Ex-rebel takes oath as Colombian president in historic shift

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s first leftist president was sworn into workplace Sunday, promising to combat inequality and convey peace to a rustic lengthy haunted by bloody feuds between the federal government, drug traffickers and insurgent teams.

Gustavo Petro, a former member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla group, gained the presidential election in June by beating conservative events that supplied average adjustments to the market-friendly economic system, however failed to attach with voters annoyed by rising poverty and violence in opposition to human rights leaders and environmental teams in rural areas.

On Sunday, he stated Colombia was getting a “second chance” to sort out violence and poverty and promised that his authorities would implement financial insurance policies that search to finish longstanding inequalities and guarantee “solidarity” with the nation’s most susceptible.

The incoming president stated he was keen to begin peace talks with armed teams throughout the nation and in addition referred to as on the US and different developed nations to vary drug insurance policies which have centered on the prohibition of gear like cocaine, and fed violent conflicts throughout Colombia and different Latin American nations.

“It’s time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed,” he stated. “Of course peace is possible. But it depends on current drug policies being substituted with strong measures that prevent consumption in developed societies.”

Petro is a part of a rising group of leftist politicians and political outsiders who’ve been profitable elections in Latin America because the pandemic broke out and damage incumbents who struggled with its financial aftershocks.

The ex-rebel’s victory was additionally distinctive for Colombia, the place voters had been traditionally reluctant to again leftist politicians who have been typically accused of being smooth on crime or allied with guerrillas.

A 2016 peace deal between Colombia’s authorities and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia turned the main target of voters away from the violent conflicts taking part in out in rural areas and gave prominence to issues like poverty and corruption, fueling the recognition of leftist events in nationwide elections. Nevertheless, smaller insurgent teams just like the Nationwide Liberation Military and the Gulf Clan proceed to combat over drug trafficking routes, unlawful gold mines and different sources deserted by the FARC.

Petro, 62, has described U.S.-led antinarcotics insurance policies as a failure however has additionally stated he wish to work with Washington “as equals,” constructing schemes to fight local weather change or carry infrastructure to rural areas the place many farmers say coca leaves are the one viable crop.

Petro additionally fashioned alliances with environmentalists throughout his presidential marketing campaign and has promised to show Colombia right into a “global powerhouse for life” by slowing deforestation and lowering the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

He has stated Colombia will cease granting new licenses for oil exploration and can ban fracking tasks, though the oil trade makes up virtually 50% of the nation’s authorized exports. He plans to finance social spending with a $10 billion a 12 months tax reform that will enhance taxes on the wealthy and put off company tax breaks.

“He’s got a very ambitious agenda,” stated Yan Basset, a political scientist at Bogota’s Rosario College. “But he will have to prioritize. The risk Petro faces is that he goes after too many reforms at once and gets nothing” via Colombia’s congress.

Analysts count on Petro’s overseas coverage to be markedly completely different from that of his predecessor Iván Duque, a conservative who backed Washington’s drug insurance policies and labored with the U.S. authorities to isolate the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in an try to drive the authoritarian chief into holding free elections.

Petro has as an alternative stated he’ll acknowledge Maduro’s authorities and attempt to work with the Venezuelan president on a number of points, together with combating insurgent teams alongside the porous border between the nations. Some border residents are hoping that improved relations will generate extra commerce and job alternatives.

Hours earlier than Petro took workplace, at an important border crossing bridge with Venezuela, a bunch of individuals carried a Colombian flag as they walked towards Venezuela chanting “Viva Colombia, Viva Venezuela!” Supporters of Maduro held a live performance on the Venezuelan aspect of the border.

In Cúcuta, a metropolis only a few miles from the Venezuelan border, commerce college pupil Daniela Cárdenas is hoping Petro will perform an academic reform that features free tuition for faculty college students.

“He has promised so many things,” Cardenas, 19, stated after touring 90 minutes from her rural group to town. “We must work to be able to pay our student fees, which are quite expensive and, well, that makes many things difficult for us.”

Eight heads of state attended Petro’s inauguration, which was held at a big colonial-era sq. in entrance of Colombia’s Congress. Levels with dwell music and large screens have been additionally positioned in parks throughout Bogota’s metropolis heart in order that tens of 1000’s of residents with out invites to the principle occasion may be a part of the festivities. That marked an enormous change for Colombia the place earlier presidential inaugurations have been extra somber occasions restricted to a couple hundred VIP friends.

“It’s the first time that people from the base can come here to be part of a presidential inauguration,” stated Luis Alberto Tombe, a member of the Guambiano tribe sporting a standard blue poncho. “We feel honored to be here.”

However not everyone seems to be feeling so hopeful about Petro’s victory. In Medellin Stefan Bravo, a conservative activist, organized an anti-Petro march on Saturday that was joined by round 500 individuals. He’s fearful Colombia’s new president will erode the separation of powers within the South American nation, and comply with the insurance policies of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

“Petro does not represent us,” Bravo stated. “This government will be a threat to family values, private property and foreign investment.”

Petro gained the election by simply 2 share factors, and remains to be a polarizing determine in Colombia, the place many have been cautious of getting former guerrillas take part in politics.

His Cupboard appointments have additionally been extremely scrutinized: The brand new president picked an internationally renown economics professor as his finance minister, whereas additionally selecting a tutorial who researches the unfavorable impacts of extractive industries as his minister for mining, and giving the labor ministry to the pinnacle of Colombia’s communist occasion.

“I think he’s trying to forge a balance,” stated Sergio Guzmán, a political threat analyst in Bogota. “He has included the activists who he promised to make an integral part of his government, the centrist technocrats who give the markets confidence, and the different political parties with whom he has to govern to pass anything in congress.”

Related Press journalist Regina García Cano contributed to this report from San Antonio del Táchira, Venezuela

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