BOGOTÁ- Gustavo Petro assumes the presidency of Colombia on Sunday as the first leftist president of the South American country with the challenge of promoting ambitious economic and social reforms to reduce poverty and inequality in a nation divided and hit by violence.
Thousands of supporters gathered in downtown Bogotá and on large screens installed in public places across the country to celebrate Petro’s arrival to the presidency.
“I didn’t think that I would live to see that this is finally happening, I know that we are not going to change from one day to the next, but this is just the beginning,” said Nelson Molina, 56, who works as a construction plumber, while displaying a Petro campaign t-shirt and cap.
The inauguration ceremony will take place in the historic Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá. Senate President Roy Barreras will swear him in and impose the presidential sash in front of some 100,000 people, including King Felipe VI of Spain, nine leaders from Latin America and ordinary people invited by Petro.
Groups of people also gathered to celebrate on both sides of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, at the Simón Bolívar bridge, outside the city of Cúcuta.
Petro announced that it will restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela, allowing the resumption of trade between the two countries and consular services.
An environmental activist and former domestic worker, she will be the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold that position.
Petro, a 62-year-old economist who was a congressman, announced that his first government action will be to implement a plan to reduce hunger in the country of 50 million people, where nearly half the population lives in poverty.
The president, who in his youth was a member of the demobilized M-19 guerrilla, will present a bill to Congress next week to increase taxes on people with higher incomes and initially raise some 5.8 billion dollars for social programs.
“I am also scared to enter the Presidency of the Republic,” Petro said recently, referring to his challenges before a group of students at the Externado de Colombia University, where he graduated as an economist.
Coalition in Congress to approve reform
The incoming president’s plans also contemplate free public university education, changes to the health system and subsidies for the poor elderly who do not receive retirement.
His economic promises, including a reform of the pension system and the prohibition of new oil exploration projects in favor of renewable energies, caused nervousness in businessmen and investors, despite the fact that he appointed the renowned economist José Antonio Ocampo as Minister of Finance. .
Although the left did not win the majority of the 295 seats in Congress, Petro consolidated a coalition with the forces of the center and traditional parties such as the Liberal that would guarantee the approval of his reforms and governability.
Petro, who will replace the right-wing Iván Duque in the presidency, will also seek to make a “total peace” to end the internal armed conflict of almost six decades that has left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone.
The former mayor of Bogotá announced that he will reestablish a peace negotiation with the leftist guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) for which he would decree a bilateral ceasefire.
With the FARC dissidents, he intends to implement the 2016 peace agreement that allowed the demobilization of some 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 routes.
“It’s up to us to wish everyone good luck,” concluded Petro in his meeting with the students.