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Colombia’s president returns to his revolutionary roots

Colombia’s president was each inch the revolutionary. From the balcony of the presidential palace final week, Gustavo Petro denounced “neoliberalism” for inflicting conflict, Covid-19, starvation and the local weather disaster. He railed towards businesspeople whom he stated have been plotting to frustrate his reforms.

Then he addressed the group beneath: “The second has come to stand up: the president is inviting his individuals to stand up, to not kneel, to develop into the plenty who know they’ve the longer term of their arms.”

Six months into his presidency, Colombia’s first leftwing president is casting apart the mantle of moderation he had assumed in final yr’s election marketing campaign and reviving the revolutionary rhetoric of his youth as a member of an city guerrilla group.

Petro is betting that he can mobilise his military of supporters to assist push by means of radical plans to broaden the state’s position in pensions, well being and the labour market.

Traders marvel how Petro will fund his costly marketing campaign pledges when a bloated finances deficit, persistent inflation and a excessive present account deficit are already a priority. Congress is anticipated to approve a finances regulation that may elevate spending by an extra $5.1bn this yr.

At stake is the way forward for what was one in all South America’s most reliably conservative states, standard with buyers for its prudent financial polices and prized by Washington as its closest army ally within the area.

A few of these near Petro insist that the administration will likely be pragmatic, extra akin to European social democracy than to firebrand Latin American leftwingers corresponding to former Venezuelan chief Hugo Chávez.

“This isn’t a authorities which goes to bury all of the establishments and finish the market financial system,” stated senator Iván Cepeda, chief of a leftwing get together that’s a part of Petro’s Historic Pact coalition. “Fairly the alternative: it’s a really average authorities, but in addition one with a transparent orientation in direction of change and reform.” 

Removed from creating turmoil, Cepeda argued, Petro had introduced stability to one of many world’s most unequal nations by constructing a coalition for long-overdue change.

Gustavo Petro, along with his spouse Veronica Alcocer and daughter Antonella, has solid apart the mantle of moderation he assumed finally yr’s election marketing campaign © Fernando Vergara/AP

“Reforms don’t occur in any society with out turbulence,” he stated. “However the authorities has managed one thing unthinkable: a peaceable step in Colombia from a standard authorities of the elites to a progressive authorities.”

Since Petro took energy final August, the massive demonstrations that had punctuated the federal government of his unpopular centre-right predecessor Iván Duque have ended: lots of the protest organisers at the moment are in energy.

Petro raised eyebrows by evaluating a world court docket’s verdict that Colombia was accountable for the “systematic extermination” of greater than 6,000 leftwing activists in previous a long time to the Nazi homicide of 6mn Jews. “Nazi Germany had a genocidal state,” Petro stated. “There isn’t any distinction between the Colombian state and the Nazi state from that standpoint. They’re genocidal.”

His vice-president Francia Márquez, an environmental activist from Colombia’s marginalised Pacific coast black neighborhood, not too long ago visited Cuba to “construct alliances round frequent targets”.

Criticism has been muted, at the very least in public: most of congress has been co-opted. “Everyone seems to be giving him the advantage of the doubt,” stated Paca Zuleta from Bogotá’s College of the Andes. “No person is offering actual opposition.”

Exterior Colombia, some are extra forthright. Débora Reyna at Oxford Economics believes the federal government dangers a “nasty recession” this yr if it doesn’t change course. “Petro has compounded the dangers of coverage mismanagement at a time of deteriorating fundamentals,” she stated in a notice.

Colombia was Latin America’s quickest rising huge financial system final yr, with gross home product increasing 7.5 per cent, however this yr the federal government forecasts 1.2 per cent progress whereas Capital Economics predicts solely 0.8 per cent.

Funding into oil, gasoline and mining — sectors that collectively make up greater than half of Colombia’s export earnings — is unsure following combined indicators from the federal government over new exploration. The peso has fallen about 18 per cent over the previous yr, making it one of many weakest rising market currencies.

But enterprise leaders favor to not antagonise the president. As an alternative they foyer privately and hope {that a} average faction, which incorporates finance minister José Antonio Ocampo and training minister Alejandro Gaviria, will act as a brake on Petro.

Ocampo efficiently launched a tax reform final November, which elevated levies on wealthier Colombians and on oil and mining. The plan was praised for elevating revenues with out destroying competitiveness.

As Petro pursues extra controversial reforms, discovering such compromise is proving tougher. Gaviria, a former well being minister, had requested Petro to change plans to nationalise most of Colombia’s well being system however he was rebuffed. “The unique proposal didn’t change a lot and we didn’t obtain a accountable reform,” Gaviria stated.

Colombia has among the finest resourced public well being programs within the Americas, financed principally by obligatory insurance coverage. Petro plans to largely remove the personal intermediaries that run the system, widen protection and hand management to the state. The federal government estimates that the additional prices might quantity to three.5 per cent of GDP— double the quantity raised in final yr’s tax reform, in line with Capital Economics.

Subsequent on Petro’s record is pensions. He has but to publish draft laws however took intention final Tuesday at two unnamed bankers, saying that they had enriched themselves on the expense of staff.

“These two bankers are loaded with cash,” he stated. “Eighteen million [contributors] are giving cash each month to the 2 largest banks whereas no person receives a pension.”

It’s unclear whether or not Petro’s recognition will maintain him amid a slowing financial system. His enchantment final week for a mass rally to assist his reforms backfired. Just a few thousand got here out in Bogotá, whereas a counter-demonstration the next day was a lot larger.

Some have raised doubts about Petro’s means to ship, saying he’s stronger as a campaigner than an executor.

“Petro is a revolutionary who has left numerous inconclusive revolutions,” stated Juanita León, editor of politics web site La Silla Vacía.

“He needs to alter many issues by means of power of will, however he has not demonstrated to this point that he has the capability to take the mandatory steps to switch them with one thing new.”


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