On August 7, 2022, Progressive International Council member Gustavo Petro became the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia. Here, Petro’s full inaugural address is translated into English for the first time.
To arrive here undoubtedly involves a life journey. An immense life that is never traveled alone. My mother Clara is here; nothing would exist in my mind at this moment without her. My father Gustavo, of the Caribbean, is here, and so are my siblings, Adriana and Juan, who put up with me. My children are also here: Nicolás Petro, Nicolás Alcocer, Andrea and Andrés, and Sofía and Antonella, my little ones whose hearts and souls are blossoming. And so is Verónica Alcocer, my companion, who has given me children and so the gift of life itself. Her love has made everything possible. She is here not only to accompany me but also to accompany the women of Colombia in their efforts to move forward, to create, to fight, to exist; to overcome violence inside and outside the family; to build the politics of love.
The people, just as they have been on the journey of my existence, are also here. The humble hands of the worker, the peasant women, and those who sweep the streets. The hearts of labor are here and the dreams of those who suffer; so are the working women who embrace me when I falter, when I feel weak; and love for the people, for those who suffer and are excluded. All of this has brought me here to unite and build a nation.
This is how One Hundred Years of Solitude by our beloved Gabriel García Márquez ends: “Everything written there was, and has and always will be, unrepeatable because the lineages condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second chance on earth.”
Many times in our history, we Colombians have been condemned to the impossible, to the lack of opportunities, to a resounding “No.” I want to tell all Colombians who are listening to me in Plaza Bolívar, in the surrounding areas, throughout Colombia and abroad, that our second chance begins today. We have earned it. You have earned it. Your effort was and will be worth it. It is time for change. Our future is not already written. We hold the pen, and we can write it together, in peace and unity. Today, a Colombia of possibilities begins.
We are here against all odds, against history that said we would never govern, against the same old people, against those who did not want to let go of power. But we did it. We made the impossible possible. With work, by traveling and listening, with ideas, with love, with effort. As of today, we begin work on making more of the impossible become possible in Colombia. If we made it here, we will make peace possible.
We must end, once and for all, six decades of violence and armed conflict — in fact, I would say, two centuries of permanent war, of eternal war, of perpetual war in Colombia. It can be done. We will comply with the peace agreement, we will follow the recommendations of the Truth Commission Report, which tells us of the deaths of 800,000 Colombians, the majority of them humble people. We cannot continue living in this nation of death; we must now build a nation of life, and we will work tirelessly to bring peace and tranquility to every corner of Colombia. This is the government of life, of peace, and it will be remembered as such. Peace is possible if we establish social dialogue in all regions of Colombia, so we can meet in the midst of our differences, so we can express ourselves and be heard, so we can find, through reason, the common paths to coexistence.
It is society as a whole that must initiate a dialogue about how we might stop killing each other and how to advance. In the binding regional dialogues, we call on all unarmed people to find the paths to coexistence within their territories. No matter what conflicts there may be, our task is to express them in words, to find solutions through reason. I propose more democracy and more participation to put an end to this violence. But we also call on all armed groups to lay down their arms in the shroud of the past, to accept legal benefits in exchange for peace, in exchange for a definitive halt to the violence, and to work as owners of a prosperous but legal economy that will put an end to the underdevelopment of the regions.
For peace to be possible in Colombia, we need dialogue, a lot of dialogue; we need to understand each other, to look for common ways forward, to produce changes. Of course peace is possible if we change. The policy on drugs, for example, must be seen as a war for a strong preventative policy for drug consumption in developed societies.
It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the “war on drugs” has failed — and failed resoundingly; that it has led to the murder of a million Latin Americans — the majority of them Colombian — over the past forty years, and that it causes 70,000 Americans to die of drug overdoses every year; that the war on drugs has strengthened the mafias and weakened our governments.
The war on drugs has led states to commit crimes — our state has committed crimes — and it has blurred the horizon of democracy. Are we going to wait for another million Latin Americans to be murdered and 200,000 overdose deaths in the United States each year? Are we going to wait for another forty years and for another million Latin Americans to die of homicide and 2,800,000 North Americans to die of an overdose? Or rather, do we exchange failure for success that will allow Colombia and Latin America to live in peace?
The time has come to change the anti-drug policy in the world, so that it guarantees life and does not generate death. They keep telling us that they want to support us in peace — they tell us again and again in all their speeches. So they must change the anti-drug policy that is in their hands — the world powers, the United Nations. They have the power to do it.
May equality become possible. Just 10 percent of the Colombian population owns 70 percent of the wealth. This is absurd and amoral. We must not naturalize inequality and poverty. We must not look the other way; let us not be accomplices. Through determination, redistribution, and a program of justice, we will make Colombia more egalitarian and create more opportunities for all. Equality is possible if we are able to create wealth for all and if we are able to distribute it more fairly. That is why we propose an economy based on production, work, and knowledge. And that is why we propose a tax reform that produces justice.
