President Petro’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly has generated various reactions. Although it was notably shorter in tone and duration compared to 2022, the Colombian president’s speech followed the same path, advocating for profound global changes and emphasizing requests and proposals that he has been articulating in various international forums over the past year.
At 8:05 in the morning, Gustavo Petro arrived at the United Nations headquarters in New York, accompanied by his wife, Verónica Alcocer, his younger daughter, the country’s vice president, Francia Márques, and the foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva. Petro was the second leader to speak after Brazilian President Lula and U.S. President Joe Biden. This time, the speech adhered strictly to the 15 minutes officially allotted to each speaker.
The first point addressed by Gustavo Petro is a staple of his discourse both domestically and internationally: the climate crisis and concrete proposals to strengthen the fight against climate change. “The climate crisis continues to show its teeth,” said the president, who denounced a “world leadership that has become hostile to life.”
In his speech, Petro reiterated a message he previously gave at the G77+China summit over the past weekend in Havana, Cuba. According to scientific data, by 2070, the exodus of climate migrants could reach 3 billion people fleeing their countries because they will become uninhabitable areas. For the Colombian president, these migrants won’t be seeking the promises of wealth in the north but rather something as simple yet essential as water.
Another issue that President Petro addressed at the summit in Havana and highlighted in his United Nations speech was the condemnation of war as a political and economic weapon. With this message, he asked the assembly about the difference between the wars in Ukraine and Palestine.
“They have called us to war. They have called Latin America to supply machines and men to go to the battlefields. They have forgotten that our countries were invaded several times by the same nations that now talk about fighting invasions… They invaded Iraq, Syria, and Libya for oil. They have forgotten that the reasons they use to defend Zelensky are the same reasons they should use to defend Palestine,” Petro stated, referring to the world’s hypocrisy regarding two armed conflicts and insisting that they both deserve simultaneous solutions.
Reforming the Global Financial System
In this context, and as a method to end war, Petro once again proposed reforming the global financial system. “As the president of the country of beauty, I propose reforming the global financial system and ending the war.” In this regard, he defended the leading role of public resources because private money logically goes where it can generate profits.
“I propose reforming the global financial system, the IMF, multilateral banking, ending economic blockades, and guiding private capital funds. If we reduce the debt of all countries by paying their creditors with an issuance of special drawing rights from the IMF, there will be a decrease in global public debt and real growth in budgets and public funds,” the president said.
Petro advocated this approach to finance the “Marshall Plan” for social and environmental justice, as well as the plan to mitigate the effects of climate change. In this vein, the president once again proposed exchanging debt for climate action in developing countries.
Critique of Ivan Duque on Cuba
One thing which shouldn’t be relegated to anecdotal status but is relevant because it’s part of an ongoing controversy from several days ago, was Petro’s reference, without naming him, to former Colombian President Ivan Duque. He accused Duque of being responsible for reintroducing Cuba to the list of terrorist countries formulated by the U.S.
The controversy dates back to when the peace process that Colombia was pursuing with the ELN guerrilla group under Duque’s presidency was frustrated due to the group’s attack on a police school in Bogota in 2019. Following the attack, the ELN delegates remained in Cuba. When Colombia requested their extradition, Cuba refused, arguing that these individuals were on Cuban soil as part of the peace process that the Colombian government maintained with the ELN until January 2019.
Since then, the Duque administration insisted, unsuccessfully, that Cuba return the members of the guerrilla responsible for the criminal act in Bogota, which resulted in 22 deaths and 68 injuries of varying severity.
The current Colombian President, Gustavo Petro, views Cuba’s role as the host of the negotiations that his country successfully concluded in 2016 with the FARC and is currently conducting with the ELN, as a new attempt to demobilize this guerrilla group.