Petro takes oath of office as Colombia’s 1st leftist president

Bogota, Aug 7 (EFE).- Gustavo Petro on Sunday was sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president, with the oath of office being administered by the head of Congress, Roy Barreras, on Bogota’s central Plaza de Bolivar.

“I swear to God and I promise the people to faithfully fulfill the Constitution and the laws of Colombia,” said Petro in taking the oath.

In his inaugural address, the 62-year-old former guerrilla called on “all armed persons to lay down their arms in the clouds of the past” so that “peace may be possible” and thus “once and for all, (we can) end six decades of violence and armed conflict.”

“So that peace may be possible in Colombia, we need to (engage in) … much dialogue, to understand one another, to seek common paths, produce changes,” he emphasized before hundreds of thousands of attendees at the inaugural ceremony on the Plaza de Bolivar, in downtown Bogota.

Without making reference to any specific illegal group, Petro called on all armed factions to lay down their weapons and accept the “legal benefits in exchange for peace, in exchange for a definitive non-repetition of violence, to work as the owners of a prosperous – but legal – economy, to end the backwardness of the (country’s) regions.”

The president committed himself to fulfilling the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed in 2016 and to continue “to strictly (carry out) the recommendations of the Truth Commission’s report,” which was presented in late June because, he emphasized, “we cannot continue in this country of death, we have to build a country of life.”

“We will work tirelessly to bring peace and tranquility to every corner of Colombia. This is the government of life, of peace and it will be remembered as such,” Petro added, promising a policy of “total peace” that includes resuming peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) until the legal compliance of other groups is achieved.

As his first official act in office, Petro ordered that the sword of Simon Bolivar, a symbol of his guerrilla and later political struggle to liberate South America, be brought up onstage as the inauguration ceremony continued, instructions which were received with an ovation by the crowd.

Although the sword had been stolen from the Quinta de Bolivar museum in 1974 by the M-19 guerrillas, it was returned to the government by that group in 1990 after the signing of a peace agreement and, since then, has been kept at the Casa de Nariñp, the presidential residence.

Petro was a member of the M-19 in his youth and the sword has great symbolic value to him, and although outgoing President Ivan Duque on Saturday had ordered that it not be removed from the presidential residence, the newly installed president immediately reversed that decision upon taking office.

Meanwhile, on Sunday Barreras said that the inauguration of the leftist Petro is proof that political violence “has no justification” and he specifically called on the ELN rebels and drug trafficking cartels and gangs to lay down their arms and stop murdering people.

Both the ELN and various dissident factions of the FARC and the paramilitary Gulf Clan, the country’s largest criminal organization, have expressed their readiness to negotiate a cease-fire with the government.

Petro called for an international convention that assumes that the government’s war on drugs has failed.

He said that a million Latin Americans had been killed over the past 40 years during this war on drugs, adding that it has strengthened criminal organizations and weakened national governments as well as leading them to “commit crimes.”

The new president said that his administration will present to the country’s Congress a tax reform plan focused on social justice so that resources can be made available to help the most vulnerable among the population.

“Equality is possible if we’re able to create wealth for everyone, and if we’re able to distribute it more fairly. To do that, we propose an economy based on production, labor and knowledge. That’s why we’re proposing a tax reform that creates justice, he said during his inaugural address.

Petro also said he wanted to open the door of education to all children calling this a “solidarity payment” that the fortunate people make to society so that it will allow and guarantee their good fortune.

Petro’s finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, is expected on Monday to present to Congress the tax reform package seeking to collect 50 trillion pesos (some $11.543 billion), according to the estimates of the new leader’s technical team.

Ocampo has already announced that the reform will be based on increasing taxes on the profits of the highest earners in society and combating tax evasion.

Petro also noted that “10 percent of the Colombian public has 70 percent of the wealth,” something he said he believed was “nonsense and an amoral situation.”

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