On September 21, Gustavo Petro announced that he is working on a joint statement with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop the war in Ukraine.
“Peace negotiations are needed. There is an escalation of the conflict. We are not [in favor of] any international aggression,” said the President of Colombia at a New York City forum titled ‘Latin America, the United States and Spain in the global economy,’ an event organized by EL PAÍS and the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Petro attended the event the day after his speech before the UN General Assembly, where he declared the failure of the war on drugs and the fight against climate change.
Since coming to power in August, he had not spoken in depth about the invasion of Ukraine. But now he has joined López Obrador’s peace project, proposed by a UN committee, which hopes to declare at least a five-year-long truce between Ukraine and Russia.
The proposal, offered up in the midst of the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian troops, was immediately rejected by Kyiv. An adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky said that the peace plan would give Moscow time to renew its reserves and launch a new offensive. “It’s a Russian plan,” he concluded.
Petro ignored this criticism, announcing that he is in contact with the president of Mexico to promote the initiative. Interviewed by Jan Martínez Ahrens, director of EL PAÍS América, the Colombian President said that there are no “good or bad invasions,” avoiding a direct condemnation of Russia.
Regarding the resistance that he has encountered in his first weeks in office, Petro noted that Colombia has suffered a lot from sectarian violence and that politicians have a responsibility not to generate a climate of violence with their statements.
“A ruler must be very careful with every word.”
The leftist Petro has appointed ministers from across the political spectrum… some even hail from the Conservative Party. Former President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-18) said in a recent interview with EL PAÍS that the Petro administration was well oriented, although it lacked rigor and a clear narrative.
“It’s a valid criticism because we don’t have a single narrative, [we have] diversity,” Petro replied, avoiding a criticism of Santos.
Petro arrived in New York with a strong message against US anti-drug policy. His message to the General Assembly was one of the most forceful that a Latin American leader has given in the last decade. Tonight, at a dinner at the Museum of Natural History, he will personally raise the issue with President Joe Biden – he wants to convince the American President to transfer all money destined for the fight against the drug cartels to the care of the Amazon rainforest. Petro will encounter much resistance, since the Drug War is a deeply rooted policy in Washington, which has the backing of powerful and influential agencies such as the DEA.
However, the Colombian president says that he has found “a more open mentality” in the US government. His intention is to change the direction of the discussion on drugs towards “a different axis, that of the climate crisis.” He recalls that, together with the United States, the first military unit dedicated exclusively to putting out fires in the Amazon was created. It utilizes several Black Hawk helicopters that would have previously been used in the internal war that Colombia has been engaged in for more than 50 years.
Petro is convinced that now is the time to achieve what he refers to as “total peace” – the disarmament and surrender of all armed actors in the country. Right now, he explains, there are no organizations as large as Pablo Escobar’s cartel at its peak. Rather, there are small cells that operate independently.
“All these [criminal] organizations… have sent letters to the government asking to open talks. [They wish] to negotiate legal benefits with the justice system so that they stop their activity.”
Ahrens asked Petro why he wanted to seek the mediation of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro in the negotiations with the ELN, the last active insurgent group in Colombia. He responded that he is picking up the process in the same place where Santos left it, which had the support of Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil to disarm the FARC in 2016.
“[Venezuela] played a positive role that is not always recognized.”