It is not true that the world is equal. It is not true that in most countries of the world, this social inequality that we have in Colombia exists. We are one of the most socially unequal societies on planet Earth. And it is an aberration that we cannot sustain if we want to be a nation, if we want to live in peace.
To take a part of the wealth of the people who have the most and earn the most, to open the doors of education to all children and young people, should not be seen as a punishment or a sacrifice. It is simply a solidarity payment that someone who is fortunate makes to a society that allows and guarantees their fortune. If we are able to bring a part of the wealth that is created to undernourished children through something as simple as paying regular taxes, we will be more fair, and we will be more peaceful.
It is more than a matter of charity; it is a matter of human solidarity. Solidarity is what has allowed nations to survive and achieve the greatest cultural and civilizational advances. Humanity has not made progress by competing; we have done so by helping one another. That is why we are alive on this planet. We will be equal when those who have most pay their taxes with pleasure, with pride, knowing that they will help their fellow boy, girl, baby, young man or woman to grow healthily, to think, to live fulfilled by the nutrition and education of the brain and the soul. Solidarity is the tax paid by those who can afford it and the state expenditure that goes to those who need it during their childhood, their youth, or their old age. The expenditure of the state is not for political mafias; it is for the people of the nation.
That is why we have proposed tax reform, health and pension reform, labor contract reform, and education reform. That is why we have prioritized investment in education, health, drinking water, irrigation districts, and local road infrastructure in our budget. Taxes will not be confiscatory; they will simply be fair for a country that must recognize the enormous social inequality in which we live as an aberration, for a state that must protect transparent expenditures, and for a society that deserves to live in peace.
To be a society of knowledge — a society where all members have the highest level of schooling and culture — is not a utopia. Nations that were poorer than ours just decades ago are now societies of knowledge only because they have prioritized investment in public education. The time has come to repay the debt we owe to our public education system to make it the highest quality and accessible to all.
The time has come for us to acknowledge that hunger is advancing. It is advancing throughout the world because the idea of food security based exclusively on international trade has collapsed. International trade in itself is neither positive nor negative, but if not managed intelligently and planned, it can destroy economies and lives. The world today is learning the importance of food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty is the guarantee that every society must have enough in order to consume its essential nutrition. Colombia is a country that must and can enjoy food sovereignty to achieve zero hunger. A mission of the state — with any support that the private sector may wish to provide — must be to guarantee the full and healthy nutrition of the entire Colombian society and achieve export surpluses.
In this land where human beings discovered corn, we must produce corn again. The state will have to provide irrigation, credits, techniques, improved seeds, and protection. The peasantry and private enterprise can provide the work and daily commitment to ensure that our fields once again produce the food that our people need. We will once again build irrigation districts with the army and rural houses and roads with the soldiers of the homeland. Army, society, and economic production can unite in a new indestructible social ethic.
Our helicopters, airplanes, and frigates not only serve to bomb or shoot. They also serve to create the first infrastructure for the preventive health of the Colombian people. Only if we produce will we be rich and prosperous as a society. Wealth is in labor, and labor is, ever more, the work of intelligence. That is why, as of today, all of the assets in forfeiture from the SAE (Special Assets Society) will become the basis of a new productive economy administered by peasant organizations, by urban cooperatives of young workers, and by popular women’s associations.
May gender equality become possible. We cannot continue to allow women to have fewer job opportunities and earn less than men, to have to devote three or four times as many hours to caregiving and to be underrepresented in our institutions. It is time to fight all these inequalities and level the scales.
May the green future become possible. Climate change is a reality. And it is urgent. Neither the Left nor the Right say so — science says so.
We have to and can find a model that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. There will only be a future if we balance our lives and the world’s economy with nature. Science has announced the possible extinction of the human species in just one or two centuries due to the health effects of the climate crisis. The COVID virus gave the whole of humanity a real and vivid warning of this possibility. Science does not seem to be wrong. That is why, from this Colombia, we ask the world for action and not hypocrisy.
We are willing to move to an economy without coal and oil, but we are not helping humanity very much by doing so. We are not the ones emitting greenhouse gases. It is the wealthy of the world who do so, bringing human beings closer to extinction, but we do have the largest absorption sponge of these gases after the oceans: the Amazon rainforest. One of the pillars of climate balance and life on the planet is the Amazon rainforest. Are we going to let this rainforest be destroyed to reach the point of no return in the extinction of humanity? Or are we going to save it with humanity itself that wants to continue living on this earth? Where is the global fund to save the Amazon rainforest?
