Gustavo Petro became Colombia’s first leftist president on Sunday, promising to unite the country in the battle against inequality and climate change, as well as to negotiate peace with leftist insurgents and crime gangs.
Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla organization, was sworn in by Senate President Roy Barreras on Sunday afternoon in Bogota’s Bolivar Plaza in front of 100,000 invitees, including Spanish King Felipe VI, at least nine Latin American presidents, and other Colombians invited by Petro.
“I don’t want two countries, nor do I want two societies. I desire a Colombia that is powerful, just, and unified “In his inauguration speech, Petro expressed his emotions. “The challenges and tests that we have as a nation demand a period of unity and basic consensus.”
Petro has promised to restart stalled peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and to apply a 2016 peace pact to ex-FARC militants who reject it.
His foreign minister has stated that the government will engage in discussion with gangs and may provide lower penalties in exchange for information concerning drug trafficking.
Petro believes that armed groups should embrace the agreement.
“We urge all armed individuals to abandon their weapons in the haze of history. Accepting legal rewards in trade for peace, in exchange for the unambiguous cessation of violence, “Petro urged the enthusiastic audience assembled in the Andean sun.
He also advocated for a new worldwide approach to combat drug trafficking, claiming that the US-led drug war had failed.
“It is time for a new international agreement that recognizes that the drug war has failed, that it has killed a million Latin Americans over the last 40 years, and that it kills 70,000 North Americans each year from overdoses. The drug war empowered mafias while weakening states “He stated.
Climate change must be combated globally, but especially by countries that emit the greatest greenhouse gases, said Petro, adding that Colombia would transition to a coal-free economy.
The new Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, will propose to Congress on Monday a $5.8 billion tax overhaul that would raise charges on wealthy earnings to fund social programs.
Petro, a 62-year-old former senator, has also stated that fighting hunger is a primary concern in the country of 50 million people, where over half of the population lives in poverty.
Petro has also promised free public university education and healthcare reforms, as well as a broad congressional coalition of leftist and centrist parties to help him pass his platform.
Despite the hiring of Ocampo, a long-time official, promises of pension reform and a freeze to new oil production have generated investor concern.
Francia Marquez, a former maid and environmental activist, is the first Afro-Colombian woman to assume the position of Vice President.
Thousands of supporters gathered downtown Bogota and at giant screens set up in public places across the country to celebrate.
“I didn’t believe I would live to see this finally happen,” Nelson Molina, a 56-year-old plumber wearing a Petro t-shirt and hat, remarked. “I know we won’t change from one day to the next, this is just the beginning.”
Hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border to celebrate, including dozens on either side of a crossing point on the Simon Bolivar bridge outside of Cucuta.
Petro, a former mayor of Bogota, has promised to re-establish diplomatic relations with Venezuela, allowing trade and consular services to restart.
After his predecessor Ivan Duque refused to allow its use in the celebration, Petro’s first order as president was for the military to bring the sword of Latin American liberation hero Simon Bolivar, which had been taken by Petro’s former M-19 colleagues in 1974, to be displayed in the plaza.