In his inaugural address, Petro fails to mention foreign income


In his inaugural speech as Colombia’s new president, Gustavo Petro omitted any mention of attracting foreign investors.


Colombia’s new president, Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla who is his country’s first left-wing leader, spoke at length about reducing poverty and inequality in his August 7 inaugural address. That’s good, but two key words were missing from his 46-minute inaugural speech: foreign investment.

Petro mentioned the word “peace” 19 times, referring to his plan to end the armed conflict with the rebel group ELN, and he used “inequality”, “poverty” and “climate change” several times during his speech.

But he made no reference to efforts to attract foreign investment and only tangentially mentioned the need to redirect energy investment towards green industries. This is a blind spot in Petro’s agenda, as Colombia will badly need foreign investment to grow its economy and reduce poverty.

To his credit, Petro has explicitly sworn to uphold the constitution, trying to allay fears of the nearly 50% of Colombians who did not vote for him that he might try to change the country’s charter to stay in power indefinitely. .

It is the biggest fear of the Colombian opposition, as former President Ivan Duque told me in an interview last month, that Petro follows the Chavista model and tries to stay in power beyond his term. of four years.

Additionally, Petro pledged to make Colombia a world leader in the fight against climate change – congratulations on that – and called for “a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed”. While former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos laid out a similar plan several years ago, Petro deserves applause for reminding the world that narcotics production will not decline unless rich countries reduce their insatiable demand for drugs.

But Petro’s obvious lack of interest in attracting investment and generating wealth is worrying. This goes beyond an obvious omission in his first official speech. It is also evident in some of his cabinet appointments.

While Petro has appointed respected economist Jose Antonio Ocampo as finance minister and moderate academic Alejandro Gaviria as education minister, he has also made several cabinet appointments that will not help attract domestic or foreign investors.

Petro has appointed Communist Party leader Gloria Inés Ramirez as labor minister, as well as Iván Velásquez, an investigator into crimes committed by far-right paramilitaries, as defense minister and an environmental activist as of Minister of Mines.

It is also telling that Petro has appointed Alvaro Leyva, a 79-year-old veteran negotiator with leftist guerrillas, as foreign minister. Petro said he would be a “peace” foreign minister, suggesting that Leyva would use his international contacts in previous peace mediations to seek an agreement with the ELN.

Leyva would make an excellent peace commissioner, but it is seriously questioned whether he will even be interested in promoting trade and investment. And Petro’s new commerce secretary, economist Germán Umaña, has opposed the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States.

“Foreign investment has certainly not been a priority for this new administration,” Sandra Borda, a political scientist at Colombia’s University of Los Andes, told me. “The Colombian left, like a large part of the Latin American left, has ambivalent and often very critical positions with regard to international trade and foreign investment.

Kevin Whitaker, former US Ambassador to Colombia, told me that the biggest US investments in Colombia are in the coal and oil sectors, which Petro has pledged to regulate in its quest to accelerate the transition to green energy. .

“To the extent that it signals a move away from these industries, it will be difficult for Petro’s government to attract more investment,” Whitaker said.

Petro’s government deserves the benefit of the doubt, and we should all wish it the best. But he may not have learned the lesson of past left-wing economic debacles in Latin America, caused by governments that focused almost exclusively on redistributing wealth and forgetting to generate it.

My prediction: Petro will dramatically increase subsidies to the poor and perhaps gain popularity as a result. But, unless he focuses on ways to generate new investment, it could also be a short-lived fiesta. Colombia could run out of money by the end of its term, and the poor could end up poorer than before.

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