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A former rebel has been sworn in as Colombia’s president in a historic reshuffle

BOGOTA – Colombia’s first leftist president will be sworn into office on Sunday, pledging to fight inequality and heralding a turning point in the history of a country wracked by a long war between the government and guerrilla groups.

Senator Gustavo Petro, a former member of the Colombian guerrilla group M-19, won the presidential election in June, defeating conservative parties that proposed moderate changes to a market-friendly economy but failed to connect with voters frustrated by growing poverty and violence against human rights leaders and environmental groups in rural areas.

Petro is part of a growing group of left-wing politicians and political outsiders who have been winning elections in Latin America since the pandemic broke out and hurt incumbent presidents who have struggled with its economic aftershocks.

The former rebel’s victory was also unusual for Colombia, where voters have historically been reluctant to support left-wing politicians who have often been accused of being soft on crime or allied with guerrillas.

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A 2016 peace deal between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia shifted much of the focus of voters away from violent conflicts raging in rural areas and brought issues such as poverty and corruption to the fore, fueling the popularity of left-wing parties in the national elections.

Petro, 62, has promised to tackle social and economic inequalities in Colombia by increasing spending on anti-poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas. He described US-led anti-drug policies, such as the forced eradication of illegal coca crops, as a “big failure”. But he said he would like to work with Washington “as equals”, building schemes to combat climate change or providing infrastructure in rural areas where many farmers say coca leaves are the only viable crop.

Petro also forged alliances with environmentalists during his presidential campaign and pledged to make Colombia a “global powerhouse for life” by slowing deforestation and taking steps to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

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The new president said Colombia would stop granting new oil exploration licenses and ban fracking projects, even though the oil industry makes up almost 50 percent of the nation’s legal exports. He plans to fund social spending with a $10 billion-a-year tax overhaul that would raise taxes on the wealthy and eliminate corporate tax breaks.

Petro also said he wants to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups currently fighting over drug trafficking, gold mines and other resources left behind by the FARC after its peace deal with the government.

“He has a very ambitious agenda,” said Jan Basset, a political scientist at Rosario University in Bogotá. “But he will have to prioritize. The risk that Petro faces is that he undertakes too many reforms at once and gets nothing” in Colombia’s Congress.

At least 10 heads of state are expected to attend Petro’s inauguration, which will take place in a large colonial-era plaza in front of Colombia’s Congress. Stages with live music and big screens will also be set up in Bogotá’s downtown parks so that tens of thousands of citizens without invitations to the main event can also join in the festivities. It’s a big change for Colombia, where previous presidential inaugurations have been more somber events limited to a few hundred VIP guests.

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“We want the Colombian people to be the protagonists,” Petro spokeswoman Marisol Rojas said in a statement. “This opening will be the first taste of a new form of governance where all life forms are respected and where everyone fits in.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

A former rebel has been sworn in as Colombia’s president in a historic reshuffle

Source link A former rebel has been sworn in as Colombia’s president in a historic reshuffle

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