Speeches will not save it. We can convert the entire population that inhabits the Colombian Amazon into a population that cares for the rainforest today, but we need the world’s funds to do so. If it is so difficult to get the money that carbon taxes and climate funds should grant to save something so essential, then I propose an exchange of foreign debt for domestic spending to save and recover our jungles, forests, and wetlands for humanity. Reduce foreign debt, and we will spend the surplus to save human life. If the IMF [International Monetary Fund] helps to exchange debt for concrete action against the climate crisis, we will have a new, prosperous economy and a new life for humanity. No more “it can’t be done” and “it has always been this way.”
Today, a Colombia of possibilities begins. Today, our second chance begins. As of today, I am the president of all Colombia and of all Colombians, and this is my duty and my hope.
Colombia is not only Bogotá. The government of change will be decentralized. I promise you that we will be present and work throughout the country, from Leticia to Punta Gallinas, from Cabo Manglares to Isla San José. The absence of the state in many parts of the country hurts a lot. No more. I am going to work so that your place of birth does not condition your future and so that the state is present in every corner of Colombia. I am grateful for the presence of presidents and other representatives of the brother peoples of Latin America and the world.
In times when we see sister nations bombing each other, here, in the heart of Colombia, in the heart of Latin America, there are a dozen regional presidents, with ideological diversity and different backgrounds, but all are united in sharing this true celebration of democracy. It is time to leave behind the blocs, groups, and ideological differences to work together. Let us understand once and for all that what unites us is much more than what separates us, and that together we are stronger. May we realize the unity dreamed of by our heroes, such as [Simón] Bolívar, [José de] San Martín, [José Gervasio] Artigas, [Antonio José de] Sucre, and [Bernardo] O’Higgins.
It is not utopia or romanticism. It is the way to become strong in this complex world. If we can channel the power of knowledge, the power of the economy, the power of coexistence, the voice of Latin America will be heard in the great concert of peoples of the world.
Today we need to be more joined and united than ever. As Bolívar once said, “Unity must save us, just as division will destroy us if it is introduced among us.” May the division of Latin America come to an end. But Latin American unity cannot be just rhetoric, a mere discourse. We have just lived through perhaps the worst of the COVID pandemic, and Latin America was not able to come together to coordinate, to buy the cheapest vaccines; it was practically exploited without negotiation capacity, dispersed in its governments.
Are we going to have a Latin America with no capacity for scientific research, a Latin America with no capacity to coordinate its health services, with no capacity to coordinate the purchase of medicines in a unified way? Latin America is united by some institutions but not by concrete projects. Have we achieved the connection of all our electrical networks? Is there an electrical network that covers all of America? Have we managed to make our energy sources clean? Is it not time to encourage public oil companies and our electrical transmission companies to build the Latin American business and financial instrument that will encourage investments in the generation of clean energies and in the transmission of that energy on a continental scale? Colombia will put its international emphasis on reaching the most ambitious agreements possible to curb climate change and defend world peace.
We are not for war. We are for life. We will seek greater alliances with Africa, where we come from; we will seek an alliance of black peoples in the Americas; we will strive for San Andrés to be a health, cultural, and educational center of the Antillean Caribbean; and that is where all the ambassadors of Colombia for the Antilles will come from. We will seek an alliance with the Arab world on the road to move toward the new decarbonized economies.
We will seek to join our Buenaventura and our Tumaco with rich and productive East Asia. Our anthem, which is one of the most beautiful in the world, says “feel or suffer.” Colombia has accumulated centuries of suffering. A mother who cannot feed her child suffers. A young man who emigrates because he cannot find opportunities suffers. A grandmother or grandfather who does not have a decent pension suffers.
The Colombia we dream of, the Colombia we want, the Colombia we deserve is the Colombia we want to feel. The Colombia that vibrates, that strives, that yearns and works to achieve peace; that wants a prosperous land, with equal possibilities regardless of place of birth, regardless of parents’ surnames or skin color. That is the Colombia we want to feel and will work for until the last day of our mandate. In this first speech as president of Colombia, before the legislative branch and before my people, I would like to share the ten-point program of my government and my commitments.
- I will work to achieve true and definitive peace: like no one else, like never before. We will comply with the peace agreement and follow the recommendations of the report of the Truth Commission. The “government of life” is the “government of peace.” Peace is the meaning of my life; it is the hope of Colombia. We cannot fail Colombian society. The dead deserve it. The living need it. Life must be the basis of peace: a just and safe life; a life to live “sabroso,” to live happily, so that happiness and progress are our identity.
- I will care for our grandfathers and grandmothers, for our children, for people with disabilities, for people whom history or society has marginalized. We will make a “policy of care” so that no one is left behind. We are a caring society that cares and cares for others. May your government do the same. We will make a policy sensitive to the suffering and pain of others, with tools and solutions to create equality.
