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This is How the Relationship Between President Gustavo Petro and the Colombian Armed Forces Begins

The left-wing leader was for a long time one of the greatest opponents of the Armed Forces of his country. The relationship between Gustavo Petro and the military does not seem to be the best, even though he is the new "Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces" .

Gustavo Petro

Photo: TW-petrogustavo

LatinAmerican Post | Christopher Ramírez Hernández

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Leer en español: Así inicia la relación del presidente Gustavo Petro con las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia

Gustavo Petro is already the new president of Colombia. On August 7, the leader of the left was sworn in as the new president of that country, after the right-wing Iván Duque handed over power, amid criticism for his four years in office, and 61% unfavorable, according to a survey by the firm Cifras y Conceptos.

Petro arrives at the Casa de Nariño (presidential seat) with the support of Colombia's traditional political parties, such as the Liberal, the U and part of the Conservative, in addition to those who supported him during his candidacy, such as the Alianza Verde Party, Comunes and the Historical Pact, among other smaller ones. This makes the president begin his government with the endorsement of 63 of the 108 senators there are, and of 106 representatives of the 188 who took office in the Chamber on July 20.

Now, although, the political sector has partially or completely “bought” the idea of government from Gustavo Petro and his presidential team. The truth is that there is a very important sector of society in Colombia that still does not know what its role will be in this new administration, even knowing that Petro will be its natural leader: the Armed Forces.

As detailed by several experts, both Colombian and from other countries, the environment that awaits Petro as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces is not easy. Inside most of the institutions that make up this area of national defense, opinions have been generated against the current president, whom for more than 30 years they have considered “the enemy”, taking into account his progressive ideas, as well as his passage through the extinct guerrilla of the M-19.

However, Petro has also had many mistakes (or successes, as some would consider it) in criticizing those who were the high command of the Armed Forces.

“This dome was very imbued by the political line of the Executive that ends (that of Iván Duque). But this path is unsustainable and makes the public force itself a victim, which has been led to perpetrate Dantesque acts against human rights. What we propose will lead the public force to a greater democratic strengthening”, Petro explained at the time, assuring that one of his first decisions with this institution would be to dismiss the entire leadership that “marched” Duque and place new names that now “marching” him.

Of course, this was a “threat” that the high command of the Armed Forces did not accept, beginning with the former commander of the National Army, General Eduardo Zapateiro, who, in fact, has never seen Petro favorably.

It should be remembered that a month before Petro's presidential inauguration, Zapateiro decided to resign from his position as top leader of the Army, citing irreconcilable differences with the new Colombian president. For the military man, it was better to leave his position in the Armed Forces, rather than walk alongside Gustavo Petro on August 7.

“To all Colombians, I want to say that what I did was out of moral and personal obligation. That was what my parents taught me, and it is the example that I must leave not only to my children, but also to the body of generals and my soldiers (...) I am aware that I could not be with the president-elect, and I am not going to wait for him to tell me what I have to do”, said Zapateiro in a conversation with the magazine Semana, in which he demonstrated the great friction that exists with the new government.

It may interest you: Colombia: What is the Pistol Plan and Why Does it Remind Us of the Worst Times of Pablo Escobar?

In Search of the Foot Soldiers

In fact, one of the greatest distances between Petro and Zapaterio was directly related to promotions in the Armed Forces, which Petro branded as a mafia of politicians. “The promotions are not rigged, the procedure is very rigorous. They don't know the processes. The Army is serious”, was Zapateiro's response.

Now, days before his inauguration, Petro took up the issue again, assuring, once again, that his government will fight corruption within the Armed Forces, seeking to “depoliticize” this institution, starting with promotions.

For the Colombian president, the idea is to be able to conscientiously review each one of the steps that exist today to be able to assign a promotion within the Military Forces, to prevent people who do not deserve this recognition from sneaking in, and also, to reduce all costs that the uniformed fall into violations of Human Rights to obtain said promotions.

In this way, Petro has shown a greater rapprochement with the common soldiers in the country, to whom he has also promised guarantees of better education, with free access; an idea that has been hovering in the Petrista awnings, even since 2018, the year in which he obtained second place in the presidential elections.

“The best thing that can be done with the Colombian Police and Army is to ensure that all of its members have higher education paid for by the Ministry of Defense. We will have a professional army and police at the service of citizen rights and freedoms, ” he wrote on Twitter.

However, for the opposition, all these promises are nothing more than “deception” used by the new government to try to manipulate the uniformed men in the country, and then leave them to their fate in the face of the armed conflict that Colombia is experiencing today.

This was reported by the Colombian-Spanish columnist, Salud Hernández-Mora, who detailed in one of her opinion pieces that, in the case of the policemen who are being assassinated by paramilitary groups under the specter of the so-called “pistol plan”, this institution will have little or no support from the Petro government.

“It is evident that the Petro team, in relation to Defense (…) feels closer to the guerrillas than to the police, hence some of their tears seem like crocodiles before those killed by the pistol plan,” Hernández concluded. This makes the specter of military disobedience or even a coup d'état haunt the head of the new government. Now, it will be the role of the new administration to gain the trust and support of one of the most important sectors in the coffee growing country.