The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

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As the Casa de Nariño itself has recognized, the president of Colombia and his officials have had problems coordinating their statements and calculating the effect of their statements in public, so they have often had to rectify statements and even contradict each other

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

The president has had to cancel his schedule due to problems speaking out loud. Photo: Colprensa

It may be due to the lack of experience of many of the members of the government or a problem of prudence or coordination of communications, the truth is that public opinion has witnessed a lack of consistency in the statements of Gustavo Petro and his senior officials.

In one hundred days of Petro's term, a minister fell due to a conflict of interest, another had to swallow his words twice, a portfolio manager was accused of economic panic, after which a colleague had to come to his rescue; Diplomatic relations have shown setbacks and a vice president failed to keep her word. The contradictions have been so many and so frequent that the decision was even made to choose a spokesperson who would not reveal the seams: the Minister of the Interior, Alfonso Prada.

This is a compilation of some of the most notable false starts during the beginning of this administration.

Mery Gutiérrez at the ICT Ministry

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

In the image, Mery Gutiérrez, whose appointment as ICT minister was revoked. Photo: private file

The Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies is quite low in the hierarchy of the presidential organization chart: it is not even one of the top ten with priority to receive resources. However, public opinion was very aware of the name of the person who would occupy this portfolio during the mandate of Gustavo Petro.

It is not for less: the period of Iván Duque Márquez, his predecessor, lasted 48 months; but only 16 were enough for the worst scandal that has surrounded this ministry to take place, which had less notoriety in other administrations. During those 16 months, the minister was Karen Abudinen, from Barranquilla, and during her administration, the contract was signed with the Unión Temporal Centros Poblados , for which an advance of 70 billion pesos was made in order to improve the connectivity of boys and girls in peripheral areas. The non-execution of the contract caused a national scandal that ended with his resignation.

Gustavo Petro announced the name of Mery Gutiérrez the same day she was inaugurated, on August 7, through her Twitter account. “Mery Gutiérrez will be the ICT minister. She is a specialist in new information technologies. She will be tasked with taking the technological infrastructure where she hasn't gone before. We will work so that all children and young people enjoy the right to access the Internet,” the president wrote.

However, Gutiérrez's resume had other details that, or did not they fit him in that trill, or they had not been informed when he received it as a quota from the Partido de la U. Being the largest shareholder of Programar TV, Gutiérrez would have several conflicts of interest to assume that position.

The first of these was the nature of the company itself, a television production company that must follow the guidelines of the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC), part of the ICT Ministry. As if that were not enough, Programar TV had filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the predecessor of that entity —the National Television Authority (ANTV)— after having been left out of the bidding process for the third channel.

The pressure of public opinion against this appointment led Petro himself to declare this: “When there is a conflict of interest, the person who does not act in cases where the conflict exists must be declared disabled.”

Finally, on August 23, the first reversal of the Petro government occurred: this appointment was dropped and, instead of Mery Gutiérrez, the lawyer Sandra Urrutia took over.


The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

Irene Vélez, researcher

The Minister of Mines and Energy, Irene Vélez, appears several times in this compilation of false starts. Unlike what happened with Gutiérrez, Petro has strongly defended her decision to choose this philosopher and university professor as the head of the country's energy portfolio. However, some of her comments have been contradicted by Petro or another of her officials.

Last September, Minister Vélez was a speaker in the framework of the National Mining Congress of the Colombian Mining Association (ACM), held in Cartagena. From there, the official assured that it is necessary to demand that other countries in the world “begin to decrease their economic models, because that decrease also depends on us achieving a greater balance and that the impacts of climate change affect us less.”

These statements caused great controversy, to the point that she was accused of creating economic panic. Gustavo Petro supported the minister's statements about him and quoted economists Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Serge Latouche.

The Minister of Finance, José Antonio Ocampo, began to assume a particular role: that of putting out fires. Although he assured that other countries should be asked to make the energy transition “with changes in production and consumption patterns”, he mentioned that this does not cause a decrease.

