Leftist Petro takes office in Colombia amid economic, social challenges

A $5.8 billion tax reform, which would raise duties on high earners to fund social programs, will be proposed to congress on Monday by the new Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo. "I'm also nervous about becoming president," Petro recently told students at his alma mater Externado University in Bogota, when asked about the challenges he faces.


Reuters | Updated: 08-08-2022 01:33 IST | Created: 08-08-2022 01:28 IST
Leftist Petro takes office in Colombia amid economic, social challenges
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  • Colombia

Gustavo Petro will on Sunday become Colombia's first leftist president, elected by voters who hope he can carry out ambitious social and economic reforms meant to reduce violence and deep inequality in the polarized Andean country. Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrillas, is set to be inaugurated in Bogota's Bolivar Plaza on Sunday afternoon.

Thousands of supporters were gathering in central Bogota and at large screens set up in public places around the country. "I didn't believe I would live to see this finally happen," said Nelson Molina, a 56-year-old plumber who was sporting a Petro t-shirt and hat as he attended celebrations some 10 blocks from the plaza. "I know we won't change from one day to the next, this is just the beginning."

Senate president Roy Barreras will swear in Petro in front of some 100,000 invitees, including Spanish King Felipe VI, at least nine Latin American presidents and other Colombians invited by Petro. Groups of people were also celebrating on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border, with dozens gathered on either side of a crossing point on the Simon Bolivar bridge outside of Cucuta.

Petro has promised to re-open diplomatic relations with Venezuela, allowing trade between the two countries and consular services to resume. New Vice President Francia Marquez, an environmental activist and former housekeeper, will be the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold her post.

Petro, a 62-year-old former senator, has said his first priority will be to fight hunger in the country of 50 million, where nearly half the population lives at some level of poverty. A $5.8 billion tax reform, which would raise duties on high earners to fund social programs, will be proposed to congress on Monday by the new Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.

"I'm also nervous about becoming president," Petro recently told students at his alma mater Externado University in Bogota, when asked about the challenges he faces. Petro has pledged free public university education and healthcare changes, and constructed a broad congressional coalition of leftist and centrist parties to pass his platform.

Promises of pension reform and a halt to new oil development have caused investor jitters despite the appointment of Ocampo, a long-time official, as finance minister. The new president, a former mayor of Bogota, has also promised to revive scuppered peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and apply a 2016 peace deal to ex-members of the FARC guerrillas who reject it.

His foreign minister has said the government will hold dialogue with gangs and potentially give members reduced sentences in exchange for information about drug trafficking. "We all have to wish each other good luck," Petro told the students.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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