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Colombia’s first left-wing president was sworn in

#Colombias #leftwing #president #sworn

Former guerrilla fighter and former mayor Gustavo Petro will be sworn in as Colombia’s first left-wing president on Sunday, with plans for deep reforms in a country wracked by economic inequality and drug violence.

The former senator, 62, is taking over from the deeply unpopular Ivan Duque for a four-year term in which he will be supported by a left-leaning majority in Congress.

Petro’s hard-fought victory in June’s general election propelled Colombia, long ruled by a conservative elite, into an expanding left-wing faction in Latin America that could be consolidated in October with a likely victory for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil.

At a ceremony in Bogota on the eve of his inauguration, Petro said his government would aim to “bring to Colombia what it hasn’t had for centuries, which is peace and quiet.”

“Here begins a government that will fight for environmental justice,” he added.

During the election campaign, Petro promised to raise taxes on the rich, invest in health care and education and reform the police force after last year’s brutal crackdown on internationally condemned inequality protests.

He has promised to suspend oil exploration, promote clean energy and resume diplomatic and commercial ties with Venezuela’s suspended government of Nicolas Maduro since 2019.

Petro starts from an “enviable position, with a large majority in Congress and on the road with a support no government has had in recent years,” analyst Jorge Restrepo of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC) told AFP.

– “Critical” debt burden –

Petro’s presidency is also historic in another respect: he will be joined by the country’s first Afro-Colombian vice president, environmental and women’s rights activist Francia Marquez, 40.

The couple will grapple with an economy shattered by the coronavirus pandemic, a rise in violence and a deep-rooted anger at the political establishment that culminated in last year’s protests.

Almost 40 percent of Colombia’s 50 million inhabitants live in poverty, 11.7 percent are unemployed.

Inflation hit 10.2 percent yoy in July.

On Monday, a preparatory commission set up by Petro said he inherited “a debt and budget deficit that is… critical.”

– peace talks –

Petro, who was a member of the urban guerrilla M-19 in his youth, has pledged to implement outstanding provisions of the 2016 peace accord in which the FARC rebel movement laid down their arms after nearly six decades of civil war.

The former mayor of Bogota has also promised to continue negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) armed group.

Although the FARC disbanded to become a political party, Colombia saw a surge in violence as thousands of dissidents fought the ELN and powerful cartels for control of drug fields, illegal gold mines and lucrative smuggling routes.

According to the Indepaz Peace Research Institute, 90 armed groups with around 10,000 members are active in Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer.

Petro has proposed allowing armed groups to hand themselves over in exchange for some form of amnesty.

It will be inaugurated at 15:00 local time (2000 GMT) in front of numerous international guests.

Colombian presidents serve only one term.

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