In less than two weeks after winning Colombia’s presidential runoff, President Elect Gustavo Petro has been working to reassure Colombians, investors, and foreign allies that he is not going to be the extremist bogeyman that many have feared.
Not only did he meet with his defeated opponent, construction magnate and former Mayor of Bucaramanga, Rodolfo Hernandez, but he also sat down to meet with his longtime bitter political nemesis, former President and Senator Álvaro Uribe (above left). Uribe’s political movement, the Centro Democrático party, colloquially known as the “Uribistas” is the most hardline opposition to confirmed leftists such as Petro, but even moderates such as former President Juan Manuel Santos, who negotiated a historic peace accord with FARC rebels, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Uribe’s political acolyte, the unpopular outgoing President Ivan Duque has been roundly criticized for failing to implement the peace accords, and the newly released human rights report by Colombia’s Truth Commission, created as a result of the peace pact, has called both the Duque and Uribe administrations to task for human rights failures. Petro says he will implement the peace accord and follow the recommendations of the commission, while Uribe’s “Uribista” politicians have been active criticizing both Petro and the Truth Commission.
Uribe, after meeting with Petro, to the consternation of both his militant supporters and bitter opponents (who would only be satisfied seeing the former president behind bars), said that he will work with Petro to resolve the problems of poverty, and that they had very productive, wide-ranging conversations on the environment and energy, health and pensions, agrarian reform, the Peace Process, crime & security, and taxation. It is not that they agreed on policy, but agreed in principle to have a productive, ongoing dialogue.
Petro has also already met with outgoing President Ivan Duque and reports a cordial meeting. After Colombia’s government-controlled petroleum giant Ecopetrol (NYSE: EC) took a 12% plunge in Monday’s trading immediately after Petro’s election, he tried to calm markets, saying in an interview with Cambio magazine that his strategy changes with the petroleum company and the country’s broader oil and gas industry will be gradual.
Petro has already announced his foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva Durán, a former senator of Colombia’s Conservative Party, peace negotiator, and 2006 presidential candidate. Leyva once served as the minister of mines and energy and was a political exile in Costa Rica during the presidency of Andrés Pastrána from 1998 until 2006, when he was absolved of conspiracy charges by the Supreme Court.
Though a long-time member of Colombia’s conservative party, Leyva has worked on many occasions as a successful negotiator with armed insurgents, and promoter of peace.
Petro has also confirmed that economist and professor José Antonio Ocampo will be named finance minister. Ocampo is currently a professor at Columbia University in New York, after serving a term as the United Nations Undersecretary of Economics and Social Affairs. While widely respected as an economist, he also has bona fides as keen to remediate Colombia’s vast social inequalities.
Rumors have not been confirmed that Alejandro Gaviria, rector of the prestigious University of The Andes, and centrist presidential candidate in the recent elections will be minister of education. He already served as health minister during the term of previous President Juan Manuel Santos, where he was widely respected.
Though Gaviria was born in Chile, he is the son of a one-time mayor of Medellin. Even though he runs one of Colombia’s most elite, “blue-blooded” universities, he has been outspoken on educational equity and access for all students.
These three appointments point to a moderate approach, as all three appointees (Gaviria has not yet been announced publicly) are existing politicians or political appointees, known quantities, and none can be called “radical.”
The Vice Presidents
Outgoing Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez also met with Vice President Elect Francia Marquez to discuss an orderly transition, along with gender and human rights issues. Ramirez has recently been under a cloud due to her husband’s business dealings with a convicted gangster, and a dubious land deal on Colombia’s San Andrés Island in The Caribbean.
The US government has also announced that a meeting between Kamala Harris and Vice President Elect Francia Marquez was being scheduled. Marquez already met with Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell.
The incoming vice president also met with her election opponent, Dr. Marelen Castillo, also an afrocolombian woman, engineer and academic who will now serve in Congress. In Colombian elections, the losing presidential candidate in the runoff gets a seat in the Colombian Senate, and the losing vice-presidential candidate gets a seat in the legislature as a congressional representative.
Marquez sent out a tweet of the two women together reading: “Women united, we are stronger. #SoyPorqueSomos” the tag translating as “I am because we are,” the famous Ubuntu concept.
— Francia Márquez Mina (@FranciaMarquezM) June 29, 2022
The new vice president is a 40-year-old mother of two, who hails from a rural area by the Ovejas river in the Cauca department, southwest of Cali, Colombia. In her youth, she worked as a gold miner in the informal mining sector and domestic worker, but came to oppose the informal, often illegal mining that takes place outside of the auspices of a commercial mining company or government supervision. Informal mining in Colombia is often controlled by violent mafias, may involve human trafficking and slavery, and environmental and health damage due to the use of toxic chemicals like mercury.
Marquez along with 70 other women walked 600 kilometers from the Cauca department to Bogotá to demand that the government take action against illegal mining and the contamination it brings. This brought the wrath of mafias controlling the gold mining activities upon her, and she had to flee to Cali to protect her own life and that of her two children.
She later participated in the 2016 Peace Accords between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC rebels, testifying on how the armed conflict harmed afrocolombian communities, especially women.
Before being elected vice president, Marquez was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Joan Alsina Human Rights Award for 2019, the BBC’s Top 100 Influential Women of 2019, and the National Award for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia.