such as the forced eradication of illegal coca crops, as a “major failure”. But he has said he would like to work “as equals” with Washington, building plans 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 has pledged to make Colombia a “global powerhouse for life” by slowing deforestation and taking steps to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The incoming president has said Colombia will stop granting new licenses for oil exploration and ban fracking projects, even though the oil industry accounts for nearly 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 rich and do away with tax breaks for businesses.

Petro has also said he wants to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups currently fighting over drug routes, gold mines and other resources left behind by the FARC after their peace deal with the government.

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

Eight heads of state attended Petro’s inauguration, which was held in a large colonial-era square for the Colombian Congress.

Live music stages and large screens were also set up in parks in central Bogota, allowing tens of thousands of citizens to participate in the festivities without being invited to the main event. That marked a big change for Colombia, where previous presidential inaugurations were more bleak events limited to a few hundred VIP guests.

“It’s the first time grassroots people can come here to be part of a presidential inauguration,” said Luis Alberto Combe, a member of the Guambiano tribe who showed up at the swearing-in ceremony, dressed in a traditional blue poncho. “We are honored to be here.”

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