Petro’s claim US “ruins world economies” gets response

President Gustavo Petro in Colombia's Urabá/Andrea Puentes/Presidencia

It’s been a week of conflicting narratives for President Gustavo Petro, beginning with his petition to the US Government to end tourism visa requirements for Colombians wanting to the visit the country up to six months. The petition, which appears reasonable, was followed by a public discourse in the town of Turbo, Antioquia, where the leftist leader left no doubt as to who is responsible for the rapid devaluation of the Colombian peso.

“The United States is ruining the world’s economies,” remarked Petro during his visit to a border community within range of the Darien Gap, and used as a transfer stop for thousands of Venezuelan and Haitian migrants. “That country (the US) doesn’t want you. To stop this exodus, which passes through here, we must achieve more prosperity in our own nations,” he affirmed to a cheering crowd. “Due to the size of the US economy, it can destroy Latin American economies, but also help them.”

As if still on the campaign trail, more than three months since he took office, Petro’s looming “world economic crisis” is being fueled by the US Federal Reserve with a string of interest rate hikes, and which, according to the leftist President, is “emptying the coffers of Latin American nations.”

Petro’s affirmation was met with a response from the US government, in which US Ambassador-in-charge, Francisco Palmieri, stated during a press conference in Bogotá: “We must not think about where to lay the blame. We must focus on how to work together to improve and foster the development necessary for economic growth.”

The diplomat’s subtle – yet direct – response to Petro occurred on the same day, the Colombian peso broke a new record high to the US dollar, and on course to close the week at COP$5,000 to the greenback. Despite the start of formal negotiations to explore the possibility of the eliminating the US travel visa for Colombia, Palmieri highlighted that the process “will take a long time,” or as in the case of the UK, several administrations.

While Petro would want the US to fast-track the elimination of entry visas, his affirmation that “the US is ruining world economies,” does not advance what to many in the US government is unrealistic, ambitious and a “long-shot” given the constant flow of migrants heading the US’s southern border.  Petro then called on Colombians to “not send money overseas en masse,” given “opportunities that exist in the country,” and therein recognizing the constant capital outflows that have devalued the peso almost 25% in three months – equivalent to the rate of devaluation during four years of President Iván Duque’s term.

Mentioning the looming energy crisis in Europe, Petro claims that “the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Europeans, have unleashed a war on their own continent over gas, and for energy,” clearly skewing the fact that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine. With a revisionist interpretation of recent events, and telling his political base that “the US takes decisions to protect themselves, often without thinking of how these affect others,” Petro is hardly calming investor jitters over the economic stability – and viability – of the country.

This, compounded by a slew of mixed messages between Minister of Finance José Antonio Ocampo and Minister of Mines Iréne Vélez over the future of oil and gas exploration in the country. Critical issue that shouldn’t even be in the public debate as natural resource dependent nations face economic slowdown, or deep recession, in 2023.