Wed Jul 17, 2024
July 17, 2024

Petro’s Ministerial Crisis: A Change in Negotiations to Further Cut Reforms

On April 26, Gustavo Petro announced changes to his cabinet after asking for the resignation of all his ministers. This change is the result of the departure of the Liberal, Conservative, and U parties from the coalition when they stated that they would not support the health, labor, and pension reforms that are going through parliament.

By: Antonio Romero / PST Colombia

The media has shown that Petro removed the ministers from the parties that left the so-called government coalition in order to make a more ‘petrista’ cabinet, but the departure of the Minister of Health, Carolina Corcho, shows the opposite. The changes in the cabinet are evidence of Petro’s new negotiation with bourgeois sectors and their expression in the traditional parties. He is no longer negotiating with party leaderships, but directly with parliamentarians.

Who’s in and Who’s out

In the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (TIC), Sandra Urrutia is leaving and Mauricio Lizcano from the Union Party for the People (Partido de la union por la gente), is taking over her post. He had been serving as director of the Administrative Department of the Presidency, where Carlos Ramón González from the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) will now replace him.

Ricardo Bonilla is entering the Ministry of Finance where he is replacing the liberal José Antonio Ocampo. He has been a key figure in progressive economic proposals and has accompanied Petro since he was mayor of Bogota. In addition, he continues to act as a bridge to the policies of former president Juan Manuel Santos. In the Ministry of Health, Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo, another figure close to Petro, is replacing the minister who represented the Petrista reforms, Carolina Corcho, whose head was handed over on a platter to the bourgeoisie in order to make way for new negotiations.

Also, the pro-Santista Alfonso Prada is leaving the Ministry of the Interior, and the liberal Luis Fernando Velasco is entering it. It is likely that Velasco, who comes from deep within the Liberal Party, has been tasked with winning over a large part of this party to remain in the government coalition, and to accomplish this it is necessary to counteract the power of César Gaviria. In agriculture, the Liberal Cecilio Orozco is out , and a new minister close to Petro, Jhenifer Mojica, is in. In transportation, Guillermo Reyes is leaving and William Camargo, who just presided over the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI), is joining the ministry. Finally,  the Minister of Science Arturo Luna is being replaced by Yesenia Olaya.

Beyond the names

With the changes in the ministries, two of the signatories of the letter against the health reform, José Antonio Ocampo and Cecilia López, who had survived the first shake-up when Alejandro Gaviria left the education portfolio, are leaving.

These changes do not mean that Petro’s government is making a break with the traditional parties, but rather that he is renegotiating his relationship with them. There are still liberals in the cabinet, such as Catalina Velasco in Housing, and Néstor Osuna in Justice. However, there has been a clear turn towards the close circle of Petro’s administration in the Capital District that is not a ‘turn to the left’ but rather to the social-democratic technocracy that serves the bourgeoisie.

Cabinet crises are common in bourgeois governments and serve to negotiate with the different sectors expressed in Congress, including those that finance campaigns, or that have a direct influence because the laws they pass benefit their businesses. Presidents have controlled congressmen in a traditional way with bureaucracy and contracts in a country like Colombia in which the Presidency has the capacity to violate the republican illusions of balance between the branches of public power. In the past, they called the congressmen who did not vote with their party as “sellouts” since they “sold” their congressional votes to the executive branch for bureaucratic privileges. This is still the same strategy that Petro does not seem inclined to give up.

But the ministerial crisis and the internal convulsions of the government, apart from being part of the mechanism that ensures “governability” for a Popular Front government like Petro’s, that is to say, one of alliance and class collaboration, are also an expression of the correlation between the classes. The interests of the bourgeoisie are clashing head-on with the reformist illusions and expectations of the masses, especially when these are transformed into direct struggle. The fierce debates around the health reform demonstrate this. What Petro is trying to do is to settle these irresolvable contradictions in the context of an extremely unstable coalition. But unfortunately, Petro’s own limitations and those of these types of governments end up favoring the more general interests of the bourgeoisie. Although paradoxically he has to confront some bourgeois factions in this task. This is all to maintain the class alliance that makes up his government to the detriment of the interests of the working class and the popular sectors, which end up paralyzed or openly betrayed.

From the clamor of the streets to the intrigues of the palace

The masses expect Petro’s government, which has proclaimed itself as the “government of change,” to respond to the demands of the social upheaval that brought it to the Presidency in the first place. They expect his government to respect the clamor of the streets where people demand real reforms, and to confront the bourgeois sectors that will not hesitate to put obstacles in the way of even the lukewarm proposals for reform that have been made until now.

But Petro, faithful to his electoral campaign and his aspiration to do the impossible, namely, to reconcile exploiters and the exploited, oppressors and the oppressed, and victims and victimizers, has taken the road by cutting reforms and negotiating directly with congressmen. He is working to get their votes for reforms that are the fruit of agreements with bourgeois sectors and imperialism.

The changes in the cabinet do not represent a change in Petro’s policy. Rather, they mark his continued insistence on coming to agreements with the bourgeoisie on reforms. The only thing that has changed is his negotiating team and the fact that he is returning to the traditional way of individually negotiating votes with congressmen.

The most serious issue is that the leadership of social movements and the working class have taken the road of supporting these mini-reforms in exchange for bureaucratic crumbs. Their timid calls to the streets are to ‘stop the revolution’ and not to achieve the changes that are needed.

Article first published in PST Colombia Magazine: 09/05/2023

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