Leftist Petro takes office in Colombia amid challenges
Published: Aug 07, 2022 10:42 PM
Gustavo Petro became Colombia's first leftist president on Sunday, elected by voters who hope he can carry out social and economic reforms meant to reduce violence and deep inequality in the country.

Petro was inaugurated in Bogota's Bolivar Plaza on Sunday afternoon. Senate President Roy Barreras swore him in front of some 100,000 people, including Spanish King Felipe VI, at least nine Latin American presidents and regular ­Colombians invited by Petro, a former guerrilla.

New Vice President Francia Marquez, an environmental activist and former housekeeper, is the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold her post.

At a ceremony in Bogota on the eve of his inauguration, Petro said his government would aim to "bring to Colombia what it has not had for centuries, which is tranquility and peace."

"Here begins a government that will fight for environmental justice," he added.

Petro, a 62-year-old former senator, has said his first priority will be actions to fight hunger in the country of 50 million, where nearly half the population lives in some kind of poverty.

A $5.8 billion tax reform, which would raise duties on high earners to fund social programs, will be proposed to congress on Monday by the new Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.

"I'm also nervous about becoming president," Petro recently told students at his alma mater ­Externado University in Bogota, when asked about the challenges he faces.

Petro has pledged free public university education and healthcare changes and constructed a broad congressional coalition of leftist and centrist parties to pass his platform.

His foreign minister has said the government will hold dialogue with gangs and potentially give members reduced sentences in exchange for information about drug trafficking. 

Petro was elected on June 19 after defeating independent candidate Rodolfo Hernandez in the second round of elections in a very close race, the state-run National Civil Registry reported.