Colombia’s President-elect Ivan Duque has been sworn in to office, pledging to unite the country, revive the economy, tackle corruption and change the peace accord with the FARC rebel group.
The 42-year-old conservative lawyer and former senator won an election in June, beating left-wing rival Gustavo Petro, and now replaces outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos.
“I want to govern Colombia with unbreakable values and principles, overcoming left and right divisions,” Duque said in his inaugural address in Bogota. “I want to govern Colombia with the spirit of building, never destroying.”
He faces immediate challenges: the economy is weak, drug trafficking gangs have moved into areas once controlled by FARC guerrillas, and nearly a million Venezuelan refugees have crossed into Colombia. Tensions with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro have increased.
Duque has strongly criticised the peace deal negotiated in 2016 to bring an end to the country’s 50-year internal conflict, which saw thousands of rebels demobilise in return for amnesty. Although the FARC leadership will be tried for war crimes, he is angry they will not serve jail time before taking up 10 guaranteed congressional seats.
However, he has softened his rhetoric and says he remains committed to Colombia’s peace process. “We will deploy corrective measures to ensure that the victims get the truth, proportional justice, reparations and no repetitions of the past,” he said in his address.
The FARC is now a political party and several members have taken seats in parliament as part of the peace terms.
The new president has not specified what changes he would make to the agreement. Substantive measures might be hard to get through Congress which has broadly backed the deal. Santos has urged his successor to respect it.
Duque can count on continued support from the United States, said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
His economic policy is considered business-friendly: the new leader has said he plans to cut taxes, raise revenue from a crackdown on evasion, and respect rules obliging the government to reduce the budget deficit.
Ivan Duque is a protege of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe, who led the country from 2002 to 2010 and is a harsh critic of the peace agreement.