President Gustavo Petro has replaced seven ministers in a shake-up he hopes will reinvigorate his ambitious agenda for reform in Colombia, a platform that has faced significant obstacles since he took office in August.
Petro announced the changes on Wednesday, replacing key figures such as Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo and Health Minister Carolina Corcho.
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“Today a new cabinet is being built that will help to consolidate the government’s program,” Petro wrote in a statement published on Twitter.
The surprise shake-up is a gamble that could be a defining moment in Petro’s legacy as the leftist president grapples with challenges ranging from securing peace with Colombia’s criminal and rebel groups to reforming the country’s labour and healthcare systems.
Healthcare reform has been a key area of contention, with Petro promoting a plan he says would expand access to the country’s poor and increase pay for health workers.
Facing opposition from what he called “traditional political leaders and the establishment”, Petro signalled his commitment to the reforms by ejecting figures appointed to his cabinet as an olive branch to powerful conservative and centre-right forces, including Ocampo.
“We reconfirm our commitment to be always faithful to the popular mandate we received and we have decided to configure a government to renew our social change agenda,” added Petro.
Some political figures, including prominent allies of the president, have expressed concerns that the audacious move could backfire.
Congress President and Petro ally Roy Barreras called the decision an “unprecedented crisis” and said Petro was “decreeing the death of his coalition”.
Ocampo has been replaced by Ricardo Bonilla, a former university professor who served as Petro’s finance secretary during his tenure as mayor of the capital city of Bogota.
Petro also named allies such as Juan Fernando Velasco as interior minister and Mauricio Lizcano to the technology and communications portfolio.
The AFP reported on Wednesday that Petro had asked his entire cabinet to resign but none had offered to do so publicly.