Colombia: Why Hasn’t Gustavo Petro Fulfilled Some of his Campaign Promises?

Colombian President Gustavo Petro is having difficulty implementing several of his campaign promises, not because he wants to.

Gustavo Petro

Photo: TW-petrogustavo

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: Gustavo Petro y su imposibilidad de cumplir promesas

This week, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced that the government was lifting the ceasefire that had been agreed upon with the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), the main FARC dissident group led by Néstor Gregorio Vera, alias "Iván Mordisco."

This measure comes after the armed group murdered four young indigenous people from the Murui community. These minors were recruited by the same EMC but killed in the southwest of Colombia by members of the Carolina Ramirez front. According to information, the victims had tried to flee and desert.

In this way, the official statement communicated that "the bilateral cease currently in place with this armed group in the departments of Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, and Putumayo." This measure not only represents a setback in a peace agreement with an armed group that continues to cause deaths and violence in the country. This fact also means a clear obstacle in its proposal for Total Peace.​​​​​​​

Total Peace

It is known as "Total Peace" to the security bet that Gustavo Petro tried to implement. The president emphasized his intention to end decades of violence in Colombia through peace agreements with the different armed groups in the country. Among the most relevant dialogues are those with the ELN guerrilla, today the largest guerrilla group in the nation.

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But other negotiations appear to have failed. In March, the Colombian government suspended the ceasefire with the Autodefensas de Colombia, a paramilitary group. Despite Gustavo Petro's intent and conviction to peacefully end the different conflicts, the reality is more complicated. Not even because Petro represents the left's victory in the country, but the armed groups of socialist ideology did not seem satisfied with signing an armistice and surrendering weapons, as former president Juan Manuel Santos achieved with the FARC. This leaves in doubt whether the current administration can fulfill the campaign promise with which it tried to convince support in conflict zones.

Promises that are Difficult to Keep

But total peace is not the only promise the current administration finds difficult to achieve. With almost a year of government, Gustavo Petro has encountered a clear and significant obstacle to fulfilling his proposals: the Congress. The Colombian legislature is why several of his reforms need to be moving forward.

Petro arrived with a simple majority in his party, Pacto Histórico, in Congress. However, he reached agreements with several other parties. Especially the traditional parties: Liberal, Conservative, and National Unity parties. All these parties are in various governments, both during the periods of Álvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, and at the beginning of Gustavo Petro. Regardless of their policies, they were always ruling parties. This showed that agreements (often criticized for supposedly having political overtones) would be the only way to govern. Despite this, most of these parties did not even support Petro in the second round. Many were even with Rodolfo Hernandez, which showed their ideological distance. Both parties and many of their voters support "radical" policies, which could be counterproductive to their electoral base.

But, at the moment of evidencing whether these parties were aligned to the main proposals of the government, the results were unfavorable for Gustavo Petro's intentions. Several of these parties announced their disapproval of several reforms, such as health reform, one of the central policies, and campaign promises. The president insists on achieving fundamental changes in the Colombian health system, but many fear those modifications will destroy the criticized system, which many also defend. For this, the moderates, both in Congress and in the streets, made it clear that if reform is passed, it will have to be much less ambitious than Petro would like. For this, he will have to scratch vote by vote of all the congress members until he gets the necessary support in this and the other reforms (labor, pension, tax, etc.). The Government of Change, as Petro is known, has more difficulties than expected.

The Dilemma of the Legislative Minority

Although the legislative reality of the Government is complicated, this is nothing new. The absence of majorities in Congress was one of the many arguments for Gustavo Petro to become President. In such a polarized campaign, in which fears Petro for his flirtation with Chavism, several loyalists to the candidate of the Historical Pact highlighted the legislative minorities to govern moderately. Many close to the former mayor of Bogota affirmed that in an eventual Petro presidency, it would be impossible to change the Constitution or destroy the institutionality, first because of his democratic ideals but also because it would be impossible with a Congress against him.

Petro presented himself as the democratic candidate who would try to reach a consensus with different sectors to govern. Compared with his rival in the second round, Rodolfo Hernandez, a populist candidate with an image of a little conciliator, the current president stood out when evaluating his respect for institutions.

However, although this panorama was evident, upon reaching the Casa de Nariño, reality surpassed the calculations. Today, the argument that allowed the Historical Pact to get the executive is the main problem when fulfilling its government plan.

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