By Luz Marina López Espinoza – Sep 20, 2022
Although it is not rigorous to extract conclusions regarding a government after such a short period of time, I will try to draw some conclusions from the first month of Gustavo Petro’s presidency in Colombia. Because, having said this, the first actions of a president mark his disposition in relation to the expectations created for the electorate and to the promises made by him during his campaign. And generally, with their first steps, every ruler tries to show his fidelity to their constituency. Likewise, it often happens that after a short time he turns on them, as in the disconcerting case of Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who drags friends and analysts along by the ear. This will certainly not be the case with the Colombian president.
President Petro, the first leftist in the bicentennial republican life of the country, with his first decisions in office, had to establish this distinction, to “mark his territory.” And he did—in such a clear way, in fact, that he caught those affected by his actions by surprise, leaving them no room for maneuver other than to make declarations of disagreement of greater or lesser severity. The first presidential decision was the designation of the new military leadership, which “beheaded” around 50 Army and Police generals, who had to retire as they were the least senior appointees; a decision of undeniable importance and an affirmative act of authority. It was an absolutely clear message: the president, as far as possible—the limitations for this are structural because the army is what it is—wants to govern with a generation of soldiers who are not so intimately trained under the tradition deeply committed to the doctrine of the “enemy within” and “national security.” These conceptions are the core of the ideological apparatus concocted and projected by the United States at its university of dictators, taught at the infamous School of the Americas, today renamed with the aseptic name of Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—the same force responsible for the embarrassment of the “false positives.” For now, it has been documented that 6,402 murdered civilians were passed off as “guerrillas killed in combat” to show operational results in the “fight against terrorism” and claim benefits of all kinds. President Petro, as a matter of principle, has unequivocally taken a position of repudiating this painful page in the country’s history, making him a rare bird among Colombian presidents.
That was the first show of character and differentiation from the new ruler. More demonstrations came, the significance of which are perhaps only clear to Colombian nationals, who are the ones who know the tradition that has governed with an iron fist, and therefore the interests affected by the president. Thus, the appointment of a Black person as ambassador to the United States, of Indigenous activists as ambassador to the UN, addressing the very thorny issue of restitution of dispossessed lands; of a former guerrilla in the delicate position in Colombia as head of the office for the protection of those threatened by criminal gangs. Appointments that, for not being given to people with high academic profiles and clean lives, are unacceptable heresies for some representatives of the deposed power. “O tempora! O mores!” they exclaim, like Marcus Tullius Cicero to the creole Catiline, passing over the centuries.
These acts are the most formal, and let’s say, bureaucratic aspects, of presidential power. However, going to the substance, we have the presentation of a tax reform that touches—and in what a way—privileges and interests that until now were immune to the tax reforms of the past, which are many. This concerns many sectors, groups, and conglomerates, not only the richest, but also the most powerful in the country. Anyone will guess the tensions and debates that this daring interference will provoke—it already is—in the media and in the fickle Parliament. The issuance of the Labor Statute, a 30-year debt, not only to the country’s working class but also to the 1991 Constitution that ordered it, is another immediate presidential decision. As if to leave no doubt about it, he appointed a seasoned union activist and Communist militant as Minister of Labor; a new heresy that surprised the Communist Party itself, whose astonishment doubled when it received a second ministry, that of culture.
The announced energy transition, to begin to free Colombia from exclusive dependence on fossil fuels, the change in anti-drug policy reversing absolute submission to the United States and its exclusively military approach, the expeditious start of peace talks with the Army of National Liberation (ELN), the orthodox Castroist guerrillas, and the immediate reestablishment of relations with the demonized Venezuelan regime, are four other political decisions that show how this government does not represent “more of the same,” and that the change is serious this time. The biggest indicator is the defense and uplifting of “the nobodies,” to the horror of the elites that held power for so many years.
The night of the presidential election on June 19 and the day of the inauguration on August 7, the country experienced an explosion of unprecedented joy, with the so-called subordinate classes in the streets and squares celebrating their victory, rejoicing in every place where the president passes.
Keeping this in mind, we must still warn that the Colombian president does not have it easy. Many factors conspire against him: the media scoundrels—I think it was Pascual Serrano who coined the happy term— give no respite; the friendly ones—more dangerous the closer they are—embassies of high-ranking dignitaries of the empire expressing their solidarity with the government and their desire to collaborate with it, a way to put the unruly president on track, and the most recalcitrant spokesmen of the battered right, shouting of the scandal that they presume to discover every day, are perhaps the main ones. We must also consider the structural issue that, for this reason, is the one that weighs the heaviest: the critical fiscal situation, the deficit of nearly 7%, and the consequent loss of investment due the rating agencies’ behavior, with the corresponding increase in the interest rate of the public external debt of $101 billion dollars, 29% of the gross domestic product. And to this we can add the financial, contractual, and even obscenely bureaucratic ties that Petro inherited from the government of Iván Duque, all of which is a stick in the wheel of the main promise of the candidate of the Historic Pact, which is to attend to the situation of misery of millions of Colombians. Therefore, the great tax reform is the first essential step to obtain the urgent resources necessary for these promises, and the announcement of terribly unpopular but apparently inevitable measures such as the increase in the price of gasoline, which is already very expensive in Colombia.
Finally, there is another scenario in which a government that generates so much hope must move: the Historic Pact, the confluence of parties and social movements of the left and the banner under which Gustavo Petro reached the presidency, is also a confederation of common interests that usually keep to themselves. Therefore, within it there are already claims, disagreements, and often jealousy and antipathy towards some presidential appointments, which they consider do not respond to their wishes or particular mandates. It will be important to nurture support, with vigor. The pressures that issue from political spheres and social movements, especially youth and neighborhoods groups, coalesce on the president, so that, with the difficulties that this entails, he must fulfill and refuse to compromise on non-negotiable campaign promises. For example, the elimination of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad of the National Police, the sinister ESMAD, responsible for the bloody repression of the social outbreak of 2021 and 2022, in addition to numerous crimes; and the call to qualify services to General Juan Carlos Correa, new Inspector General of the Army and therefore guardian of the legality and morality of his conduct, who approved the most recent and scandalous “false positive” committed by the troops in the throes of the government of Iván Duque, the Putumayo massacre on March 28, 2022 that martyred 11 defenseless peasants and Indigenous people.
All the while, the young people demand that their president fulfill the campaign promises regarding the behavior of the public forces that affects them so much, because in Colombia Humana, the motto of Gustavo Petro’s campaign, the sentence of the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who seemed like an idol in the imagination of almost all the previous presidents of Colombia, and who already warned in the Middle Ages: “The public good demands betrayal, lies, and massacre,” will not be the norm.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
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