On a day set aside for the inauguration of presidents, and a date that marks 203 years of the Boyacá independence battle, Gustavo Petro is sworn in as 42 of Colombian/a President and first left-wing politician to occupy the Casa de Nariño.
The heavily guarded Plaza de Bolívar, with some 80,000 people in attendance, included delegations from foreign governments, six Latin American heads of state, King Felipe VI of Spain and a specially appointed US delegation by President Joe Biden led by Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States. States Agency for International Development; Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Francisco Palmieri, Chargé d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in Bogotá; Desirée Cormier Smith, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, US Department of State; and Juan Gonzalez, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.
With 15,000 members of the national police tasked with security in an event that will be remembered for its audiovisual effects, a sun splashing down the Plaza de Bolívar and the swearing-in ceremony for the country’s first black vice-president, Francia Márquez, just after 3:00 p.m., Gustavo Petro, 62, was accompanied on stage by his wife Verónica Alcocer and their children Sofía, Antonella, Nicolás, Andrea and Andrés Gustavo.
A few days before the inauguration, President Petro published his official portrait wearing the sash and the image taken by fashion photographer Mauricio Vélez. Petro traveled to the waterfall along the River of the “Seven Colors” and known as Caño Cristales to pose against the backdrop of one of Colombia’s most famous natural settings.
The delegation of Latin American presidents included Gabriel Boric (Chile); Guillermo Lasso (Ecuador); Luis Abinader (Dominican Republic); Luis Arce Catacora (Bolivia); Mario Abdo Benitez (Paraguay); Xiomara Castro (Honduras); Rodrigo Chaves (Costa Rica); Alberto Fernandez (Argentina); and Laurentino Cortizo (Panama). Pedro Castillo from Peru was invited but was unable to attend after lawmakers in his country denied permission to travel to Bogotá. Replacing Castillo, the Peruvian Congress authorized the trip of Vice President Dina Boluarte.
Other invited personalities included the first lady of Mexico, Beatriz Gutiérrez, the vice presidents of El Salvador, Panama, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Uruguay; as well as the foreign ministers of Palestine, Portugal, Cuba, Serbia and Brazil.
Three former Colombian presidents attended the ceremony, including Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994); Ernesto Samper (1994-1998); and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018). Conservative ex-presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe Vélez declined Petro’s invitation, the former citing “deep ideological differences”.
Petro was sworn in to Congress President Roy Barreras and the belt of María José Pizarro, daughter of the slain demobilized leader of M-19 (April 19 Movement) and Marxist guerrilla Gustavo Petro who joined him as what a young man. After swearing in Francia Márquez, President Petro from the podium asked the Presidential Guard to hand over the sword of the liberator Simón Bolívar and be brought to the elevated stage. “This is an order from the president and a popular mandate,” he said.
For that to happen, however, Barreras broke protocol and asked for a 10-minute break. After a 20-minute wait during which the crowd shouted “Petro!” Petro! Petro!” members of the Republican Guard emerged from the Casa de Nariño, carefully carrying a glass box with the ceremonial sword, and an unprecedented event at a presidential inauguration.
President Petro then delivered his inaugural speech against a bright background of a giant flat screen projecting images of butterflies, natural landscapes and the Colombian flag. After reading the names of the guests of honor, among them citizens he met during his electoral stops, among them a fisherman from Honda, a sweeper from Medellín, a street vendor from Quibdó, Chocó, a coffee grower from Caldas , and a traditional bearer of fresh-cut flowers — silletero — from Santa Helena, the economist and three-time presidential candidate embarked on what will also be remembered as a unifying, eloquent and poignant 54-minute speech. to “the most important guests, the people of Colombia.”
Within reach of the Espada de Bolívar, Petro recalled that the sword “has a lot of history, and today, more,” he said. “It’s the people’s sword, and that’s why I wanted it here.” He then spoke of peace and the “once and for all” end to six decades of violence and armed conflict. “It can be done,” he stressed, and promised to strictly adhere to the Peace Accord and the 1991 Constitution. “This is the government of life, of peace, and c is how it will be remembered.”
In a speech that touched on climate change, environmental conservation efforts, food and agricultural security, protection of social and human rights activists, drug policy and openness to forge lasting peace with illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking cartels and ELN guerrillas, President Petro also highlighted the inequality in Colombia and the importance of dialogue with the regions. “For peace to be possible in Colombia, we need dialogue, a lot of dialogue, to understand each other, to seek common paths and to produce change,” he said. “Our future is not written. We own the pen and we can write the page together, in peace and solidarity. Today we begin the Colombia of the possible,” he stressed. This statement was also a direct reference to the last paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Márquez in which the author condemns his fictional Macondo to one hundred years of loneliness and abandonment.
With a clear mandate to present 10 key policy issues for the new administration, Petro laid out the foundations of his tax reform, his relentless fight against corruption, the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy and the search for lasting peace. The leftist leader also called for Latin American unity in the face of regional and global challenges, and that includes joint efforts to protect the Amazon’s biodiversity with green bonds and carbon taxes. “Where is the Global Fund to save the Amazon? Speeches will not save the rainforest or humanity from extinction.
The only topic not included in his speech was Venezuela, despite a recent announcement by Petro that full diplomatic relations with the government of Nicolás Maduro should resume after August 7.
Leaving the stage, Petro walked to the Casa de Nariño holding the hands of his wife Verónica and youngest daughter Antonella. Before entering the presidential palace, he shook hands with outgoing former president Iván Duque and his wife María Juliana Ruíz. Concluding a day marked by strong emotions, Petro’s strongest message was a call for unity: “We must say ‘enough’ to the division we face as a people. I don’t want two countries, just as I don’t want two societies. I want a strong Colombia.