Venezuela to ‘rebuild the community’ with Petro Gov’t in Colombia

Mexico City, Mexico, August 8, 2022 ( – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro celebrated the inauguration of Gustavo Petro as President of Colombia, with leaders pledging to rebuild the long but strained relationship between the two countries of Caribbean.

“I extend my hand to the Colombian people, to President Gustavo Petro, to rebuild fraternity based on respect and love between peoples”, said Maduro on Sunday.

For his part, Petro called on Latin American governments to put aside their political differences and work towards regional integration.

“It’s time to leave behind [political] blocs, groups and ideological differences to work together. Let us understand once and for all that there is much more that unites us than what separates us and together we are stronger,” Petro said during his inaugural address to his country from Bogotá’s Bolivar Square.

The left-wing politician referenced a number of historic Latin American figures who pushed for integration, including Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century independence leader widely celebrated in Colombia and Venezuela.

In a symbolically charged move, after taking the oath, Petro interrupted his own ceremony in order to have Bolívar’s original sword brought to the square.

“Let’s make this unity dreamed of by our heroes, like Bolívar, San Martín, Artigas, Sucre and O’Higgins, a reality. It is not a utopia or romanticism. This is the way to make us strong in this complex world,” said the Colombian leader.

The president notably called for the development of “concrete projects” that would facilitate integration.

Petro’s foreign policy represents a significant departure from his predecessor Iván Duque who sought to maintain Colombia’s exceptionally close relationship with the United States.

Duque, a protege of far-right former President Álvaro Uribe, faithfully followed Washington’s dictates, backing regime change efforts in neighboring Venezuela, leading to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela in February. 2019. Petro pledged to restore diplomatic relations with Caracas, having previously dispatched his foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, to meet his Venezuelan counterpart Carlos Faría.

In an important test of the new relationship, the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Jorge Rodríguez, called on Colombia to extradite opposition leader Julio Borges for his alleged involvement in the August 4, 2018 assassination attempt on Maduro.

The National Assembly resolution follows the sentencing by a Venezuelan court of 17 people in connection with the incident which was caught on television. Among the alleged participants was former far-right opposition MP Juan Requesens, who was sentenced to 8 years after he confessed to helping bring in the explosive-laden drones used in the attack. Other sentences ranged from 8 to 30 years.

Despite Petro’s wish for a delegation representing the Maduro government to be present, the outgoing Duque denied the possibility due to ideological differences with Caracas.

The ceremony nevertheless counted on the presence of several left-wing presidents from the region, including the Argentinian Alberto Fernández, the Bolivian Lucho Arce and the Honduran Xiomara Castro. The election of 62-year-old Gustavo Petro has been widely seen as the latest in a string of victories at the polls by leftist and progressive leaders in Latin America.

During his address, the former member of the M-19 guerrillas pledged to strengthen ties with the Caribbean and the African continent as well.

Colombia’s new president is widely regarded as the country’s first progressive head of state. His inaugural statement left little doubt the 62-year-old politician’s intention to break with the country’s long-dominant conservative regime.

Along with radically reorienting Colombia’s foreign policy, Petro also promised to fully implement the country’s 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). A fierce critic of the peace accord, former President Duque has been accused of deliberately failing to implement the accords, leading to the murder of hundreds of former combatants and social leaders.

Petro also pledged to push for a series of important reforms to Colombia’s labor, health, education, pension and tax systems.

A major center of cocaine production, Colombia has been at the center of the US-led “war on drugs” that Petro says has claimed one million lives in Latin America over 40 years.

“It’s time for a new international convention that accepts that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed,” he said.

The Colombian president was also sworn into his cabinet, the first gender-balanced government in the country’s history, with Petro promising to tackle gender inequality with his running mate Francia Márquez, the first Afro-Colombian woman elected vice-president. president.

In taking the oath, Márquez said she would “work for Colombian men and women who have been historically excluded, until dignity becomes customary”, invoking a phrase commonly used by social movements across America Latin.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.

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