Petro: can an ex-guerrilla preside over Colombia without scaring the capitalists?

“I met cWith the main businessmen of Spain, of connectivity (telecommunications), of insurance, of energy, of construction, of airlines… Their proper names will already appear in the employer association they have [CEOE]… Y [fueron a] listen Who do they think is going to be the next president of Colombia? These were the words of Gustavo Petro on January 10, 2022 at the UGT headquarters in Madrid, shortly after having met with the representatives of the most powerful Spanish companies present in Colombia. Today Gustavo Petro is the president of Colombia. He was the winner of the elections on June 19, and now Spanish companies are waiting to see what Petro transforms: whether into Dr. Jekyll or Mister Hyde.

For any company, whether Spanish or Colombian, Petro’s past is worrying because he is a former guerrilla. He was part of the M-19, a very particular guerrilla movement. According to Vera Grabe, a Colombian of German origin who was the founder of the movement in the 1970s, “the M-19 was born in search of being a different guerrilla group.not dogmatic, with more political than ideological concern, more urban than rural”. That text is part of an essay by Grabe entitled “M-19: from the armed struggle to the renunciation of violence.” Was this guerrilla another bloodthirsty guerrilla? The M-19 was a left-wing movement but it did not claim “class hatred, avant-garde, heroism, socialism, sacrifice for the cause”. They wanted to distance themselves from the extreme violence of the FARC or the ELN. It was more nationalistic and with a discourse of Latin American brotherhood. Some experts define their ideology as democratic socialism, that is, coming to power through elections and implanting socialism.

The M-19 was born in 1970, when they denounced an electoral fraud that, according to them, prevented Gustavo Rojas Pinilla from being president of Colombia, and instead the conservative forces promoted Misael Pastrana. The first action of the M-19 was very strange: steal the sword of Simón Bolívar, one of the heroes of Latin American mythology. The acronym M-19 corresponded to the April 19 Movement (of 1970), the date of the elections that provoked the wrath of the revolutionaries.

The M-19 stole weapons from a military depot and took the embassy of the Dominican Republic. His most risky and reckless action happened in 1985 when he attacked the Palace of Justice of Bogotá (the Supreme Court). The army surrounded the place and proceeded to assault with tanks. The result of the fight between guerrillas and soldiers was more than 100 dead, including the president of the Supreme Court.

Gustavo Petro was already a member of the M19, and his nickname was Aureliano Buendia, the character of García Márquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. When the assault on the Palace of Justice occurred, Petro was in jail, as he had been arrested a month earlier for possession of weapons.

In subsequent years, the guerrillas and the government began negotiations for demobilization. Petro founded a political party Alianza Democrática M-19 and participated in the development of the new

Constitution. He was a congressman, he had a close relationship with Hugo Chávez. He founded other parties, formed part of alliances, became a senator, presented himself as a presidential candidate until in 2012 he obtained an important political position: mayor of Bogota, the capital of the country, and a city of about 10 million inhabitants (more than Andalusia) .

In his three years in office, Petro managed to reduce multidimensional poverty in the city from 11.9% to 4.9%, according to the District Oversight Office, a state body for economic control. Multidimensional poverty is defined not only as lack of income but poor health or malnutrition, lack clean water or electricity, have a precarious job, or have very little education. Petro educated thousands of children, promoted food and school transportation, and distributed subsidies through a social security scheme. But she was not able to make much headway on one of the city’s big problems: transport infrastructure. Nor did he build the houses or schools planned.

In a chronicle on the management of Petro, the Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince, said: “The director of International Relations of the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, Daniel García-Peña, in his resignation, branded him a ‘despot’. His partner in the armed struggle, the M-19 guerrilla, and one of the authors of the 1991 Constitution, the one in force in Colombia, Antonio Navarro Wolf, irrevocably resigned from the Government Secretariat when he had barely been three months in office. The reason given could not be more ironic: ‘for a toothache’. Petro left the mayor’s office with low popularity: only 32% approved of his management. He hadn’t kept all his promises to her.

It is not very difficult to guess where Petro’s steps are going to go now that he is president of Colombia, a country with 51 million inhabitants, and twice the size of Spain: his objective will be to attack poverty in the country.

In his meeting with representatives of the Government of Spain in January 2022, Petro asked a Spanish minister how much poverty had increased in Spain due to the pandemic, and the minister told him, according to Petro, that “1%”. Surprised, Petro commented that poverty was already in Colombia before the pandemic in 20% of the population “and now half of the population is hungry.”