- I will govern with and for the women of Colombia. Today, here, we begin a government with gender parity with a ministry of equality. Finally! With our vice president and minister, Francia Márquez, we are going to work so that gender does not determine how much you earn or how you live. We want real equality and security so that Colombian women can walk peacefully and not fear for their lives.
- I will dialogue with everyone, without exceptions or exclusions. This will be an open-door government for anyone who wants to discuss Colombia’s problems — whatever their name is, wherever they come from. The important thing is not where we come from but where we are going. We are united by our desire for the future, not by the weight of the past. We are going to build a Great National Accord to set the roadmap for Colombia in the coming years. Dialogue will be my method, agreements my goal.
- I will listen to Colombians, as I have done for years. We do not govern from a distance, far from the people and disconnected from their realities. On the contrary, we govern by listening. We are going to design mechanisms and dynamics so that all Colombians feel heard in this government. I will not be trapped in the curtains of bureaucracy. I will be close to the problems. I will walk alongside and together with Colombians from all corners of the country. Only those who are present can understand and put themselves in the place of the other.
- I will defend Colombians from violence, and I will work so that families feel safe and at ease. We will do so with a comprehensive security strategy. Colombia needs a strategy that goes from prevention programs to the prosecution of criminal structures and the modernization of the security forces. Lives saved will be our main indicator of success. Security is measured in lives, not in deaths. When security is measured in deaths, that leads the state to commit crime. And this state will not stand for heinous crime. This state is a social state of law. Crime is fought in many ways. All of them are essential. I want to defend Colombian families from daily and everyday insecurity — be it from machista violence or any other violence.
- I will fight corruption with a firm hand and without hesitation — a government of “zero tolerance.” We will recover what was stolen, we will be vigilant so that it does not happen again, and we will transform the system to discourage this type of practice. Not family, not friends, not colleagues, not collaborators — no one is excluded from the weight of the law, from the commitment against corruption, and from my determination to fight against it. From now on, the state intelligence corps will not persecute the political opposition, nor the free press, nor the judiciary, nor those who think differently. Today, the main objective of the state intelligence corps is to locate and fight corruption.
- I will protect our soil and subsoil, our seas and rivers, our air and sky. Our landscapes define us and fill us with pride. And for that reason, I will not allow the greed of a few to put our biodiversity at risk. We will confront the uncontrolled deforestation of our forests and promote the development of renewable energies. Colombia will be a world power of life. Planet Earth is the common home of human beings. And Colombia, from its enormous natural wealth, will lead this fight for planetary life.
- I will develop national industry, the popular economy, and the Colombian countryside. We will prioritize the peasant woman, the woman of the popular economy, the micro, small, and medium entrepreneurs of Colombia. But our invitation is to produce, to work, to be aware that we will only be a rich society if we work, and that work — more and more in the twenty-first century — is a property of the knowledge of the brain, of human intelligence. We will accompany and support all those who work hard for Colombia: the farmer who rises at dawn, the artisan who keeps our culture alive, the entrepreneur who creates jobs. We need everyone to grow and redistribute wealth. Science, culture, and knowledge are the fuel of the twenty-first century. We are going to develop a society of knowledge and technology.
- I will comply with our constitution. As stated in Article I: “Colombia is a social State under the rule of law, organized as a unitary, decentralized Republic, with autonomy of its territorial entities, democratic, participatory and pluralistic, founded on respect for human dignity, on the work and solidarity of the people who make it up and on the prevalence of the general interest.” We will also develop a new legal framework to make our development sustainable, fair, and egalitarian.
The law, as Paolo Flores d’Arcais says, is the power of those who have no power. We need better laws, new laws at the service of the great majorities, and to guarantee their compliance. I am very confident that the debates in our legislative assemblies will be fruitful and offer results for Colombian society. There is a lot of work to do, and I have full confidence in our representatives.
And finally, I will unite Colombia. We will unite, among all of us, our beloved Colombia. We have to put an end to the division that confronts us as a people. I do not want two countries, just as I do not want two societies. I want a strong, just, and united Colombia. The challenges we face as a nation demand a period of unity and basic consensus. It is our responsibility.
I conclude here with what an Arhuaca child said to me in the ancestral possession ceremony we did on Friday in “the heart of the world,” as the children of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta call it:
In order to harmonize life, to unify the peoples, to heal humanity — feeling the pain of my people, of my people here — may this message of light and truth spread through your veins and through your heart and become acts of forgiveness and global reconciliation, but first in our hearts and in my heart.
Children of Colombia, we have a second chance under the heavens of the earth. Thank you.
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