Gustavo Petro’s party has been watered down. A year ago, when the president took office, he summoned thousands of citizens to flood the streets of the Colombian capital with musicians, artisans and graffiti artists, followers who surrounded him with optimism in an event open to the public in the Plaza de Bolívar, the main from the country. It was a sunny, colorful event, full of political symbols and which ended with the broken voice of the new president, moved by the hope for change that he himself inspired. This Monday, twelve months later, Petro has once again given a speech to the nation to take stock of his government, but this was the opposite face of that of a year ago: he did not summon the citizens, the day was rainy, and Petro He was not wearing a smile but a frown. This time he spoke from the Boyacá bridge, historical heritage for being the place where the final battle of the liberating army against the Spanish empire was fought in 1819. The positive balance that he declaimed did not bring, however, a tone of victory. The country went from optimism to pessimism, and it shows even in the staging of Petro.
“The country is finally finding a way to leave behind a past of violence, injustice, discrimination,” said the president in a speech that, unusual for him, he decided to read instead of improvising or reciting from memory. “Generally, I don’t read the speeches,” he admitted at first, when he explained that he was making an exception because he would give a long list of figures. Figures that, he hopes, refute the great fears that his presidency brought: that he was going to expropriate land, end economic stability, and ignite the class struggle. “A lie,” he said. These are the keys of the speech.
1. “The number of fatalities from the public force has decreased.” The president began by saying that everything he has done this year is designed to turn Colombia into a “world power of life” and mentioned as an achievement the recent bilateral ceasefire with the ELN guerrillas—reached after many tensions caused by a his own mistake in announcing it in January, ahead of time. He also mentioned the dialogues with criminal gangs in the cities of Buenaventura and Medellín, so that their members find a way that allows them to submit to justice under special conditions. “They have accused us of not being on the side of the public forces,” he said of the murders or kidnappings against members of the army. “It’s a lie,” he replied, assuring that they have decreased “by 54% the number of fatalities from the public force.” He added that the Government increased the bonus received by those who provide military service and that operations to capture members of armed groups have increased. He mentioned a 29% reduction in sexual crimes against women, but he also recognized the femicide that occurred this weekend against world skating champion Luz Mery Tristán. “How sad,” said the president. This mentioned point ended with the support that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Truth Commission maintain, two institutions that were born in the government agreement with the FARC guerrillas, in 2016, but were severely attacked in the government of the former president. Ivan Duke. “To rabbit (cheat) peace is to lay the foundations for a new cycle of violence,” he said.
2. “We carried out a tax reform.” The second point in the speech was the economy, with his effort to be prosecuted in favor of social reforms. “Those who have never believed in change,” said the president, “have told us that we were going to destabilize the country’s economy.” He affirmed that the opposite happened: inflation has decreased (the peak was in April, although it is still at 12.13%), the minimum wage and the number of formal jobs have increased, and, even so, both tourism and the foreign investment. “Colombia’s peso is the most revalued currency against the dollar,” he said, since the exchange rate has dropped to 4,000 pesos when in the first half of his government it shot up to 5,000 pesos. The star in economic achievements is the tax reform that he managed to approve in his first three months, and that burdens a good part of the “more affluent layers” of society and the oil sector. That, says Petro, made it possible to increase the budget of the education sector: “this government invests in the university, books, education.” He also mentioned the unpopular but responsible measure of increasing the price of gasoline to reduce its subsidy. It was not fair, he said, that a young man could not study because the money was “destined to subsidize gasoline for the one who has the Toyota.”
3. “Here we are not expropriating as they said we were going to do.” The president dedicated several minutes to social reforms, especially those in the rural world: the constitutional reform that recognizes the peasant as a special subject of rights, the delivery of some 73,000 to the Land Fund to transfer to those who do not have them, the increase the number of credits and technical assistance for the agricultural sector. Before those who thought that he was expropriating, he recalled that these new lands were bought “at a commercial price, without speculation.” The president mentioned advances in other important points on the social agenda: creating the new Ministry of Equality and Equity (led by Vice President Francia Márquez); present a shortlist to choose a new Prosecutor with three women criminal lawyers recognized for their independence; and more budget for loans to access formal education and housing. “Health care reform is budgetary possible,” he added, regarding the legislative proposal that broke his coalition last semester. And, in environmental matters, he recalled that his government led the approval of the Escazú Agreement, which seeks international protection for environmental leaders, and that this year deforestation in the Amazon has been considerably reduced. When mentioning his energy transition proposal, he did not mention the end of oil and coal so much as an increase in environmental licenses that have been given to projects that want to produce energy with sun, water or green hydrogen.
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4. “Colombia is no longer the forgotten people.” The last part of the speech spoke particularly about foreign policy, which, in his opinion, has made Colombia a leading country in the most urgent discussions. He is not referring to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which he rarely mentions, but to his global proposal to exchange foreign debt for actions that protect the environment, to his insistence on various international organizations such as the UN and the OAS to end the failed war against drugs, and the recent international victory of Colombia against Nicaragua for maintaining the sovereignty of the waters around the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. The country “is letting go of inferiority complexes,” he said.
5. “They accuse us of inciting the class struggle, when in our words and actions we have always shown that what we are looking for is a national agreement.” The last point was the most interesting politically. A year ago he was sitting with a cabinet representing members of the main parties: Liberals, Conservatives, La U, Verdes, and his own movement, the Pacto Histórico. He gave the image of being a leftist leader who could reconcile between very different ideological corners. Twelve months and three political scandals later, the faces of that multiparty system left (or were removed from) the cabinet and the government coalition in the Legislature. Even so, Petro insists that he wants a national agreement that includes social organizations and unions, but also opposition parties and businessmen. “It’s not about the government getting away with it: suddenly we got there faster, but together we got much further,” he said. A president now perceived by many as a sectarian leader, who does not listen, asks again to “see our faces, and speak to us frankly.” Just like a year ago, the president ended his speech by citing the work of literature that has marked the country the most politically: “We are not condemned to One Hundred Years of Solitude, we are not from the condemned lineages of the earth.”
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