Colombia's Petro surprises with new finance minister in Cabinet reshuffle

Colombia hosts meeting on Venezuelan political crisis, in Bogota
Colombian President Gustavo Petro attends an international conference on the political crisis in Venezuela, at Palacio de San Carlos in Bogota, Colombia April 25, 2023. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA, April 26 (Reuters) - Colombian President Gustavo Petro named Ricardo Bonilla as finance minister in a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, despite market anxiety that former minister Jose Antonio Ocampo remain in the job.

Petro asked for resignations from all of his Cabinet late on Tuesday after a debate on a health reform was abandoned by the lower house because quorum was not reached, prompting Petro to declare that his congressional coalition had fractured.

The reshuffle prompted a fall in the peso, stock market and domestic Treasury bonds, but analysts said an end to the coalition may mean less radical reforms and more stability for businesses.

"I'm grateful to the president and I commit to the duties of the role," Bonilla said on Twitter, saying he recognized Ocampo's work. "I will maintain economic stability."

Ocampo, a longtime public figure who is on public service leave from his job at Columbia University, had been seen as a stabilizing force by the market and guided the approval of an ambitious tax reform last year by congress.

"Today we build a new cabinet that will help consolidate the government program, (a) program that will be the base of a frank and sincere national agreement to keep working for communities across the country," Petro said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Bonilla, an economist and university professor, was the finance secretary for Bogota when Petro was mayor of the capital.

Among the ministers replaced by Petro was Health Minister Carolina Corcho, whose role will be taken up by Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo.

Interior Minister Alfonso Prada was replaced by Luis Fernando Velasco, and the statement also announced new ministers for agriculture, science, technology and transport.

A number of ministers, including Mines and Energy Minister Irene Velez, have faced harsh criticism since Petro took office nearly nine months ago on promises to make sweeping social and economic reforms.

Petro has repeatedly backed Velez and kept her in her post, along with Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva and Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez. The heads of the Liberal, U and Conservative parties have asked their legislators to vote against the health reform, but some lawmakers have chafed at attempts to control their votes.

Eighteen legislators from the Liberal party said in an open letter to their leader, former President Cesar Gaviria, that no agreement had been made for them all to vote the same way.

Lawmakers from other parties have also rejected calls for them to vote against the reform.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb

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