BOGOTA, Colombia — Gustavo Petro, a left-wing guerrilla who fought against the Colombian government, took office on Sunday, a change for a country with a history of guerrilla warfare that has stifled its modernization and polarized its people differentiation.
Mr. Petro, 62, stood before tens of thousands of supporters in the square of Bogota’s colonial center, promising he would work to reduce poverty and hunger in the country of 50 million people and secure peace by negotiating with several armed groups . He also built a platform to redistribute wealth, modernize impoverished rural areas and adopt green economic policies.
“I want to say to all Colombians who listen to me in Plaza Bolivar and throughout Colombia and abroad, today a new opportunity begins,” Mr. Petro said. “This is a time for change. Our future is not yet written.”
Mr. Petro, a longtime MP after being demobilized from the M-19 guerrilla group in 1990, is an anti-establishment populist who has been critical of pro-business, pro-business, pro- Military Policy Duke.
His first order as president came after he was sworn in. Speaking on stage, Mr Petro called for the sword of independence war hero Simon Bolivar to be brought from the presidential palace to his inauguration. Mr Duke had earlier banned moving the sword for safety reasons.
“Take your Bolivar sword,” Mr. Petro said to cheers from the crowd. The President’s order carries a special symbolic meaning: M-19 stole the sword from the museum in 1974 and only returned it after disarming.
The inauguration included leaders from across Latin America and a U.S. delegation led by USAID Administrator Samantha Ball. Mr. Petro also named and welcomed Colombians who received special invitations: fishermen from river towns, coffee growers from the mountains and street cleaners from Medellin.
“I never thought my life would change so dramatically,” said Maria Alzate, a pensioner, as she braved the square where Mr Petro was speaking.
“We finally have a leader who cares about ordinary people, not just the very rich,” said university student Juan Carlos Jaramillo.
Mr. Petro won the June 19 election when he won with 50.4 percent of the vote, marking a departure from the longtime centrist and conservative president in power here. That has rattled Colombian business people, who say they fear the new president could implement policies that could hamper Latin America’s fourth-largest economy.
“As anyone who believes in the private sector, what worries me is that Petro’s rhetoric for the past 30 years has been an anti-liberal economy,” said Alejandro Eder, a businessman and politician.
In his speech, Mr Petro urged inclusive policies and higher taxes on the wealthy. “Equality is possible if we can create wealth for all,” he said, “if we can distribute wealth more equitably.”
Mr. Petro, who has criticized the U.S.-backed war on drugs, said he would overhaul how Colombia fights the cocaine trade and drug cartels.
“If we change our drug policy, peace is possible,” he said.
He and his closest aides moved quickly so on Monday’s first day in office he could take steps to collect more revenue to fund wider social programs, while negotiating with armed drug-trafficking groups to demobilize them.
The three largest groups – which include the Gulf tribes and the National Liberation Army – have said in recent days that they are ready to negotiate with the government. The family said in a statement that it will have a unilateral ceasefire with the state.
The ONS said Mr Petro inherited a country where the income-measured poverty rate rose from 35 per cent in 2019 to 39 per cent in 2021.
But Latin America’s economy is the strongest of any major country. After contracting 7% in the first year of the pandemic in 2020, it will grow nearly 10.7% in 2021, according to the central bank. The economy is expected to grow by 6% in 2022, outpacing the rest of Latin America, according to the U.S. central bank. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
However, Mr Petro will grapple with a budget deficit of about 7 percent of gross domestic product and an annual inflation rate of 10 percent in July, the highest level since 1999.
New Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Ocampo, who chaired the central bank’s board in the mid-1990s, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he would unveil a tax reform plan on Monday that would boost revenue by about $12 billion. Dollar. over the next four years. The money will increase social spending and help some 6 million Colombian families who cannot afford three meals a day.
According to the OECD, the scheme will tax individuals, of whom only 5% pay personal tax. Loopholes and exemptions for some companies will end.
“Tax reform is a key issue for us,” Mr Ocampo said.
He added that the new government will also impose windfall profits taxes on two of Colombia’s biggest exports, coal and oil, to take advantage of high international commodity prices. The government will still work to transition away from the extractive industries as part of Mr Petro’s commitment to tackling climate change.
Mr Ocampo, a former professor at Columbia University, said his appointment was partly to quell concerns about Mr Petro’s economic management. “There will be sound economic policies,” Mr Ocampo said, assuring Colombia would not turn to protectionist measures or expropriation of property.
write to Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com and Kejal Vyas at email@example.com
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