Investiture of New President, Vice-President
and Francia Márquez, elected as Colombia's new president and
vice president on June 19, were officially sworn in on August 7. The
ceremony took place in Bogotá's Bolívar Square
before thousands of cheering supporters, invited guests and members of
the public. Both were also sworn in symbolically by representatives of
the peoples' forces during the days leading up to the official
In By Peoples' Movements
At an ancestral ceremony in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta on Colombia's Caribbean coast, Arhuaco spiritual leaders gave the president-elect a mandate to govern well and presented him with a traditional wooden staff (bastón de mando) symbolizing the authority and trust vested in him.
Petro and Márquez also took part in a "popular and spiritual swearing-in" in a Bogotá Park organized by representatives of Colombia's Indigenous, Afrodescendent, and other diverse peoples' movements, peasant organizations and other social movements. The objective, organizers said, was to "fertilize the ground for the construction and constitution of a people's power that allows the practical exercise of political, economic and cultural sovereignty to be within reach of all." A "people’s mandate" was read out to them that called on Petro and Márquez to defend life, guarantee dignified living conditions for all, protect the natural environment, go for total peace in the country and make a drastic change in the policy on drugs, among other things.
In her remarks to those gathered, Márquez said the hope for change lay not with Petro and her, but in the organized people staying active. Together we face the challenge, which will not be easy, she said, of refounding the nation so that a new one emerges centred on life and peace.
Petro said his government's role
would not be to replace or co-opt the organized people, who must retain
their autonomy as well as organize the power to ensure the mandate they
give the president they elect is carried out. Building a Colombia of
peace and justice depends on the strength and the capacity of the
people's social movements, he said.
Official Ceremony in Public Square
The day of the official swearing in, people packed Bolívar Square to capacity and filled nearby streets as well as other squares and public spaces around the city where concerts by Colombian musical artists and cultural performances of other types took place all day. Giant screens were erected in many places so people could watch the performances and celebrations taking place around the country as well as the events in Bolívar Square on live television. Busloads of people arrived from all over the country during the week, including many from Indigenous territories and regions where most of the population is of African descent -- places that Vice President Márquez has called forgotten parts of the country -- to join in celebrating the victory they actively contributed to.
The public ceremony in Bolívar Square was designed to be a popular investiture and a deliberate break from the kind of protocol-heavy rituals held before an exclusive group of people, usually with an overbearing military presence, that have long been the norm. And it was. People in the crowd waved flags and banners and broke out in spontaneous chants and cheers at different points in the proceedings. One of those moments was when the presidential sash was placed on Petro by Senator María José Pizarro, the daughter of a presidential candidate assassinated in 1990 after the M-19 guerrilla organization of which he was a leader, entered into a peace agreement, disarmed and formed a political party to take up legal activity. In his youth, Petro had also been a member of M-19.
Sword of Simón
Bolívar as Symbol of the People's
The biggest break with tradition, however, and one filled with symbolism, came when shortly after being sworn in by the president of the Congress, Petro asked the master of ceremonies to pause the program, then issued his first presidential order. Directing himself to the military as their commander-in-chief he requested that the sword of Simón Bolívar be brought to the stage, saying it was by order of the people's mandate and "of this mandatary." The audacious move drew a loud and long cheer from the crowd, most of whom would have known that Petro had asked well in advance for the sword of the Latin American liberator to be present, but that at the last minute, outgoing president Iván Duque refused to authorize its removal from the nearby presidential palace -- a last petty act, but not one without political significance that to their delight had now backfired on him.
After about 30 minutes, with the crowd roaring its approval, the sword appeared, carried into the square in a glass display case by members of the Presidential Guard and an escort of the Indigenous Guard and of the Cimarron and Campesino Guard that protect their rural communities. As the sword passed the dignitaries' platform alongside the stage where the leaders and other representatives of several Latin American, Caribbean and other countries were seated, one person remained seated and glum-faced while the rest stood and applauded. King Felipe VI of Spain, whose royal ancestors' forces were routed by the sword's owner at the Battle of Boyacá 203 years ago that day, could not bring himself to stand. His display of colonial disrespect for the independence struggles of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean was widely denounced by people in Spain who reminded the relic of a defeated empire that he was at the investiture to represent their country, not the House of Bourbon.
With the ceremonial sword finally on the stage where he wanted it, Petro explained, "It is the people's sword, that is why we wanted it here, at this time and in this place." He then said, to more loud roars of approval, that Bolívar's sword should remain unsheathed, in keeping with the liberator's directive that it not be sheathed until there is justice in the country. With that said, the new president began his inaugural address where he laid out his vision and plan of action for the next four years, centred around the pursuit of peace, social justice and environmental justice.
This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 9 - September, 2022
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