With the transition countries “are not decreasing,” said Ocampo. There is even additional investment. And better that they grow to contribute to the world economy, but yes, with environmental sustainability”.

Elimination of the Attorney General

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

National Attorney General's Office ( Colprensa-Sergio Acero)

During his presidential campaign, Petro suggested that the Attorney General's OfficeI was being redundant. So, according to his government plan, the Public Ministry would be deconstructed “respecting the system of checks and balances and the balance of powers, for which the duplication of functions, the large, inefficient and expensive national and territorial payrolls must be eliminated.”< /p>

Petro has had many disagreements with the Attorney General's Office, especially with former attorney Alejandro Ordóñez, when the current president was mayor of Bogotá. Although the idea would seem like a rematch, it was well received. Long-standing politicians such as Germán Vargas Lleras and academics such as Rodrigo Uprimny highlighted it at the time.

“We agreed to analyze the bases of a profound justice reform. I was pleasantly surprised that at the moment the only legislative act in which they have an interest is to end the Attorney General's Office,” Vargas Lleras wrote. “In the previous Constitution, it was the only entity that could counterbalance the president and could investigate human rights violations. But that's not the case anymore,” Uprimny noted.

The animosity with respect to the Attorney General's Office diminished during the campaign, since the opposition began to sell the idea that the end of this control entity represented a carte blanche for the Executive branch. Then, the then candidate assured that he would become an anti-corruption prosecutor's office and that his plant workers would not be left helpless.

Finally, the intention ended up dissolved in the orange drink that Petro and the attorney, Margarita Cabello, enjoyed during the breakfast they shared together on September 6. After that meeting, when asked about the proposal, Cabello was able to declare with confidence: “to eliminate the Attorney General's Office by saying that disciplinary functions are passed on to the Prosecutor's Office or to the Judiciary, is to ignore our preventive function.”

Nicaragua, dark brown

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

Absence of Colombia in session of the OAS on Nicaragua unleashes controversy: in the photo, the presidents of Colombia and Nicaragua, Gustavo Petro and Daniel Ortega, respectively. Photos: Colprensa and EFE.

It caused surprise and indignation that there was no representative of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the August 12 session of the permanent council of the Organization of American States (OAS), in which a joint declaration was signed to reject the violations of rights of the Nicaraguan regime, chaired by Daniel Ortega.

After the news program Noticias Caracol sent a right to petition the Foreign Ministry, it responded: “The reasons for which the decision regarding Colombia's non-participation in the permanent council session on August 12 was made are related to sensitive aspects of foreign policy that are of a confidential nature.”

Days later, Daniel Coronell suggested in his column for Cambio that this silence would be related to a negotiation to free 14 political prisoners and claim the rights of traditional fishermen. With this in mind, the decision was made to maintain diplomatic silence regarding the situation in Nicaragua. The decision was criticized by the opposition because it compromised sovereignty: for Iván Duque, it was better to spend a hundred years in litigation than to cede an inch of sea.

No However, this peripheral silence did not last long. On September 14, Colombia ended up signing the declaration along with 45 other countries. Petro's statements have been escalating as the days go by, which could be an indicator that these negotiations did not go as expected.

In fact, during his most recent tour of Europe, Petro responded to the press that “We have a dispute with Ortega, he is taking the sea from us.”

Maduro on the reopening of the border

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, and the Venezuelan Transport Minister, Hipólito Abreu, meet at the Simón Bolívar International Bridge for the commercial reopening of the border, in Cúcuta, Colombia, September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernández Viloria

Another who has had to retract his words has been the controversial Minister of Transportation, Guillermo Reyes —who, by the way, was appointed to that position by Petro as a quota of the Conservative Party, despite a scandal over systematic plagiarism in his academic work and having no experience in the sector.

Reyes was one of the protagonists in the event to reopen the border between Colombia and Venezuela, which took place on Monday, September 26, at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge. However, six days earlier, he spoke too soon and had to back off.

“On the 26th the two presidents, President Nicolás Maduro and our President Gustavo Petro, can, at a point to be determined, surely it will be the Simón Bolívar bridge, where this opening ceremony will take place. (…) What has been said is that the two presidents of our countries will be at the opening ceremony”, the minister said about the event.

