Gustavo Petro defends his new Education Minister, Daniel Rojas

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has shut out all but one of his favorite camp in support of Daniel Rojas, the most controversial of the recent appointments to his cabinet, given the objections caused by his announcement as the new education minister. “There is one thing that Daniel’s critics will not do: take the mafia’s assets, and not return them as many directors of SAE did, which are still free today, but give them to poor people,” the president wrote this Wednesday in a series of messages on X-Forever Twitter—his favorite communication channel. “Daniel must specify the government program: the expansion of free public higher education,” he said of his new task.

The president had announced the day before, also through X, that Rojas, one of his most combative defenders, would replace academic Aurora Vergara as head of the Ministry of Education. Until then, he served as director of the Sociedad de Activos Especiales, or SAE, the entity that manages assets and companies confiscated from drug trafficking organizations, which then become the property of the state through the legal figure of asset confiscation. He was also for a time the director in charge of the National Department of Planning (DNP), after the departure of Jorge Iván González.

“From today, all the expropriated assets of the SAE’s domain will become the basis of a new productive economy administered by peasant organizations, urban cooperatives of productive youth, and popular women’s associations,” Petro El said on the day of its inauguration, almost two years ago. He entrusted this task to one of his most loyal chieftains. An economist from the University of Santo Tomas, with a master’s degree in economic sciences from the National University, Rojas was the programmatic coordinator of the Historic Pact campaign and the coordinator of the connection team with the outgoing government of Iván Duque. As head of the SAE, which has been surrounded by several scandals over the years, he leveraged lands confiscated from drug traffickers as a laboratory for agrarian reform and handed them over to peasant families.

However, his management has not been without controversy. The Attorney General’s Office temporarily suspended it until early 2023 due to a possible breach of contract to sell shares of the Barranquilla water and sewage company Triple A – a measure it lifted a few days later. And this Wednesday it was revealed that a judge in Medellín ordered the director of SAE to ten days of house arrest for disobeying a guardianship action.

Pending some other adjustments, Petro appointed this week new ministers of the Interior, Justice, Agriculture and Transport, and announced Helga María Rivas in residence this Wednesday. Until the appointment of Rojas, the much-anticipated change in the cabinet was quieter than expected, but the new man in charge of education is a radical petrista who contrasts with the more moderate profile of other appointments such as Juan Fernando Cristo in the Interior. It also marks a change compared to the two academics who have held that portfolio in this government, Alejandro Gaviria and Vergara himself – Gaviria was rector of the University of Los Andes, in Bogotá, while Vergara created the Center for Afrodiasporic Studies at the Universidad Açık, in Cali.

His name was criticized for not being revealed along with the other designations. “What should be the most important ministry is being led by someone who has no experience in the sector,” said former presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo, a university professor and podcast producer. Professor: Everything is possible with educationone of its great flags. “Education must be the priority of society and the government, there is no room for improvement. This ministry has the largest budget and it will be managed by someone who has no idea how to do it, “Fajardo evaluated in one of the most profound objections.

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Aurora Vergara led the failed reform with which the government sought to guarantee education as a fundamental right. That year-long effort began last month in the Congress of the Republic amid accusations and counter-accusations between the ruling party and the opposition. The teachers’ union, FECOD, one of Petro’s great political supporters, also became the main blocker of the version agreed upon by the various groups to save the project. In this rarefied atmosphere, and with a less cordial mood, the new minister must insist on that objective.

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