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LATIN AMERICA | 29-06-2022 22:44

Petro meets his arch-enemy Uribe as Colombia outreach continues

Colombia's newly elected leftist leader meets with the nation’s most powerful leader in recent history, Álvaro Uribe.

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro met with the nation’s most powerful leader in recent history, Álvaro Uribe, as he seeks to form a coalition that will allow him to garner a majority in Congress. 

Petro, who takes office August 7, has been meeting with leaders from the main political parties in a bid to form what he calls a “Broad Front” that will give him enough seats to get an ambitious agenda passed in Congress, including tax and pension reforms. 

While the former president’s political party, Democratic Centre, is likely to position itself as the main opposition party to the upcoming administration, the meeting sends a strong message of democracy in Colombia, according to Jorge Restrepo, director of CERAC, a Bogotá-based political research group. 

“It strengthens the legitimacy, as it should be, of the victory of Gustavo Petro and his political movement,” said Restrepo. Uribe likely also has a personal interest “in not becoming the target of the government’s attacks.”

The meeting was especially significant after Petro, as a former senator, rose to prominence as one of the government’s most effective critics in Congress during the 2002-2010 presidency of Uribe. Now the roles are reversed with Petro set to become the Andean nation’s first leftist leader and Uribe – who’s backing helped candidates win the presidency including current President Iván Duque – now moves to the opposition.

 

‘Fruitful and respectful’

Speaking to reporters in Bogotá after the encounter, Uribe said it was a “constructive” meeting and that they agreed to maintain an open channel of dialogue. His party will support plans to alleviate poverty and help the elderly, “but that cannot be done at the cost of withering the private sector,” he said. 

Petro said on Twitter that the conversation was “fruitful and respectful.”

While Colombian assets including bonds and stocks sold off after Petro’s June 19 election, investors are now awaiting who he appoints to key roles such as finance minister. Besides a tax bill that would seek to impose higher levies on the country’s richest, Petro has also proposed a ban on new oil exploration contracts. 

Uribe expressed concern that “excessive” taxes would hurt the economy, and lead to more poverty. He also worried that Petro’s plan to overhaul the pension system may put an end to private pension fund managers and the transition of the economy away from producing fossil fuels would be done too quickly.

Petro formed an alliance with the powerful Liberal Party, while the Conservative and U parties have said for now they won’t declare themselves as opposition.  

Benito Berber, chief economist for Latin America at Natixis, said in a report Wednesday that he expects Petro to moderate his economic policies. 

“Simply put, if left-leaning president elect Gustavo Petro fails to moderate his economic policies, his presidency will be born dead,” Berber wrote. 

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