However, hours later he had to clarify that the presence of either of the two leaders was not yet certain, especially Maduro: “the issue of President Maduro, the Minister of Transportation (of Venezuela) clarified to me, depends on the commitments of President Maduro , but he intends to be there, but I cannot confirm if he will be there or not,” he told the Blu Radio station.

Maduro had other commitments and the governor was in his place from Táchira state, Freddy Bernal. Petro, for his part, confirmed his presence on the morning of Monday the 26th, for which reason the protocol act was delayed three hours while the president arrived in Cúcuta.

Toll for motorcycles

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's mandate

Meeting of Colombian motorcyclists, before the pandemic (Colprensa – Luisa González)

Minister Reyes himself had to go out and apologize before angering a union with more than ten million members in Colombia: motorcyclists. Reyes had suggested in a trill that high cylinder motorcycles would have to pay to go through the country's toll booths.

“Motorcycles are an instrument of transportation and work for many Colombians. We will promote strategies for the benefit of their road safety and we ratify the commitment of President Gustavo Petro not to charge motorcycles with cylinders of less than 500 cc.”, he wrote in a trill that he later deleted.

After the wave of criticism that this message generated, given that many people use the motorcycle to make fast and low-cost inter-municipal trips, it had to be retracted by the same means.

“The National Government will oppose the initiative to charge motorcycle tolls. We will encourage the use of electric motorcycles in the country. #ElGobiernoDelCambio”, published the minister.

Private pension funds

The departures in false report of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

File photo. People wait in front of an office of the state pension fund Colpensiones in Bogota, Colombia, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Jaime Acosta

One ​​of Gustavo Petro's most controversial proposals in the campaign was the reform to pensions, since he considers that private funds are not a guarantee for the elderly to achieve that benefit and eliminating them seemed more appropriate.

More than a month after taking office, on September 12, Petro assured that a part of the private fund contributions would pass into the hands of Colpensiones, in order to raise funds so that older adults without a pension could receive a draft for half a million pesos within the Colombia Mayor program.

“A bonus that instead of $80,000, becomes $500,000 and makes it possible for the elderly without a pension to overcome the poverty line ”, the president pointed out in his speech from the house in Nariño.

This announcement was interpreted by the opposition as an intention to expropriate the savings of the individual savings scheme with solidarity (RAIS). Therefore, Petro explained how she would implement that idea through Twitter.

“This is not true. The allowances for older adults today without a pension are paid from the national budget, which will acquire a capacity of up to 18 billion per year for this objective because private fund contributors will enter Colpensiones up to a percentage of their contribution”, trilled President Gustavo Petro.< /p>

Pension tax

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of office ace of Gustavo Petro's mandate

President Gustavo Petro and tax reform speakers announced that pension taxes will be removed. Photo: Presidency.

Another of Petro's controversial positions regarding pensions had to do with imposing taxes on those that exceeded ten million pesos. In fact, it was one of his campaign promises.

In the original draft of tax reform that was presented to the Congress of the Republic, from that figure they would begin to “apply the rates for what will now be the new income tax (the table), which start at 0% for the first 1090 UVT,” according to Dian director Luis Carlos Reyes explained to Semana magazine.

This tax was welcomed by Petro voters and by the Finance Minister himself, José Antonio Ocampo. However, the initiative encountered a lot of resistance from the traditional parties that are part of the government bench. They even began to press to vote against the entire reform if that fragment was not withdrawn.

Finally, on October 25, Petro met with the reform speakers and announced that this proposal would be withdrawn from the articles. The news was perceived as a setback by some members of the government caucus and independent congressmen.

The DPS and the Ministry of Equality

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

Cielo Rusinque, new director of the Department for Social Prosperity in the government of Gustavo Petro. Photo: Twitter.

The Ministry of Equality was a campaign promise for voters and for Francia Márquez, who agreed to be his vice-presidential formula with some conditions, including the creation of that portfolio and her appointment as minister there.

