First leftist president sworn in in Colombia

First leftist president sworn in in Colombia

The first leftist president of Colombia has been sworn in, promising to fight inequality and herald a turning point in the history of a country that has been haunted by a long war between the government and guerilla groups.

Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M- 19 guerilla group in Colombia, won the presidential election in June.

He beat conservative parties that offered moderate changes to the market-friendly economy, but failed to connect with voters frustrated by rising poverty and violence against human rights leaders and environmental groups in rural areas.

Mr Petro is part of a growing group of leftist politicians and political outsiders who have been winning elections in Latin America since the COVID 19 epidemic broke out and hurt incumbents who struggled with its economic aftershocks.

The ex-rebel's victory was also exceptional for Colombia, where voters had been historically reluctant to back leftist politicians - often accused of being soft on crime or allied with guerillas.

A 2016 peace deal between Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia FARC made the focus of voters away from the violent conflicts playing out in rural areas and gave prominence to problems like poverty and corruption and spurred the popularity of leftist parties in national elections.

The 62-year-old President has promised to tackle the social and economic inequalities in Colombia by boosting spending on anti-poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas.

He has described US-led anti-narcotics policies, such as the forced eradication of illegal coca crops, as a big failure, but he has said he would like to work with Washington as equals, build schemes to combat climate change or bring infrastructure to rural areas where many farmers say coca leaves are the only viable crop.

During his election campaign, Petro pledged to turn Colombia into a global powerhouse for life by slowing deforestation and taking measures to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels.

He said that Colombia will stop granting licenses for oil exploration and ban fracking projects, even though the oil industry makes up almost 50 per cent of the nation's legal exports.

He intends to finance social spending with a US $10 billion $14.5 billion tax reform that would boost taxes on the rich and do away with corporate tax breaks.

Petro wants to start peace talks with the remaining rebel groups that are fighting over drug routes, gold mines and other resources that have been abandoned by FARC after their peace deal with the government.

Yan Basset, a political scientist at Del Rosario University in Bogot, said that the incoming president has a very ambitious agenda but he will have to prioritize, he said.

Eight heads of state attended Mr Petro's inauguration, which took place in a large colonial-era square in front of Colombia's Congress.

Stages with live music and big screens were also placed in parks across Bogota's city centre, so tens of thousands of citizens without invitations to the main event could join in the festivities.

It was a big change for Colombia, where previous presidential inaugurations were more sombre and limited to a few hundred VIP guests.

Luis Alberto Tombe, a member of the indigenous Guambiano tribe, told the Associated Press that being part of the celebration was important.

He said it's the first time that people from the base can come to the base to be part of a presidential inauguration.

We feel honored to be here.