BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s first leftist president was sworn in on Sunday, pledging to fight inequality and heralding a turning point in the history of a country plagued by a long war between the government and guerrillas.
Senator Gustavo Petro, a former member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrillas, won the presidential election in June, defeating conservatives that made modest changes to a market-friendly economy, but Failed to connect with voters frustrated by rising poverty and violence. Human rights leaders and environmental groups in rural areas.
Petro is part of a growing group of leftist politicians and political outsiders who have been winning elections in Latin America since the pandemic broke out and hurt incumbents who struggled with its economic aftershocks.
The former rebel’s victory was also an exception for Colombia, where voters have historically been reluctant to support left-wing politicians, often accused of being soft on crime or allied with guerrillas.
The 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC boosted the popularity of left-wing parties in national elections by diverting much of the attention of voters from violent clashes in rural areas to issues such as poverty and corruption.
Petro, 62, has pledged to address social and economic inequality in Colombia by increasing spending on anti-poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas. He described U.S.-led anti-drug policies, such as the forced eradication of illicit coca crops, as a “major failure”. But he said he wanted to work “equally” with Washington on plans to combat climate change or bring infrastructure to rural areas where many farmers consider coca leaf the only viable crop.
Petro also forged an alliance with environmentalists during the presidential campaign and pledged to turn Colombia into a “global powerhouse for life” by slowing deforestation and taking steps to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
The incoming president said Colombia would stop granting new oil exploration licenses and would ban fracking projects, even though the oil industry accounts for nearly 50 percent of the country’s legal exports. He plans to fund social spending through a $10 billion-a-year tax overhaul that would increase taxes on the wealthy and eliminate corporate tax breaks.
Petro also said he wants to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups, which are currently fighting for drug routes, gold mines and other resources abandoned by FARC after a peace deal with the government was reached.
“He has a very ambitious agenda,” said Yan Basset, a political scientist at the University of Rosario in Bogota. “But he has to prioritize. The risk for Petro is that he does too many reforms at once and gets nothing” through Colombia’s Congress.
Eight heads of state attended Petro’s inauguration, which took place in a large colonial Times Square in front of Colombia’s Congress.
A stage with live music and a big screen was also set up in a park in central Bogota so that thousands of citizens who were not invited to the main event could join in the festivities. It marked a dramatic change for Colombia, which had previously been more austere and limited to a few hundred VIPs.
“This is the first time someone from the base can come here for a presidential inauguration,” said Luis Alberto Combe, a member of the Guambiano tribe, who appeared at the swearing-in ceremony in a traditional blue poncho. “We are honored to be here.”