The World Today for March 20, 2024


The Dream


The first-ever leftwing president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, 63, promised to make his country into a more equal society when he won office two years ago. Now the former guerrilla fighter and mayor of the capital of Bogota is struggling to maintain the public’s support.

He reformed the tax code to be more fair, reestablished relations with neighboring Venezuela, and maintained good ties with the US, reported National Public Radio, noting that Colombia is a key player in the American war on drugs. Europe, a major cocaine market, is increasingly involved in that war, as a German government press release suggested.

But he failed to reform the South American country’s healthcare sector, sought controversial peace with rebel groups, and became embroiled in corruption scandals.

His defenders at Jacobin magazine argued that a coordinated rightwing opposition campaign has undermined his success. Thousands of Colombians took to the streets recently, for example, to protest against Petro’s proposed reforms in healthcare, pensions, labor relations and education, added Reuters.

Others said he has played a role in creating the challenges that he now faces. “I think the difficulties of being the first leftist government in Colombia’s history have been augmented by self-inflicted wounds,” said Daniel García-Peña, who worked under Petro when he was mayor. “Many people who voted for Petro were expecting something very different.”

He disappears frequently from public view, explained Americas Quarterly. He has purged the government of technocrats who don’t share his leftist vision, wrote Bloomberg. He has clashed with powerful institutions like the supreme court over his attorney general picks, noted Agence France-Presse.

Petro is now negotiating with armed groups who have fought against Colombia’s central government for around 60 years, a conflict that has involved leftwing rebels, drug cartels, rightwing militant forces, and other players, claiming at least 450,000 lives.

The government already signed a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the primary rebel force, in 2016. This deal fostered peace and arguably paved the way for growth in the Colombian tourism industry, as the Telegraph described, and other perks.

Petro also recently extended a ceasefire between the government and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), noted Al Jazeera. Founded by leftwing students in 1964, the ELN now has around 4,000 militant fighters overseeing gold mining and the drug trade in Colombia and Venezuela.

The president won’t likely reach any new deals with another important rebel force, the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), however, before his term ends in 2026, a rebel leader told Reuters. FARC fighters who refused to sign a peace deal with the government created the EMC. Insight Crime likened the group to a mafia.

It remains violent: On Sunday, Colombia suspended a truce with the EMC in three different parts of the country, citing an attack on an Indigenous group that left one woman dead and other violence, France24 reported.

Petro has also been plagued by scandals involving his family.

His eldest son, Nicolás Petro, was indicted on Jan. 11 for allegedly diverting donations from drug traffickers meant for his father’s presidential campaign. His brother, Juan Fernando Petro, is under investigation for allegedly soliciting payments from jailed drug dealers in exchange for judicial favors from the Petro administration. And his wife, First Lady Verónica Alcocer, is facing scrutiny in the Colombian media for her extravagant spending.

Still, his defenders say in spite of these setbacks, the president is making headway on tough, long-running problems. But others say he should try a little harder to actually govern.

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