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ON SUNDAY, August 7, the government of leftist Gustavo Petro took office in Colombia. This is a turning point in Colombia’s history, as Petro is the first explicitly socialist president to come to power, besides being a member of the M-19 guerrilla group—which took up arms in the middle of the last century against Colombian governments.
Although Petro has embraced extreme leftist ideas throughout his life, such as land confiscations, redistribution of wealth, subsidies, and price controls, this time he comes to the presidency with a slightly more moderate discourse—he still keeps intact certain extremist proposals such as ending oil extraction, “democratizing” unproductive lands, considerable tax increases and reforms to security forces.
However, although Petro has tried to dissociate his image from that of his guerrilla and extremist past, all the concerns in the markets about his government are getting momentum because of the people he has appointed as ministers.
His cabinet — still made up of some somewhat moderate politicians from the traditional parties — also has some rather controversial names, akin to Gustavo Petro’s extremist past and some of the more dangerous ideas and connections associated with his campaign. These are some of the most worrying appointments:
A Fidel Castro sycophant
On July 25, the then president-elect appointed Danilo Rueda as Peace Commissioner. Specifically, he will be an advisor to the president in all matters related to efforts to negotiate peace with armed groups in Colombia. It is a position that was created in the 1990s when Colombia was undergoing a peace process with the guerrilla and terrorist group FARC and the M-19 (to which Petro belonged).
Rueda’s appointment as commissioner has generated controversy, especially because of his political affiliations. Danilo Rueda, a renowned human rights activist, worked with the controversial senator of Petro’s party, Piedad Córdoba, accused of being an ally of the FARC and the Chávez and Maduro regimes in Venezuela.
Córdoba was recently detained at an airport in Honduras when she was about to travel to Colombia with $68,000 that she had not declared. She is one of the most controversial Colombian political figures, to the extent that Petro’s campaign had set her aside so that she did not tarnish him.
While working with Cordoba and in the framework of the peace negotiations of the government of Juan Manuel Santos which took place in Cuba, Rueda traveled to Havana and, in one of those visits, he met with dictator Fidel Castro, who dedicated a book to him: “For Danilo Rueda, frankly Fidel Castro”.
Out of the meeting, Rueda wrote: “A memory of our two meetings, wise and inspiring, Fidel will go down in history and in the hearts of millions”.
Fidel Castro is remembered today as one of the most bloodthirsty dictators the continent has ever known.
Danilo Rueda’s tweet
In addition, Danilo Rueda was recently involved in a controversy because he was one of the people who visited a Bogota prison with President Petro’s brother, Juan Fernando, during the campaign for these presidential elections. The visit of Petro’s team to the jail generated a lot of controversy because it was leaked later on that Juan Fernando Petro and Danilo Rueda offered gifts and pardons to several criminals in exchange for support for the election of Gustavo Petro.
A Hugo Chávez supporter
Another of the appointments that have generated the most concern and controversy is that of the academic and trade unionist Gloria Inés Ramírez, appointed as Minister of Labor by the President.
As an academic, she has worked mainly in the public sector and was president of the socialist union Colombian Federation of Educators (Fecode), responsible for most of the strikes suffered by the government of Iván Duque.
Ramírez was active as a young woman in the Communist Party of Colombia and in the leftist organization Unión Patriótica, founded in 1985 by the guerrilla and terrorist organization FARC.
One could say that people change their minds, but this is not the case with Gloria Inés Ramírez. A few years ago, in 2008, she was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Colombian Communist Party. And that same year the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation against her for her links with the FARC.
Once Petro decided to appoint her as Minister of Labor, several videos and messages from Ramírez emerged and revived the controversy about her ideas and connections. In the most viral video, Gloria Inés Ramírez appears giving a speech in which she says: “We would like to have here the ideas of Chávez, Evo, Rafael Correa”. She is referring to Hugo Chávez, dictator of Venezuela, and presidents Correa of Ecuador, and Evo Morales of Bolivia, both accused of corruption in their countries.
