Petro and Uribe meet after Colombians protest tax reform


A day after tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets in protest against new tax reform legislation being presented to Congress by the government of President Gustavo Petro, as well as proposals to overhaul the nation’s pension and health systems, the country’s first leftist President met with his political adversary, former President Álvaro Uribe.

Accompanied by Minister of Interior Alfonso Prada, and two of Uribe’s closest lawmakers, Senator Miguel Uribe Turbay and Representative Óscar Darío Pérez, the meeting inside the Presidential Palace lasted an hour and second time – since President Petro took office on August 7 – that both leaders have sat down to privately exchange words and opinions.

“We have to help build this country from the opposition, from where we are most effective,” remarked the former President. The meeting between the hard right politician and former M-19 guerrilla was described by both parties as cordial, productive and frank. Petro posted a photograph on his Twitter feed, stating: “We talked without problems. To talk is human. To talk builds civilizations.”

Senator Miguel Uribe of Centro Democrático Party, and one of Petro’s most vocal critics, thanked the President for hosting the meeting: “First of all, I want to recognize the space that President Petro gave us. I want to say that we spoke frankly about the concerns that represent a large portion of the electorate,” he said. Uribe Turbay was one of the organizers of Monday’s anti-government protests. “Regarding the tax reform, we expressed our concerns that it will discourage investment and put more than 2 million jobs at risk.”

With another day of nationwide protests planned for October 24, President Petro is attempting to appease his political opponents, while at the same time, forging ahead with far-reaching reforms that will impose more taxes on middle-to-upper incomes, as well as raise the corporate taxation rate. A recent surcharge of COP$200 pesos per gallon of gasoline, and that will be increased by the same amount over the next three months, will add extra pressure to rising inflation and food prices.

The opening on Monday of the land border with Venezuela to cargo has been largely well-received by the country’s industrial and manufacturing sectors, who believe Colombia will boost its exports to a nation in dire need of imported goods and willing to pay for them with its oil-based economy. “Maduro wants to ‘cash out’ and Petro is offering him a way to abandon power in a way that suits the interests of Latin America’s left,” believes columnist Jorge Hernán Pelaez.

“Petro wants to position himself as the architect of regional integration, and reconstruction of the Bolivarian failed state,” believes Pelaez. But before Petro can consolidate his vision of a “common market” he must first reach for consensus at home, and consensus that starts with finding common ground with a man who commands a large electoral base and political legacy.