Gustavo Petro unbalanced his critics in his first two weeks as President-elect. In a conciliatory tone, he is calling for the creation of a grand national deal around his government that will ease the high tension that marked the election campaign and focus on implementing the peace process that Iván Duque has boycotted for the past four years. The two most important appointments he has made so far are clear signs of moderation and the cordiality with which he treated Álvaro Uribe, his historical enemy, and Rodolfo Hernández, the candidate who won him victory, has for the Moment created a climate of understanding after so much anger. However, his supporters are wondering if this spa-theme can deliver the reforms the country needs.
Petro is convinced that these structural changes must be made in his first year or they will never be made. For the tax reform, which should help him to balance the ailing state finances, he put his trust in José Antonio Ocampo, a professor at the most renowned universities in the world. The appointment met with a positive response in all areas. Ocampo agrees with Petro on the need to look for alternatives to the extractivist economy that has dominated Latin America for the last few centuries. The Minister distrusts the market’s ability to self-regulate, but continues to actively participate in it. With the stroke of a pen, the President has allayed the fears of those who believed he was leading a protectionist and interventionist stewardship of the economy.
Outside, Petro has chosen a conservative with whom he agrees on one fundamental thing: sitting down and negotiating is the way to end the violence in Colombia. Álvaro Leyva, 79, has been a mediator in all previous peace talks in the country. Both also believe that the elites misunderstand Colombia, believing that it is all about a white class that ignores regions and Afro-Colombianism. Although he succeeds in this speech, Leyva enjoys wide acceptance on the right. Your job will be to negotiate with the ELN, the country’s last active guerrillas. Their disarmament would not have the same dimensions as the negotiations with the FARC, but it would be symbolic in the country where, alongside Cuba and Nicaragua, the Marxist armed uprisings of the last century had the greatest impact.
All of these signs were well received by those who had demonized the leader of the left. The last two weeks of his election campaign focused on easing the political tensions around him and showing many Colombians that his election was not a leap of faith. He’s strove to project a presidential image, which he doesn’t find difficult because he has a great idea of himself and wants to face the nation’s historic presidents. Few politicians have had as long a career as he has in local institutions, but around him, partly due to his opponents’ virulent messages and partly to some clumsy moves of his own, there is an aura of a dangerous leftist who wanted to go the Venezuelan way. In reality, his program and promises were those of a fairly conventional progressive, even conservative in some respects.
His first appointment with a clearly left-wing character is that of the playwright Patricia Ariza, who will become Minister of Culture. She is a feminist artist who has worked with marginalized communities for years, is close to independent artists’ movements and was one of the pioneers of what is called New Theater in Colombia. Ariza is 76 years old, seven years older than Ocampo. 62-year-old Petro entrusts his government to the elderly.
Nothing that has happened so far is the product of chance. Having had more trouble winning the elections than they expected, Petro and his advisers had paved the way this far. Calling Uribe was not an impulse. They knew that engaging in dialogue with him would allay many fears, especially in the military. Uribe remains the most respected figure among the generals. In turn, the Democratic Center president, caught in a court case over the purchase of Witnesses that alters his retirement, needs Petro. The image of the two, sitting at the same table with a crucifix behind them after decades of disagreement, was very poignant for a country in need of reconciliation.
However, some sectors of Petrism did not like the image. To them, Uribe represents all the evils of the country. They fear that wanting to please Colombia, which didn’t vote for him, will prevent him from implementing the policies he promised during the campaign, with which he affirms with a certain panache that he wants to change the country. “Anyone who says that doesn’t know Petro,” says one of his advisers, who will begin this task as soon as he dons the presidential sash. So did Juan Manuel Santos, who announced a dialogue with the FARC from the very first minute. And Petro wants to start with the same energy, but without fanfare. It was sold as a quiet change and hopes to continue down that path.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS newsletter on Colombia and receive all the informative keys to current events in the country.