Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia to be sworn in

Colombia began a new political era this Sunday with the inauguration of the first left-wing president in its history, Gustavo Petro, who promised radical transformations in a country plagued by great inequality and an endless cycle of violence linked to drug trafficking.

Petro, 62, a former senator who abandoned the armed rebellion three decades ago, was sworn in before a large number of Colombian and foreign guests.

“I swear by God and I promise the people that I will faithfully respect the Constitution and the laws of Colombia,” he said.

“The first government that we expect will be a government of peace and it is about to begin,” Petro said on Saturday in Bogotá, during a ceremony prior to his inauguration. We hope that it will bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, which is calm and peace.”

“Here begins a government that fights for environmental justice,” he added, hoping that peace, the environment and the reduction of social inequality will be the main battles of his government.

The former opposition leader takes office with a reform package in mind that has raised high hopes among his supporters since his victory on June 19.

Next to him, the environmentalist Francia Márquez, 40, was sworn in as the first African-American woman vice president of Colombia, in a country historically governed by an elite of white men.

Analyst Jorge Restrepo of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis said that Pietro begins his term in an “enviable position, with a large majority in Parliament and enjoys street-level support that no government has had in recent years.” “.

Petro has formed a pluralist government that includes women who will occupy various portfolios, and aims to advance the reforms that will begin their legislative path on Monday.

In the search for resources to finance social reform plans, there are bills to raise taxes on the richest, improve tax collection and tax sugary drinks.

But Daniel Rojas, one of the coordinators of the transition committee with the government of his predecessor Iván Duque (2018-2022), said that “the level of debt and the fiscal deficit that we discovered is significant.”

However, Petroe intends to make good on his promise to reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest by developing access to credit, increasing aid and emphasizing education.

“I will fight for social justice,” he said on Saturday.

Although the Colombian economy has recovered from the Covid pandemic and returned to growth, annual inflation, unemployment (11.7%) and poverty (39%) are factors that will make the challenges even greater for Petro.

Patricia Muñoz, professor of political science at Jafriana University, warned that “people are expecting Aoun to quickly implement some of the changes promised during the campaign, which in addition to the economic situation (…) will lead to an atmosphere of tension “.

In the international arena, Petro will revitalize the diplomatic and commercial relations severed since 2019 with neighboring Venezuela headed by Nicolás Maduro, and will seek support for the resumption of peace talks with the National Liberation Army, the last recognized armed group in the country.

Although the peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 meant a decrease in violence, Colombia has not yet ended the last internal armed conflict on the continent.

In addition to the National Liberation Army, powerful drug gangs such as the Grupo Del Golfo, led by Baron “Ottonell”, extradited this year to the United States, enforce their laws in various regions of the country.

And FARC defectors are linking the state with the resources they get from illegal mining and drug smuggling, as Colombia remains the world’s largest producer of cocaine.

Petro offered these armed groups to bring peace in exchange for penalty mitigation programs, such as the agreement with the FARC. In his inaugural speech on Sunday, he said: “We call on all armed groups to renounce arms … and accept legal benefits, in exchange for peace and in exchange for a permanent cessation of violence.”

In his speech, the new Colombian president also called for the end of the war on drugs, considering it a failure, and for the transition to a “strong drug prevention policy” in developed countries.

“It is time for a new international agreement that recognizes the failure of the war on drugs,” he said.

Likewise, the president intends to reform the riot police accused of several human rights violations during the violent repression of demonstrations in the mandate of his predecessor.