Gustavo Petro took over as Colombia’s presidency on Sunday, becoming the South American country’s first left-wing president, vowing to unite a divided nation, fight poverty, inequality and climate change and seek peace with the guerrillas and criminal gangs.
Thousands of supporters gathered in downtown Bogotá and on large screens installed in public spaces across the country to celebrate Petro’s arrival as president.
“I will unite Colombia. We will unite among us all our beloved Colombia. We must say enough about the divisions we face as a people. I don’t want two countries, just like I don’t want two societies,” the President said. “I want a strong, fair and united Colombia. The challenges we face as a nation require a period of unity and basic consensus.”
The inauguration ceremony took place at the historic Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá. Senate President Roy Barreras took the oath and imposed the presidential sash along with Senator María José Pizarro in front of about 100,000 people, including King Felipe VI. of Spain, leaders of Latin America and ordinary people invited by Petro.
“We must end six decades of violence and armed conflict once and for all,” Petro said.
“We also call on all those armed to lay down their arms in the mists of the past. To accept legal benefits in exchange for peace, in exchange for the ultimate non-recurrence of violence, to work as the owner of a thriving but legal economy. put an end to the backwardness of the regions,” he added.
Petro, a 62-year-old economist who was a congressman, intends to seek a “total peace” that will silence the guns, and announced before his inauguration that he would resume peace negotiations with the left-wing National Liberation Army guerrillas ( ELN).
With the FARC dissidents, she intends to implement the 2016 peace agreement that enabled the demobilization of around 13,000 combatants, while seeking legal alternatives for the criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, who would receive benefits such as reduced sentences in exchange for reporting channels.
The internal armed conflict left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone, most of them civilians.
“I didn’t think I would see this finally happen. I know we won’t change overnight but this is just the beginning,” said Nelson Molina, 56, who works as a plumber, while showing off a Petro campaign T-shirt and cap.
NEW ANTI-DRUG STRATEGY
Groups of people also gathered on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border, at the Simón Bolívar Bridge, outside the city of Cúcuta to celebrate.
The president also proposed a new international strategy to fight drug trafficking in his inaugural address, saying the war on drugs had failed.
“It’s time for a new international convention that will accept that the war on drugs has failed, that one million Latin Americans have been murdered in those 40 years, and that 70,000 North Americans die from drug overdoses every year. That the war goes on, drugs have strengthened the mafia and weakened the states,” Petro said.
Colombia is under constant pressure from the United States to eradicate the coca leaf crop, the raw material for cocaine, and to confiscate drug supplies.
Petro announced that it would restore diplomatic ties with Venezuela and allow trade between the two countries and consular services to resume.
The new vice president, Francia Márquez, an environmental activist and former domestic worker, also became the first Afro-Colombian woman to take office.
Petro, who was a member of the M-19 guerrillas in his youth, announced he would implement plans to fight hunger in the country of 50 million where almost half the population lives in poverty.
The president will submit a bill to Congress next week to increase taxes on higher-income people and initially raise about $5.8 billion for social programs.
The new president’s plans also include free public university education, changes in the health care system and subsidies for poor elderly people who do not receive a pension.
His economic promises, including reforming the pension system and banning new oil exploration projects in favor of renewable energy, made businesspeople and investors nervous, even though he appointed renowned economist José Antonio Ocampo as finance minister.
Although the left failed to win a majority of the 295 seats in Congress, Petro forged a coalition with centrist forces and traditional parties like the Liberals that would guarantee approval for his reforms and his ability to govern.
The president also pledged to fight corruption and climate change and boost national industry.
Petro’s first action as president was to order the military to bring in the sword of Liberator Simón Bolívar, hero of the independence of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, stolen by the M-19 guerrillas in 1974 and was brought back in the 1990s.
Outgoing President Iván Duque had refused permission to remove the sword from the Presidential Palace and display it during the inauguration ceremony.
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