Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla and mayor, will be sworn in as Colombia’s first ever leftist president on Sunday. He has plans for significant reforms in a nation plagued by economic inequality and drug violence.
A left-leaning majority in Congress will support the former senator, 62, during his four-year term as he succeeds the wildly unpopular Ivan Duque.
With Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s likely victory in Brazil in October, Colombia, long ruled by a conservative elite, entered the growing left-wing fold in Latin America thanks to Petro’s arduous victory in June elections.
On the eve of his inauguration, Petro stated at a ceremony in Bogota that his administration would work to “bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, which is tranquility and peace.”
He continued, “This is the beginning of a government that will fight for environmental justice.”
After a brutal crackdown on anti-inequality protests last year that was widely denounced, Petro had pledged during the campaign to increase taxes on the wealthy, make investments in healthcare and education, and reform the police.
He has promised to halt oil exploration, advance clean energy, and resume diplomatic and business ties with Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan government, which have been halted since 2019.
With a sizable majority in Congress and support from the public that no government has enjoyed recently, Petro is starting from a “enviable position,” according to analyst Jorge Restrepo of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis.
The 40-year-old environmental and women’s rights activist Francia Marquez will serve as Petro’s vice president, making Petro’s presidency historic in another way as well.
The two will have to deal with a struggling economy brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, an uptick in violence, and a long-standing resentment of the political establishment that culminated in protests last year.
Of Colombia’s 50 million residents, nearly 40% are considered to be living in poverty, and 11.7% are unemployed.
Inflation reached 10.2 per cent year-on-year in July.
On Monday, a preparatory commission set up by Petro said he was inheriting “a level of indebtedness and fiscal deficit that is critical.”
Petro, a former M-19 urban guerrilla group member, has pledged to carry out the remaining terms of the 2016 peace agreement, which saw the rebel FARC movement lay down its arms after nearly 60 years of civil conflict.
Additionally, the former mayor of Bogota has promised to continue talks with the National Liberation Army militia.
Colombia has experienced an increase in violence despite the FARC disbanding to form a political party, as thousands of dissidents fight the liberation army and strong cartels for control of lucrative smuggling routes, gold mines, and drug fields.
The largest producer of cocaine in the world, Colombia, is home to 90 armed groups with about 10,000 members, according to the Indepaz peace research institute.
Petro has proposed allowing armed groups to hand themselves over in exchange for some form of amnesty.
He will be inaugurated at 3:00 pm local time (20:00 GMT) in front of a host of international guests.
Colombian presidents serve only one term.