The director of the Administrative Department of the Presidency of the Republic (Dapre), Mauricio Lizcano, referred to that ministry on August 8.

“The Ministry of Equality is a campaign commitment and the president said so yesterday during his inauguration, but what is beginning to be sought is not to create more bureaucracy but to transform some of the entities that exist today in the Government, in this case, the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) and others.”

This implied that the DPS —whose mission is to offer guarantees of prosperity to vulnerable Colombians— would be the founding base of the ministry that France would lead. Then, one month after the managers of that entity and the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) were not appointed, it was assumed that France would assume the leadership of the DPS.

That is why it was a scandal that the lawyer Cielo Rusinque was appointed as the director of that entity —also for her profuse defense of people accused of sexual and gender violence, such as the professor of the National University of Colombia, Fabián Sanabria—

At this point the reversal occurred: Petro publicly denied that the DPS was ever merging with the Ministry of Equality. “I did not want the DPS to be the Ministry of Equality because that is like saying that neoliberalism was right and that then equality is built through alms for the poor. We progressive forces have never wanted that.”

However, the project to create the Ministry of Equality has already been filed in the Congress of the Republic and is still waiting to be approved. debated.

Exploitation of hydrocarbons

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

File photo. Employees work next to oil drilling pipes in the Rubiales field, in the department of Meta, Colombia. January 23, 2013. REUTERS/José Miguel Gómez

One of Gustavo Petro's campaign promises was to continue the energy transition in a less subtle and more politically determined way. This position explains the decision not to choose an economist or lawyer with experience in hydrocarbons as Minister of Mines and Energy, but Irene Vélez, whose professional experience is related to the consequences of extraction in the territories of ethnic communities.

With more knowledge in conflict dynamics and environmental deterioration than in economics, Irene Vélez maintained at the beginning of the mandate that the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the territory must end as soon as possible.

The issue is not only It caused a stir because the oil industry is the main source of income for dollars to the country and a generous source of employment. Vélez caused even more stir by pointing out how she hoped to supply the energy demand and from whom she would buy the resource.

For example, despite the recent discoveries of natural gas in the national territory, Vélez said that “the gas transportation connection with Venezuela could be made.” These statements were interpreted as an attempt to cede energy sovereignty to a third party; specifically, the Venezuelan regime, with whom the opposition to the Petro government would prefer no business deals be closed.

The decision that was made initially, then, was not to sign new oil and gas exploration and exploitation contracts, but to honor the agreements already signed. “We will give all the guarantees so that the oil and gas exploration and exploitation contracts are fulfilled. We have never said anything different. Confirmation of this is that since we came to the government, oil and gas production has increased,” said Vélez.

Given these statements, Ocampo has assumed the role of a good policeman to control the volatility of the markets. “There are statements by some colleagues, especially on the subject of oil, which have been the subject of great concern because it is Colombia's main export product,” he declared last October.

Later, the director of Public Credit, José Roberto Acosta, hinted that the Petro government is indeed considering signing new contracts, depending on the fiscal framework in the medium term.

A president of the board of Ecopetrol that lasted 24 hours

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

Archive image. View of the Ecopetrol refinery in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

One ​​move that caused an impact on the stock market was the appointment of a president to the board of directors of Ecopetrolon October 27, and his subsequent dismissal 24 hours later.

In the meeting of the board that day, Carlos Gustavo Cano Sanz had been elected. However, on Friday, October 28, Cano published a letter in which he assured that President Petro was not satisfied with the decision and asked that it be reversed.

“In this regard, I regret to inform you that when this decision of the Board was made public, President Petro raised his voice of protest and disapproval, and, through several of his immediate collaborators, ordered the members of the Board attached to him, and also to those who are not, advance in this morning's session my dismissal as president of the board after 24 hours of my appointment as such”, the letter said.

Instead de Cano was appointed economist Saúl Kattan Cohen, who held a position on Ecopetrol's business committee, is a new member of the board of directors and is close to President Petro.

