Petro’s Challenges: Military, Economy, and a Divided Colombia
President wants to form majorities and overcome resistance from military and business people to govern a divided country
Gustavo Petro convinced half of Colombians with his promises of change. But now the country’s first elected left-wing president will have to form majorities and overcome the resistance of military and businessmen to govern a country divided over its tenure.
To beat millionaire outsider Rodolfo Hernández (47.3%), the 62-year-old former guerrilla and senator moderated many of his former radical positions. after winning the second round with 50.4% of the votesPetro has the responsibility to govern a country marked by polarization after an aggressive campaign.
The following are the main challenges Petro will face, according to analysts:
An important bench, but not the majority, will accompany the initiatives of the unprecedented left-wing government in Parliament.
“Now the problem is governance in Congress. Petro should try to propose what he called a great national agreement (…) because clearly the country is very fragmented into two sectors,” Alejo Vargas, a professor of law at the Universidad Nacional, told AFP.
The opinion is shared by Sergio Guzmán, from the consultancy ‘Colombia Risk Analysis’: “This result does not give a clear mandate to execute its policies without at least trying to calm the doubts of its opponents”.
During his term as mayor of Bogotá (2012-2015), Petro clashed with the City Council, which blocked many of its initiatives. Now he arrives at the presidency surrounded by traditional politicians, who can serve as a bridge with Parliament.
“He will face very strong opposition, because the right in this country is the main ideology. Despite being spread across many parties, it is easy to establish an association and challenge the Petro government,” says Felipe Botero, professor of Political Science at the Universidad de Los Andes.
appease the markets
In his first speech as president-elect, petro sent a reassuring message to the business community, who during the campaign accused him of promoting failed socialism.
“It was a campaign of lies and fear, that we would expropriate Colombians, destroy private property (…) We are going to develop capitalism in Colombia. Not because we adore him, but because first we have to overcome pre-modernity,” he told the crowd celebrating his victory.
For Botero, this was a “very clear message from the right, saying ‘I’m on the left, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to radically transform the economic model’”.
Economist Jorge Restrepo, however, warns that the former guerrilla and senator still needs to build “trust” with the productive sector.
“It has to do with not considering companies as rivals, but managers of development and job creation (…) It is very difficult because there is no history of a left-wing government at the national level”, warns the professor at the Javeriana University.
Judging by Petro’s first speech, friction won’t last long: “He said things involving regulation, one of the main fears of the markets,” Botero said.
Businessman Mario Hernández, an active opponent of Petro during the campaign, was open to dialogue.
“The opportunity has come for Gustavo Petro to demonstrate to 50% of Colombians and me that we were wrong,” the apparel magnate wrote on Twitter.
in the barracks
After taking office, the military will have to swear allegiance to a former member of the leftist guerrillas who fought during six decades of conflict.
At the end of April, Petro accused members of the military leadership of alliance with the Gulf Clan, the largest drug trafficking group in the country.
In response, the army commander, General Eduardo Zapateiro, accused him of “politicking”, in an unusual political intervention in a country where the Constitution prohibits the public security force from participating in political debate and voting.
“The distrust between the president and the military is significant,” says Guzmán, before adding that the leftist “will have to choose a defense minister who has the respect and trust of members of the Military Forces.”
Otherwise, he points out, the transition will be a “disaster”.
“What all presidents do when they come to power is a purge of high military posts (…) Petro has to do this with a kid’s glove”, explains Botero.
In this sense, the name chosen for the post of Minister of Defense will be fundamental. So far, the president-elect has only revealed that he will appoint a woman specialized in Human Rights to the portfolio.