EL COLOMBIANO, August 8, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Gustavo Petro gave an hour-long inaugural address in the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, wearing the tricolor sash that he put on “against every prognostication”. His words were conciliating, not at all dissonant with the vision he brought to the Presidential Palace, but rather, more like those of a Head of State who has a mission to “unite Colombia”.
Before the eyes of thousands of spectators, both present and virtual, Petro spoke of an energetic transition for the Peace Agreement, the war on drugs and social inequality, and he announced unexpectedly that he would use the property in the power of the Special Assets Society (SAE in Spanish) to bolster a productive economy.
He wants a moderate transition of energy production
The transition of energy and the environment occupied a large part of the President’s words. Yet he remained centrist and did not attack an industry that has had goose bumps at his rise to power. He spoke more to the international system than to other actors.
In fact, he signaled the rest of the world about the climate change that is destroying the planet. But he emphasized that Colombia is not one of those most responsible.
“We are disposed to transit to an economy that’s free of coal and without petroleum,” the President pointed out, adding that this is not a country that is emitting important quantities of greenhouse gases.
“It’s the rich countries of the world that are doing that, bringing the human race to extinction, but we do have the greatest sponge to absorb those gases, after the oceans: the Amazon jungle,” he said.
He used that moment to talk about the International Monetary Fund (IMF), always critical of the left—proposing that it “exchange external debt for internal expenditures to save and recover our jungles, forests, and wetlands.”
The proposal is attention-getting, considering that this country has an external debt of 48.8 % of GDP that exceeds $175,000,000,000. To carry out his idea, Petro promised to use the excess of the monetary commitment to “save human lives”.
“If the IMF would help to exchange the debt for concrete action against climate change, we would have a new prosperous economy and a new life for humanity,” he proposed.
In the later speech that he gave in the Presidential Palace, he repeated his posture on the need to transition to an economic system that does not depend on fossil fuels, while also, at no time referring to abrupt changes in ending their use.
He seeks to change the war on drugs
On another issue, the President spoke about the war on drugs in the world which, as he said in his campaign, must now have a new approach after the 53 years of “failure”.
His proposal is to change the view of drug consumption, passing from a vision of war to one of prevention. It’s an approach from the point of view of public health. With that in mind, and knowing that Colombia cannot make that decision without the accompaniment of other countries, he called for the creation of a new international convention that recognizes that failure.
The reason is because that war “has left a million people dead in Latin America during those 40 years, and it leaves 70,000 North Americans dead from overdoses every year. And that the war on drugs has strengthened the mafias and weakened the governments.
The message from Gustavo Petro is powerful, not only for its content but also for who was sitting in front of him. He said it to the delegation from the United States—that journeyed to Colombia for his inauguration—the principal country promoting aerial aspersion of glyphosate and the inventor of the war on drugs in 1971.
He supported benefits in exchange for the laying down of arms
But speaking of drugs makes it necessary to speak of the illegal armed groups, and in that regard, Petro spoke of his recipe for total peace. As is known, it would include all of the armed groups, including those that have no political status.
Petro spoke to the illegals directly, inviting them to lay down their arms and leave them in “the nebulae of the past”. That’s how he called on them to accept the legal benefits that could be offered to them during his term, in return for peace, definitely no return to violence, taking part in a “prosperous but legal economy that will put an end to the backwardness in the regions.”
“It’s the whole society that ought to dialog about how we can stop killing each other and how we can make progress (. . .) So that peace can be possible in Colombia, we have to dialog, dialog a lot, understand each other, look for common pathways, and produce changes,” he pointed out.
Likewise, he stressed that he has the objective of having regional dialogs, connecting with people who have not taken up arms, to highlight the currently existing conflicts by his words, and to seek solutions “by the use of reason.”
He doesn’t want inequality to be “natural” in Colombia
All of this is part of the cocktail of social problems in Colombia, in which inequality is the principal ingredient that Petro can’t stop talking about. Not just at the level of money, but also of gender.
Because of that, he promised to accompany women in achieving equity and equal opportunity and equal pay, so that the pay gap between men and women will cease to exist. Francia Márquez as Vice President and Minister of Equality, which has yet to be created, will take charge of closing that gap.
“We can’t continue to allow that women (. . .) earn less than men, while they have to work three or four times as many hours at the work of caregiving, and have less representation in our institutions,” he said.
The decalogue of commitments that Petro has taken on in his first speech as President
Likewise, he emphasized the poverty of many Colombians and how 70% of the country’s wealth is concentrated in 10% of the population. He describes this as “disproportionate and amoral”. More than making frightening accusations, Petro asked that inequality not be thought of as “natural” anymore, and that turning away from these painful phenomena that the people complain of be avoided.
“With political will, redistributive policies and a program of fairness, we will make Colombia more egalitarian and have more opportunities for everybody,” he stressed. That said, he said that his idea is to progress toward a country where it’s possible to create wealth for all of the citizens and distribute it more fairly.
With regard to the foregoing, he referred to his proposal for an economy based on productivity, employment, and knowledge, preceded by a tax reform that will bring justice to the population. That law, the first for the Petro administration, will have the objective of “bringing part of the wealth of the people that have the most and earn the most to open the doors of education for every child and every youth.”
Also on that point, he recalled that there will also be reform of the health care system, of pensions, of labor contracts, and of education. All are meant to advance the goal of social equality.
Added to that, he spoke of food sovereignty and the objective of having zero hunger in the country. To do that, he invited the private sector to join the government in working toward providing food that is healthful and sufficient for everybody.
Petro issues his first order as President: recovering possession of the sword of Bolívar, something that Duque prevented
Houses seized for use by the people
Right after making reference to tax reform, he explained one of the concrete measures he would be taking beginning right now. All of the properties seized and in the possession of the Society for Special Assets (SAE in Spanish) will be the base for a productive economy that will be administered by urban cooperatives for youth production and women’s popular associations.
Even though he didn’t provide more detail, this is a task that will be handled by the Ministry of Finance, where the SAE is located.
Even though it was barely Sunday afternoon, Petro made his final appointments of Ministers—only Science Minister was lacking—with his address and his cabinet nearly ready, he offered an idea of what, at least, the first weeks of his administration would be like. There will be profound changes but, if it’s anything like his inaugural address, it will be more systematic and less abrupt than some people have predicted.