Gustavo Petro gave the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, perhaps the most vehement speech that a Colombian president has offered in that prominent space of international deliberation.
The economist, former guerrilla fighter and former mayor of Bogotá, who took office less than two months ago, accused developed countries of the destruction of the Amazon, questioned the exploitation of natural resources and proposed an end to the war on drugs.
Some critics and members of the opposition, however, questioned the speech for its divisive nature and the absence of concrete plans on how the president hopes to change these problems with joint action by countries. Many fear that the vehemence of the gesture could isolate the country in the international community.
Minutes after the intervention, however, Petro met with John Kerry, United States High Commissioner for Climate, to discuss issues of peace and climate change.
With a poetic language full of mordacity, Petro appealed to his history of forceful speeches in the Colombian Congress, through which he built a political career based on the denunciation of the violation of human rights and corruption.
For the old tradition of attachment to the diplomacy of the Colombian presidents, Petro’s speech represents a break comparable to his very arrival in power, which is considered the first by a leftist in the country’s history.
In the past, leaders such as Juan Manuel Santos and Ernesto Samper have questioned the war on drugs, arguing that no country like Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer for decades, has been so affected by it.
However, Petro’s vehemence, full of accusations against the capitalist development model, sounds unprecedented for a country that has always preferred politically correct diplomacy to impetuous denunciation.
These are three sentences that summarize the axes of Petro’s speech.
“I come from a country of bloody beauty”
“I come from one of the three most beautiful countries on Earth,” Petro noted as he began his speech.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and the first if measured in relation to the size of its territory. The country has access to two oceans, three mountain ranges, hundreds of paramos and a significant portion of the Amazon.
“There is an explosion of life there. Thousands of multicolored species in the seas, in the skies, on the land. I come from the land of yellow butterflies and magic. There in the mountains and valleys of all greens, not only the abundant waters go down, but also the torrents of blood”.
“I come from a country of bloody beauty,” Petro said.
Indeed, Colombia has been the scene of one of the longest and most complex armed conflicts in the world, which generated one of the largest internal displacements humanity has ever seen, with eight million people affected.
The condition of a privileged country while condemned was the axis of Petro’s speech at the UN.
The defense of biodiversity and the fight against climate change are central points on Petro’s government agenda.
«My country interests them only to throw poisons into their jungles, take their men to jail and throw their women into exclusion»
That said, Petro blamed the economic policies of developed countries for the devastation of the Amazon rainforest, considered the lung of the world in the face of the threat of global warming.
«The jungle burns, gentlemen, while you make war and play with it. The jungle, the climatic pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The great sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates,” Petro said.
An average of 1.5% of the protected territory of Colombia has been deforested each year during the last decade due to the lack of controls of extensive cattle ranching and African palm companies.
Petro assures that the Colombian State can do little about it without an international consensus to stop these extractive economies. In addition, it accuses the traditional Colombian political elite of acting in concert with developed countries that supposedly see biodiversity as an obstacle to development.
«The savior forest is seen in my country as the enemy to defeat, as the undergrowth to be extinguished. The space of coca and of the peasants who cultivate it, because they have nothing else to cultivate, is demonized».
The coca leaf, native to the Amazonian Andes, is considered an ancestral plant for hundreds of communities and its medicinal exploitation is growing.
“Which is more poisonous for humanity: cocaine, coal or oil? The opinion of power has ordered that cocaine is poison and must be prosecuted, so that it only causes minimal deaths by overdose. Instead, coal and oil must be protected, so their use can extinguish all of humanity,” Petro said.
“I demand that you end the irrational war on drugs”
All this culminated in a fierce demand by Petro to end the so-called war on drugs, promoted by the United States government since 1971.
“From here, from my wounded Latin America, I demand that you end the irrational war on drugs,” requested Petro, who since his inaugural speech as president in August called for addressing the drug problem as one of public health in place of security and defense.
“Reducing drug use does not need wars, it needs us all to build a better society: a more supportive, more affectionate society, where the intensity of life saves us from addictions and the new slaveries.”
“Do they want less drugs?” asked the president. «Think of less profit and more love. Think of a rational exercise of power.
And from that, the Colombian president pronounced perhaps the harshest accusation of his speech: «We serve them to excuse the emptiness and loneliness of their own society that lead them to live in the midst of drug bubbles. We hide from them their problems that they refuse to reform.”
“It is better to declare war on the jungle, its plants, its people,” he said ironically.