La nueva Ministra de Trabajo de @petrogustavo:
“Ya quisiéramos nosotros que aquí estuvieran las ideas de Chávez, Evo, de Rafael Correa…”
¿Colombia entró en la senda del Socialismo del Siglo XXI? pic.twitter.com/dN0qekUQUa
— Andrés Forero CD #1️⃣0️⃣1️⃣ (@AForeroM) August 6, 2022
Several of her old tweets have also emerged. In an April 2013 tweet, Ramírez calls Nicolás Maduro, today accused of human rights violations and drug trafficking in the United States, “a bulwark of Chavismo”.
Gloria Inés Ramírez quoted dictator Fidel Castro and constantly praised Chávez.
A foe of law and order
Perhaps one of the most worrisome appointments is that of jurist Iván Velásquez as Minister of Defense. Colombia is a country torn by conflict, in which the military and the police play a key role in safeguarding the institutions and the security of citizens. The arrival of Velásquez as head of the ministry has set off all the alarms, due to his past disdain for the Armed Forces, his affinity to the FARC guerrilla group, and his manipulations of the justice system.
In addition to all the anti-army messages that can be found on his Twitter account (from which he called the Colombian Army incapable and corrupt), it is of concern that when Velasquez was a prosecutor in Medellin, Colombia’s second city, he earned a reputation for favoring the FARC guerrilla group.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Mary Anastasia O’Grady highlighted: “there’s no question that his office was uninterested in pursuing crimes against humanity by drug-trafficking FARC guerrillas.”
Finally, Velásquez’s career is tarnished by his questionable role as head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. The CICIG, created under an agreement between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government, has been widely accused of abuse of power, bias and serving as an instrument of political persecution.
O’Grady says that the CICIG sought to humiliate and prosecute corruption suspects in Guatemala without due process. They caged suspects “to create the impression that the accused were guilty.”
“Mr. Velásquez and Ms. Aldana also used the tactic, before suspects were even arraigned, as a form of humiliation. The media was invited to photograph the caged suspects in the parking garage of the courthouse, where they were held for days, in some cases for a week or more, in violation of Guatemalan law.,” it reads.
Finally, O’Grady writes: “Colombia’s opposition worries that Mr. Petro’s aim in naming Mr. Velásquez is to decapitate the armed forces and replace those at the top with enforcers of his political agenda. Mr. Petro was a close friend and adviser to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who did exactly that in the early 2000s. In other words, these concerns are not unwarranted.”
An economist with questionable ties
Prestigious economist José Antonio Ocampo, appointed Finance Minister by Petro, has emerged as one of the president’s most moderate and sensible decisions, with the purpose of calming the markets—which did not react well to his victory in the elections in June of this year.
Ocampo was executive director of ECLAC (between 1998 and 2003) and assistant secretary general of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. He is an academic at several universities, including Columbia, and is undoubtedly one of the most recognized and cited Colombian economists in the world. This, at first glance, should allay concerns.
However, Ocampo’s prestige does not make his ideas successful or viable. He is a Keynesian, statist economist, who has written several books together with another well-known, but questioned economist, Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner.
It is important to remember that Stiglitz has praised both Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. Regarding the former, he claims that he had good ideas to lift people out of poverty. Regarding the Cuban dictator, Stiglitz praised his “achievements in health and education.”
In 2016, Stiglitz recalled a meeting he had with Fidel Castro, of whom he said, “I remember how fascinated I was when Fidel personally congratulated me. It was extraordinary to have his presence.”
While in Cuba in December 2016, Stiglitz again praised the dictatorship and was enthusiastically received by Cuban academia, sympathetic to Castro’s communist revolution.
Regarding Ocampo, a great friend of Stiglitz, his affinity to Kirchner’s Argentine government is remarkable. In particular, Ocampo has been an advisor to the government of Alberto Fernandez through the Economic and Social Council.
It is also known that José Antonio Ocampo was a professor and mentor of the former Minister of Economy of Argentina, Martín Guzmán, who resigned a little over a month ago due to the deep economic crisis that the Latin American country is going through.
My paper with José Antonio Ocampo and @JosephEStiglitz "Real Exchange Rate Policies for Economic Development" has been published by @WorldDevJournal. Open access! https://t.co/BpnFvK7Jm6 … pic.twitter.com/z0TOQwGYlw
— Martín Guzmán (@Martin_M_Guzman) May 26, 2018
Currently, Argentina has one of the most fragile economies and is suffering from one of the highest inflation rates in the world, due to the policies of the government of Alberto Fernandez and former President Cristina Fernandez.