Meet the ministerial cabinet of Colombia’s first left-wing government

Colombia’s president-elect, Gustavo Petro, has so far appointed eight ministers to serve in his cabinet, five of them are women

July 14, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Colombia’s first left-wing government is led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez. Photo: Colombia Humana

Colombia’s first left-wing government in 203 years since its independence is gearing up to be sworn in on August 7. The government to be headed by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez of the progressive Historic Pact coalition, has been working steadily to build its cabinet of ministers. To date, eight cabinet members have been appointed, five of them are women.

During his election campaign, Petro announced that he would create the Ministry of Equality and Women. On Twitter, Petro said that the new ministry would have four goals: “achieve salary equality between men and women, recognize that the time of work in home valid for pension, vital income or half minimum wage to mothers who are the heads of the family, and establish women as owners of property and as subjects of development credit for entrepreneurship in the agrarian reform and in the popular economy.” After the historic victory on June 19, vice president-elect Francia Márquez declared that she would herself oversee this new ministry.

Appointments have also been confirmed for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Health, Minister of Environment, Minister of Agriculture, and Minister of Education.

More appointments are expected in the coming days. For now, let’s look at the profiles of those who will be part of this historic government:

Francia Márquez: Minister of Equality and Women

40-year-old Márquez is an Afro-descendant environmentalist and lawyer and the vice-president-elect of Colombia. She hails from the Cauca department in southwestern Colombia. She is nationally and internationally recognized for her work in defense of nature. In 2018, she was awarded the Goldman Prize -considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ for the environment- for her fight against illegal mining in Cauca.

She is a social leader, who represents the marginalized Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities and their struggles. Her work in defense of the territory and of the communities of the Cauca department has made her the enemy of the illegal armed groups operating in the country. In 2018, she suffered an attack in Santander de Quilichao municipality, during a meeting with the Association of Community Councils of North Cauca. During the election campaign, she received several death threats.

As vice-president, Márquez has vowed to increase economic investment in rural areas hit by armed conflicts, and ensure the implementation of the 2016 peace agreements.

Álvaro Leyva Durán: Minister of Foreign Affairs

On June 25, Petro announced that economist and lawyer Álvaro Leyva Durán would be the Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighting that the ministry “will be a foreign ministry of Peace” and that “Colombia will contribute all its efforts to the world to overcome the climate crisis, and we hope that the world will contribute efforts to overcome our endemic violence.”

Leyva, 79, has extensive experience in national politics, having served as a minister, congressman, and councilor. He was Minister of Mines and Energy from 1984 and 1985 during the government of Belisario Betancourt. In 1978, he was elected to the House of Representatives and in 1982, to the Senate. He was also a councilman of Bogotá between 1974 and 1976 and a deputy for Cundinamarca between 1976 and 1978. In 1991, he was elected as a member of the National Constituent Assembly, which was in charge of drafting the new Magna Carta of Colombia.

Since the promulgation of the new Constitution in 1991, he has played a fundamental role in several peace processes that the Colombian State has tried to carry out with the different guerrilla groups. One of these mediations resulted in the signing of peace agreements between the former government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), in Havana, Cuba, in November 2016.

Despite being a member of the Conservative Party, he has maintained close contacts with leftist movements in the country, including the demobilized FARC.

Leyva’s historic dedication to peace and respect for human rights is key, especially when the new government seeks to re-establish diplomatic relations with the neighboring country, Venezuela.

José Antonio Ocampo: Minister of Finance

Economist José Antonio Ocampo was appointed Minister of Finance on June 30, with the stated goal of “building a productive economy and an economy for life”.

69-year-old Ocampo, who is a professor at Columbia University, New York, US, is one of Colombia’s best-known economists. He was Minister of Finance and Public Credit from 1996 to 1997, and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 1993 to 1994. He was also a board member of the Central Bank, and the director of the National Planning Department. He was also the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) from 1998 to 2003, and then deputy secretary general of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs until 2007.

He is a progressive economist and has previously defended tax on exports of basic products. He supports Petro’s plans to introduce a progressive tax reform to support social programs and fight inequalities.