Minister Ocampo defended the election of Kattan in the Colombian Congress and on social networks: “I support the election of @KattanSaul as President of the Board of Directors of @Ecopetrol. His professionalism guarantees that the oil company advances towards a responsible transition that allows the economic growth of the company and the fiscal stability of the country”, wrote the head of portfolio.

Dismantling of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

This is how the opposition reacted to the government from Gustavo Petro to the clearing of Esmad. Photo: Colprensa

The Mobile Riot Squad (Esmad) of the National Police has been one of the most controversial police forces since its creation due to the large number of complaints about abuse of force, injuries and even murders in the midst of social protests. For this reason, one of the proposals that propelled Petro to the presidency was to dismantle this command.

However, in practice no measures have been taken to dismantle that force. The first sign that there is no interest in doing so in the short term occurred, naturally, when a commander was appointed for this available force: Colonel José Luis Ramírez Hinestroza.

In addition, the director of the National Police, Major General Henry Sanabria Cely, has made statements that would be more aimed at reforming it than abolishing it.

In an interview for Blu Radio, General Sanabria pointed out that Esmad would become “a Unit for Dialogue and Accompaniment of the Demonstration. We are working on it, with the purpose of giving a twist to what Esmad was. (…) The commitment continues, not only with Senator Bolívar (Gustavo), but with the entire bench that is supporting this purpose of improving the units that control riots and disturbances”.

In addition, after the massive phenomenon of land occupation began, Defense Minister Iván Velásquez gave signs that the government is not entirely convinced to take the step of dismantling Esmad.

Article against press freedom

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

BOGOTA. Before the plenary session of the Senate, where he was summoned to talk about the prison crisis, the Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna, announced that a reform to reduce sentences will be presented (Colprensa-Prensa Senado).

One of the last scandals of this beginning of the mandate was related to the criminal policy reform promoted by the Petro government. The journalist Darcy Quinn revealed the text of a draft that, in her opinion, would violate the freedom of the press. Said article would force the media of all formats to present content related to the humanization of criminal policy.

The draft stated: “From the effective date of this law, the written press, radio broadcasting stations and television programmers operating in the country must carry out campaigns aimed at generating a change in citizen awareness about the humanization of criminal policy, the creation of opportunities and the potential of restorative justice.”

The same article said that the media themselves were able to build this content, “but for its dissemination they must be submitted to the approval of the Higher Council for Criminal Policy.” In addition, its effective dissemination would be monitored by the ICT Ministry.

When the Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna, was consulted about this article, he assured that the government of Virgilio Barco imposed a similar one on drug-related content and is still current.

“It says that the written media, television, radio, communication, have the obligation to campaign to avoid drug trafficking and prevent consumption and drug addiction and that the contents, or can be taken, of the media made by the Government or the it can be done by the media itself, but in that case it requires the approval of the National Narcotics Council,” Osuna explained to the Blu Radio station.

In any case, the minister explained that it is just a draft that is already out of date and whose improved version will be presented in March -changing the verb they should for they can in the mentioned article to avoid problems.

Days without VAT

The false starts of the President and his ministers during the first 100 days of Gustavo Petro's term

Bogotá, June 19, 2020. Long lines in stores in Bogotá on the day without VAT. Location: Success Villa Mayor South Highway. (Colprensa – Camila Díaz)

The end of the year season is approaching and with it Christmas shopping. The administration of Iván Duque established three days in which certain purchases would be exempt from paying value added tax (VAT), but the Petro government objected from the beginning to the famous days without VAT.

In fact, in his tax reform the possibility of eliminating them completely was raised, since they stimulated the purchase of imported products over national ones. In addition, since it is not a discount but a tax exemption, these days affect the nation's coffers.

This decision was criticized mainly by the merchant sector, since it people were encouraged to buy more during the crisis prior to the economic recovery. So, their sales increased during those days and they already had the inventory ready for the last day without VAT of 2022, scheduled for December 2.

However, in the document of the reform, these days were not completely prohibited. Instead, it was proposed that merchants carry them out optionally from 2023 —although no further details have been provided on how that figure would work— and the day of December 2 will be done anyway.