Colombia’s Petro picks experienced economist as finance minister

Colombia’s leftist President-Elect Gustavo Petro on Thursday named an economist with international clout and experience in former neoliberal governments as his finance minister.

Petro, Colombia’s first-ever left-wing president, said on Twitter that Jose Antonio Ocampo will oversee his government’s goal to “build a productive economy.”

Ocampo, 69, was executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) from 1998 to 2003, and then served as deputy secretary general of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs until 2007. 

He was a minister in two former neoliberal governments of Colombia in the 1990s.

Key among his tasks will be an ambitious tax reform with which Petro intends to narrow the government’s fiscal gap and boost social spending by increasing taxes on the rich, who are not happy about the prospect.

Outgoing President Ivan Duque last year sparked an unprecedented social explosion when he tried to raise taxes on the middle class as they were dealing with the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned over the protests, which left at least 46 dead, according to the UN.

Ocampo most recently worked as an international affairs professor at Columbia University in New York and as a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, a think tank.

In 2008, he received an award from Tufts University in the United States for his work on “advancing the frontiers of economic thought.”

On August 7, Petro will assume the presidency of a country with unemployment at about 11 percent and a high rate (45 percent) of informal employment.

Poverty affects 39 percent of the country’s 50 million people.

Ocampo is Petro’s second cabinet nomination — he has tapped peace negotiator Alvaro Leyva as his foreign minister.

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