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Uncertainty and Fear: A New Era Begins in Colombia

Gustavo petro

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ON SUNDAY, August 7, the Senate passed, in a 51 to 50 vote, a package that significantly increases taxes despite the recession, with the purpose of funding a multi-billion dollar package on healthcare and climate programs. After intense negotiations, the Democratic majority succeeded in convincing key Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Now the bill, which needed Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote and allocates about $80 billion to the IRS and expands health insurance subsidies, will have to pass the House in a vote scheduled for Friday.

Changing the subject a bit, but no less important: also on Sunday, Gustavo Petro was sworn in as President of Colombia. A former member of the guerrilla and terrorist group M-19, Petro’s swearing-in signifies a turning point in Colombian history: it is the first time that the country is governed by an explicitly socialist, left-wing president.

The inauguration ceremony was quite colorful and full of symbolism. Starting with the fact that, for the first time in presidential inaugurations, Petro did not walk on the red carpet to the Bolívar Square, where he was sworn in. Right after taking the oath before the President of Congress, Gustavo Petro (now as president), ordered the sword of Bolivar, the hero of Latin American independence, to be brought to him. The sword was in the Palacio de Nariño and it took a long time to reach Petro because it was not scheduled to be moved (former president Iván Duque, while still head of state, opposed the physical movement of the sword). 

But Petro insisted and the military rushed out to get Bolivar’s sword and take it to the ceremony, forcing the attendees to wait several minutes. This episode means a lot, since one of the most publicized acts of the M-19 terrorist organization to which Petro belonged was when in 1974 it stole Bolivar’s sword from a museum and returned it in 1991, after the organization submitted to a peace negotiation process.

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In his speech, Petro spoke of redistributing wealth, pushing an environmentalist agenda, raising taxes and reshaping the war on drugs. In fact, this last point is key: the U.S. has always been a decisive ally in Colombia’s war against terrorist and drug trafficking groups in the region. One of Petro’s proposals has been to dismantle that US support and instead conduct “peace” negotiations with the drug cartels. 

With Petro in the Palacio de Nariño, it is very likely that the United States will lose a key ally in the hemisphere. Colombia has been, since the late 1990s, the United States’ most important strategic and military ally.

Given the threat of the expansion of organized crime, which is to a large extent supported by Venezuela, the arrival of Petro to power should be of great concern to the Americans.

Note: This article originally appeared in El American’s newsletter on August 8, 2022.

Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.