The Challenges of Gustavo Petro, New President of Colombia

Now that Gustavo Petro has won the presidency in Colombia, these are the main challenges that he will face in his government.

Gustavo Petro, new president of Colombia

Photo: IG-gustavopetro

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: Los retos de Gustavo Petro, nuevo presidente de Colombia

The Colombians have already decided and Gustavo Petro was elected as the new president with more than 11 million votes. However, as soon as he arrives at the Casa de Nariño on August 7th, he will have to face several challenges.

A Divided Country

The first challenge facing the new president is to unite and navigate within a completely divided country. The close elections show that almost half of the population will be against the new government. It will be the task of Petro to achieve political and social union. Not only in terms of political parties, but of social movements.

The social pressure that will exist during his mandate is indisputable and he will need a constructive opposition willing to dialogue. Precisely what the outgoing government of Iván Duque did not achieve, who found it particularly difficult to build bridges of dialogue and which led to a government that was widely rejected by the population.

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No Clear Majorities in a Fragmented Congress

If both Petro and Rodolfo had something in common, it is that neither was going to have a clear majority in the legislature. Now, after the victory of the former mayor of Bogotá, the president will have to negotiate with allied and distant forces in order to process the reforms or law initiatives that he proposed in his government plan.

The president-elect has the most voted political force in the last legislative elections. The Pacto Histórico obtained 20 seats out of 108 in the Senate and 28 out of 188 in the House of Representatives. Additionally, Petro obtained the support of the majority of politicians within the Alianza Verde (13 in the Senate and 17 in the Chamber), plus the 5 seats in the Chamber and Senate of the Comunes party (former FARC) and will also be able to achieve alliances with some rebel congressmen. or independent, like the Petrista seat of Fuerza Ciudadana en Cámara. However, from there to achieving majorities in Congress there is a long way.

The role played by the Partido Liberal (who supported Rodolfo Hernández) will be vital. Prior to the first round, Petro had approached the leader of the movement, César Gaviria. Its 14 seats in the Senate and 32 in the House can make the difference between a government coalition with a majority or not. It will also be key if he negotiates with the Partido de la U, characterized by agreeing with the government in exchange for political participation.

This is why it will have a strong and consolidated opposition. The Conservative Party (15 in the Senate and 25 in the House), the Centro Democrático (13 in the Senate and 16 in the House), Cambio Radical (11 in the Senate and 18 in the House), and the Christian parties (4 in the Senate and 1 in the House).

A Complicated Economic Outlook

Although Colombia has been a relatively stable economy in recent decades in the region, it is not immune to global inflationary phenomena. Petro receive a country with a positive growth perspective for 2023. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, it is estimated that the Andean country will have a growth of 6.1% in 2022 and 2, 1% of GDP for the next year. These numbers are well above the other members in the area, such as 3.2% and 2.6% for Costa Rica, and 1.9% and 2.1% for Mexico.

However, the OECD itself has also warned of the risk of famine in the entire region due to a food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and inflationary phenomena around the world. In the campaign, Petro raised the flags of national production and limiting exports, a phenomenon that could put prices at risk for the final consumer in this scenario that the international community shows. The leader of the Pacto Histórico also defends an increase in production, putting the countryside into production, today with millions of unproductive hectares or vacant lots. 

However, in an interview with CNN, today's president-elect assured us that "we are going to restore the country's capacity to produce food. It is a shame that in Colombia these politicians destroyed the countryside. We do not produce what we eat, having here more than 20 million hectares to do it”.

A Half Peace

Another great challenge that the new government will have to face once it takes office is to enforce the peace agreements signed with the FARC during the government of President Santos. The newly elected president has always been a defender of the peace agreements and has developed an ambitious campaign to initiate a process of social forgiveness that may include several protagonists. 

Similarly, the new head of state and government will have to repair the confidence of the entire country in the peace process, after a president who has been ambiguous and many classify as an "enemy" of the agreement. Despite the fact that Iván Duque, the outgoing president, has stated that he has complied with the agreement, many organizations and critics assure that he has been in charge of torpedoing it and complying in a lesser way.

Petro will also have to resume talks with the ELN guerrillas. These approaches were also initiated during the Santos government, but due to an attack on a Military School during the Duque Government, the negotiations broke down and have been suspended since then. The president-elect today defended a continuation of the talks.

Drug and Violence Policy

Petro defended in his campaign a new drug policy, based on regulation instead of prohibition. Now, he must put it on the national and international agenda. It will have to take on the difficult task of finding allies in Europe and the United States (the main consumers) in order to achieve international progress.

This could greatly help another of the problems that the coffee-growing country is facing today: rural and urban violence. Since drug trafficking (and other illegal economies) are always the fuel for violence in the city and the countryside, a change in drug policy could also improve crime levels by illegal armed groups dedicated to drug trafficking and the crime itself that citizens suffer today in almost all the main cities of the country.