Colombian President Gustavo Petro has a long and bumpy road ahead of him if he wants to achieve “total peace,” the ambitious program of his government, in which he has decided to invest all his energies.
Even his own family is causing him problems: according to rumors, his brother Juan Fernando Petro Urrego and his eldest son Nicolás Petro Burgos have taken bribes in their work for the government peace plan: both have been accused of being connected to alleged meetings in prisons in which some people, identifying themselves as members of the government, negotiated with the narcos, offering them more favorable treatment in their trials in exchange for lavish sums of money.
The president tried to turn things around with a strong response to the allegations, asking the attorney general “to carry out all the necessary investigations and determine if there are any liabilities.”
“My commitment to Colombia is to obtain peace, and there is no place for those who want to interfere or get personal advantages, even if they are members of my family,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter, expressing his hope that his brother and son “will be able to prove their innocence,” but guaranteeing that he would respect “the conclusions justice will arrive at,” no matter what they are.
However, he is in a race against time on every front. In his first six months in government, Petro enacted a tax reform that will guarantee more than $4 billion a year in additional resources, destined largely for the poorest sections of society and the strengthening of the Colombian welfare system. He has also announced structural changes in legislation regarding labor, education and especially health care, with the goal of transforming the current system, run by private companies, into one that is public and universal. He has presented changes to the social security system, accompanied by a 16 percent increase in the minimum wage. He has also taken some steps in the direction of land reform.
And, of course, he has been pursuing his peace agenda, with mixed results: he announced a cease-fire with five armed groups, later changed to just four by the ELN’s denial; however, he has been making progress in the peace negotiations with the latter, the second round of which are being held in Mexico.
Nonetheless, paramilitary activity is still alive and well: no less than 18 social leaders have been assassinated since the beginning of the year. Nor are the massacres stopping, with 20 in just two months. And the depth of the social malaise is also shown by the ongoing conflict in which 79 policemen have been taken prisoner by indigenous people and peasants as part of a protest in Caquetá against an oil company, protests in which a police officer and a peasant have already died.
On the topic of violence and strategies to counter it, an argument broke out on Thursday over Twitter between Petro and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, the protagonist of an impressive-looking offensive against criminal gangs that has led to the arrest of 64,000 people. It’s a war that Bukele is winning – the gangs’ presence in the local territories has been reduced to almost zero – but with complete disregard for human rights and democracy.
Unsurprisingly, the images of the first 2,000 detainees being sent to the mega-prison built in Tecoluca – barefoot, with shaved heads, handcuffed, half-naked, herded like animals – provoked an indignant reaction from Petro, who described it as “a concentration camp, full of thousands of young prisoners, that sends chills up my spine.”
In Colombia, he added, “we have reduced the homicide and violence rates, not with mega prisons, but with schools and universities,” going “from 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (1993) in Bogota to 13 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (2022).”
Bukele replied: “Since 1993? 30 years… But have you been in charge for those 30 years? Bogota only? Aren’t you the president of all of Colombia? Our experience: from more than 100 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, we are now at single-digit rates.” In short, cutting corners works wonders.
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