The Covid destroys the figure of Iván Duque

The coronavirus has destroyed the political figure of the former president of Colombia, Iván Duque, because the number of poor people increased and on top of that they did not have effective health services. Colombia, like most Latin American countries, lacks good social coverage and public economy. In Europe, during the pandemic, governments followed instructions to “break the glass in case of emergency”, and put ERTEs are underway (the state continued to pay the wages even though the workers were at home). The European Commission together with the European Central Bank facilitated lines of credit for the countries to face the economic contraction. European hospital networks, which were saturated during the first months of the pandemic, recovered.

But in Colombia, Before the pandemic, hospital networks have never been exceptional. The country has dragged a bag of permanent poverty for years. Poverty had decreased in recent years under the Duque government. During the first months of the pandemic, the government launched the “solidarity income” that it was an aid to the most economically punished families. Despite the introduction of this ‘Ingreso Solidario’ and the VAT compensation program for poor households, “the job and income losses that households suffered during the pandemic erased the poverty reduction results that had been achieved over a decade”, says a World Bank report.

Economic activity declined during the pandemic, and the government was faced with the worst possible situation: less income, but more health expenses. In 2020, poverty in Colombia had risen by 6.8 points compared to 2019 and stood at 42.5% of the population: the number of poor people increased by 3.6 million people, going from 17.4 to 21 million, according to the Department National Statistics Administration (DANE)quoted by Eph.

In order to obtain urgent economic resources, the Duque government approved a tax reform that involved raising taxes on the middle and upper classes, and on companies. The popular reaction was seen on television around the world in April and May 2021. There were street demonstrations (some very aggressive, such as the attack and burning of police stations), and the government had to repress them with violence: more than 70 dead .

That conflict was the lid on his coffin. With popularity on the decline, Duque could only sit through his own funeral as the law in Colombia prevents re-election.

Gustavo Petro

That means that Gustavo Petro, representative of the Historical Pact, has four years to make his “change.” In his favour, the economy is recovering at an enviable pace: 10.6% in 2021 and 6.1% is expected for 2022. It is the country that is leading growth in Latin America. International investors have not fled scared when it was learned that a former guerrilla had won the elections. The peso has slightly devalued against the dollar (3.8%), although the truth is that it is at the same level as in May. The Stock Exchange (ColCap) lost 3.8%, but had already been losing strength since April.

The hardest part remains: reduce the level of poverty and carry out your project. Will it do so by raising taxes? In reality, it has a greater challenge, which is not to scare international investors. The same day of his victory, Petro chose the Movistar Arena in Bogotá to say that he was not going to destroy capitalism, although the very word makes him grit his teeth. “In other campaigns they came yelling at us over and over again… out of fear saying that we were going to expropriate and destroy private property, well I tell them: We are going to develop capitalism in Colombia. Not because we adore it, but because we must overcome feudalism in Colombia, overcome this new slavery, overcome atavistic mentalities, from this world of slaves, to reach economic pluralism.”

When Hugo Chavez came to power and said exactly the same thing. In an interview with this journalist in 1999, when it was mentioned to him that in the Chavista bases there was talk of expropriating property and land, the Venezuelan president pretended to remove the fear of Spanish investors and stated: “What you are telling me is part of the past. : from the dirty war of the electoral campaign, which was erased in a few hours by a people who know very well what is our government plan. Contrary to what was said, we are going to develop an economic project, one of whose foundations is to give back to Venezuelans, especially to the middle classes, the right to private property: the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises will be essential to recover macroeconomic and macrosocial balances, and that is far from being a socialist expropriation approach”.

For the political analyst Martial Munoz, director of ConfidencialColombia, “it is still too early to venture whether Colombia will be the paradise of ‘living tasty’ that France promises [la nueva vicepresidenta Francia Márquez], or it will become the new Venezuela of the Region, which many also predict”. If Petro pursues a social democratic policy, he will disillusion the anti-system, radicals and extremists who are part of the Historic Pact coalition. To put it another way, she will disappoint Colombia’s Podemos. But if he decides to thoroughly apply a left-wing program, adds Muñoz, “and he touches the pension system, the engine of the country, the hydrocarbon sector, the FTAs [Tratados de Libre Comercio] or simply excessively raise taxes on businessmen, it will fail miserably”.

The proof that it is not known where Petro will go is that, a few hours after winning, two world leaders congratulated him: Joe Biden, president of the US, and Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. Two opposing views.