Patricia Ariza: Minister of Culture

On July 4, Petro appointed renowned artist and activist Patricia Ariza as Minister of Culture, stressing that there would be “an explosion of culture throughout Colombia for Peace and coexistence. A culture for identity to dynamize the diverse Colombian nature.”

The 76-year-old writer, poet, actress, and theater director is widely known within Colombia and globally due to her impressive contributions to Colombia’s cultural production and social movements for peace and justice. She is co-founder of the Bogotá theater La Candelaria, and the current director of the Colombian Theater Corporation. She is also the creator of the Women on Stage for Peace festival.

Ariza was a member of the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) party, and is a survivor of the genocide of the Patriotic Union by paramilitary groups and state forces in mid-1980s. She has dedicated her whole life to keeping the ideals of the political movement alive through art. Through her work, she has consistently highlighted and reflected on the harsh reality of civil war, the victims of armed conflicts and violence, and has tried to empower the disadvantaged sectors such as women and senior citizens, and promote social interaction, reduce conflict, and consolidate peace.

She has vowed to support Petro and Márquez’s efforts to combat paramilitary violence and strengthen peace in the country.

Carolina Corcho: Minister of Health

39-year-old Corcho is a doctor, psychiatrist, and political scientist. Previously, she was vice president of the Colombian Medical Federation. Through her work, she has been an important voice against government neglect and has condemned the right-wing government of the outgoing President Ivan Duque for the worsening working conditions of health professionals and workers. She was a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization and an evaluator for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She was also president of the NGO Corporación Latinoamericana Sur and chaired the National Association of Interns and Residents (ANIR).

Corcho and Petro have worked together in the past. Corcho was director of Social Participation and Citizen Services of the Bogotá Secretariat of Health, and Undersecretary of Territorial Management in Health of Bogotá when Petro was Bogotá’s mayor (2012-2015).

She is in favor of a major reform of the public healthcare system promoted by Petro, which ends the EPS, the compulsory health insurance plan, strengthens the network of public hospitals, preventive healthcare services, formalizes workers, among other measures.

Susana Muhamad: Minister of Environment

Muhamad is an environmentalist and political scientist. She is a member of the Colombia Humana party, founded by Petro in 2011. She also worked with Petro before as the Secretary of the Environment of Bogotá and General Secretary of the Mayor’s Office. During her time in office, she made great strides in the transition to much more environmentally-friendly transportation.

Muhamad has also worked extensively with Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities in rural areas. She participated in social projects such as Paz a la Calle and the Alianza Colombia Libre de Fracking.

Her principles of sustainable development coincide with Petro’s proposals to gradually reduce the country’s economic dependence on extractive industries and fossil fuels.

Cecilia López: Minister of Agriculture

López, 79, is an economist, has vast political experience and has been appointed to several cabinet positions. She was Minister of Environment from 1994 to 1996 and Minister of Agriculture from 1996 to 1997. She was also the director of the Social Security Department between 1990 and 1992, and the director of the National Planning Department between 1997 and 1998. She was the Ambassador of Colombia in The Netherlands (1985–1988), and Senator of the republic of Colombia with the Liberal Party (2006–2010).

The experienced government functionary has already expressed her support for Petro’s agrarian reform in favor of the historically dispossessed and neglected Afro-descendant, Indigenous, and peasant minorities.

Alejandro Gaviria: Minister of Education

On July 8, Petro appointed economist and engineer Alejandro Gaviria as Minister of Education, emphasizing that his mission would be to consolidate free public higher education, strengthen research centers in public universities, and increase the rate of preschool enrollment.

57-year-old Gaviria is an economist, engineer and professor. He was Minister of Health and Social Protection of Colombia from 2012 to 2018. During his time in office, he promoted the regulation of drug prices, contributed to the advancement of universal health coverage, and fostered the equalization of benefits between the contributory and subsidized health regimes. He also implemented regulations related to euthanasia, the use of cannabis derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes, the prices of contraceptives, and the prohibition of the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying of crops for illicit use. He also served as Deputy Director of the National Planning Department of Colombia.

Prior to his political career, Gaviria was a professor for eight years and dean of the School of Economics at University of the Andes until 2012. In 2010, he was named by the Portafolio newspaper as the best economics professor in the country. Recently, he served as Rector of the University of the Andes.