Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a radical leftist and once-member of the Marxist April 19th (M-19) Movement guerrilla, touted his past as an urban insurgent in a plea to the Organization of American States (OAS) on Wednesday to implement “revolutionary” reforms to its Democratic Charter.
Wednesday marked both the anniversary of the 1970 presidential election that birthed the M-19 violent Marxist guerrilla movement and Petro’s own birthday, a fact he touted on social media while in Washington, DC, to address the inter-American body. He is in the United States for a series of engagements including an appearance at California’s Stanford University this week and a scheduled meeting with leftist President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Prior to that meeting, however, he addressed a special OAS session with two overarching demands: that the OAS work to end the extraction of fossil fuels in the Americas, and that it reform the Inter-American Democratic Charter to address the “climate crisis,” feminism, and other far-left causes. In a rare instance for Petro, his remarks to the OAS did not address his support for coca cultivation, the industry which produces cocaine and that his country dominates on a global scale.
From Petro’s remarks, it was not immediately clear which international document he meant when he referred to the “Democratic Charter,” or if he was aware that the OAS had passed multiple charters and agreements discussing human rights and democracy.
“Not alone in its origins, perhaps in the early ’70s, the liberals – the majority of them men generally at that time, sexism percolated and still does – constructed an agreement, an American pact … that I call democratic, the year 68, 69, 70, in 72 the Democratic Charter was ratified,” Petro explained, “a charter that … is basically a liberal pact, a pact of individual liberties, which was considered the priority at the time. They believed at that time that this was the way to respond to the socialist Cuban revolution.”
The OAS document formally named the Inter-American Democratic Charter debuted in 2001. The OAS Charter, which includes a provision that bans governments that are not democracies from being members of the OAS, was signed in 1967. The document that appears to align most closely with Petro’s dates is the American Convention on Human Rights (the San José Pact), which was initially adopted in 1969 but ratified in Colombia in 1973.
Petro went on to claim that the document he referred to in his speech as the “Democratic Charter” had been immediately rendered ineffective by 1970s military dictatorships throughout Latin America.
“The path of torture, disappearances, destruction, the annihilation of the human being in the public possibility,” Petro narrated, “The path that destroyed and closed off … the democratic project that the liberals wanted to propel throughout America.”
He credited himself with joining “armed insurgencies” against the alleged menace.
“On the other hand we also responded – and I, personally – with armed insurgency, with revolutionary wars, with revolutions: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Honduras, and other countries,” Petro recalled, before requesting that the OAS dramatically reconstruct the document he referred to as the “Democratic Charter.”
“The world of today is not exclusively about liberal rights,” Petro declared, “the constitutional [reform] effort in Colombia and many other Latin American countries seeks the expansion of rights beyond the limit of the individual without failing to recognize them. It does not deny liberalism, it grasps it, enriches it, and projects it towards other spheres of society.”
“The climate crisis of today demands that we grant rights to nature – where is that in our Democratic Charter?” he asked.
Petro also suggested adding feminism and social justice to a “new democratic public, undoubtedly revolutionary,” for which Latin America can be a “global spokesman.”
Addressing the communist dictatorships in the region, Petro claimed that he “of course” was interested in Venezuela no longer being a dictatorship.
“Of course we have conversed with Cuba, which was never [in the OAS human rights system],” he added, but turned then to defense Pedro Castillo, the Leninist former president of Peru currently imprisoned for attempting to stage a coup to prevent his own legal impeachment.
“We don’t look to Peru,” Petro claimed. “Isn’t there a president there imprisoned without a judicial sentence, without his political rights? That is to say, in contravention of the Democratic Charter.”
Castillo is currently serving 1.5 years in “preventive” prison while the court system adjudicates his case. In October, his lawyers demanded the OEA invoke the Interamerican Democratic Charter in his case – the 2001 document – to declare a “rupture of democracy” in Peru. The current Peruvian government, run by Castillo’s former vice president Dina Boluarte, has begun procedures to declare Petro persona non grata for his defense of Castillo.
Petro did not address the other imprisoned president in the region, conservative Jeanine Áñez of Bolivia, sentenced to ten years in prison for constitutionally becoming interim president – and stepping down as soon as possible – after socialist would-be dictator Evo Morales fled the country in 2020. Áñez and her family have accused the socialist Bolivian government of torturing her in prison.
Petro is expected to address similar topics – “migration, climate change and efforts to counter drug trafficking” according to Voice of America – on Thursday with Biden. Drug trafficking is of particular concern given the documented boom in cocaine production in Colombia.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported a 43-percent increase in coca plant cultivation in a report published in October 2022, covering 2021, the year before Petro took over. The increase in cultivation brought Colombia to levels of production unseen in decades.
Petro has publicly denounced anti-drug measures in his country.
“What is more poisonous for humanity, cocaine, coal or oil?” he told the United Nations general assembly in September. “The opinion of [those in] power has commanded that cocaine is the poison and must be persecuted, even if it only causes minimal deaths by overdose, and more by the mixtures created as a result of its clandestine state. But, instead, coal and oil must be protected, even if their use can extinguish all mankind.”
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