Gustavo Petro inaugurated as new Colombian president
Gustavo Petro was inaugurated yesterday as Colombia’s first leftist president (see last Friday’s Latin America Daily Briefing). 100,000 invitees attended, including nine Latin American presidents and the king of Spain. Peruvian president Pedro Castillo was expected to attend, but the Peruvian congress denied him travel authorization, with some members claiming that Castillo may use the trip to flee the country due to corruption investigations. (Al Jazeera, EFE)
Petro faces a long list of challenges, with security among the most important. During the inauguration ceremony, Petro spoke directly to armed groups to ask for them to lay down their arms and come to the negotiating table. Despite the signing of a peace deal between the government and some of the country’s armed groups in 2016, certain groups have remained active, and the Duque administration also failed to fully implement the deal as signed. In recent days, BBC has reported on the prevalence of child recruitment by armed groups, with at least several hundred recruited in the first three years after the country’s peace deal was signed. Furthermore, in Barranquilla, gang extortions and killings of bus drivers have halted public transit, reports InSight Crime. According to a new Colombia Risk Analysis report on Petro’s first 100 days, “Petro’s first 100 days in security and defense will be focused on reorienting the priorities of the armed forces and the police, inaugurating institutional reform under (new Defense Minister Iván) Velásquez within both institutions, and initiating pathways to carry out peace negotiations with insurgent and criminal groups. As a result, the armed forces and the police are likely to remain skeptical of Petro throughout his presidency.”
WOLA notes that among five priorities for US-Colombia relations under Petro, it will be important to prioritize reforming security forces, in addition to implementing the country’s peace deal as signed, protecting social leaders, ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQI+, and addressing humanitarian crises and migration issues. Perhaps most controversial in terms of foreign policy objectives, Petro plans to renew ties with Venezuela. This will facilitate trade and create jobs, but also brings up questions related to human rights abuses and potential negative effects of the relationship. Nicolás Maduro is reportedly expected to ask for the extradition of opposition leader Julio Borges from Colombia now that Petro is in office (Infobae).
“The tense relationship between power and the press is at the very foundation of democracy. During Gustavo Petro’s presidency, the Colombian press will likely become a check on government power, exercise an oversight role, and influence the court of public opinion. Colombia media outlets vary in quality, ranging from yellow journalism to prize-winning investigative reporting. But the way that Petro interacts with the press, especially reporters who are critical of his administration, will determine his democratic credentials. Petro has not always treated critical news outlets or journalists with kindness; the next few years will put him to the test,” write Paola Catalina Morales and Sergio Guzmán in Global Americans.
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