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Chanting “Fuera, Petro,” a demonstration of 35,000 people took the regional avenue, one of the main streets of the city of Medellín, the second largest in Colombia. The demonstrators not only chanted for the departure of the controversial leftist president, Gustavo Petro, but also raised their voices in concern about the future of the health care system, the economy, and the political rights of Colombia’s opposition.
Demonstrations were not only in Medellín, where the number of protesters was astonishing. Thousands of people took to the streets in Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, and Cali, all regional capitals of Colombia. According to Colombian national police figures, up to 60,000 people marched across the country.
The march comes from a citizen discontent that manifests a deep distrust for Petro’s government and the Colombian political establishment, increasingly closer to what they once described as an extreme left-wing politician.
The citizens are concerned about a package of reforms to the tax, pension, health and electoral systems proposed by Petro’s government and which the opposition has baptized as the “Petroreformas,” a program that seeks to dynamite what the Colombian extreme left is known as “the neoliberal vestiges” of the 1991 Constitution.
The Petro government’s reform package
The most immediate “petroreform” is the tax reform, which threatens to burden companies with onerous taxes and private citizens with as many others, to finance so-called social spending, which President Petro’s government still does not bother to explain what it is about.
The controversial tax reform includes a tax on soft drinks and ultra-processed foods, which seeks to tax consumption but without risking raising the value-added tax (VAT), rejected by the majority of the Colombian electorate. Despite the tax approach, some experts point out that it will increase the cost of food for low-income families and could bankrupt thousands of neighborhood stores that depend on the sale of this type of food and beverages.
The tax reform also contains a special tax on pensions, another on wealth and inheritance, as well as an increase in the real estate tax, all of these taxes impacting the middle class, the same social stratum that Gustavo Petro promised not to mess with during his campaign when he said that his reform would only tax the 4,000 richest families in the country.
While tax reform is perhaps the issue of greatest concern to Colombians, pension reform is even more radical than tax reform.
Petro’s pension reform threatens to end the individual insurance system and would force most people to make mandatory contributions to the public pension fund, Colpensiones, which is on the verge of bankruptcy and is only sustainable because of the transfers it receives from the government year after year.
One of the petroreforms that has passed unnoticed in the Colombian press is the political reform, filed before Congress by the Minister of the Interior, Alfonso Prada, which takes away the right of political parties to present themselves with open lists, and also prohibits them from seeking external financing for their campaigns, which may only be financed directly by the State.
The last petroreform causing fear among the Colombian opposition is the health reform, a proposal drafted by the Minister of Health Carolina Corcho which seeks to end the public-private insurance system the country has built up and replace it with a completely centralized and state-controlled system.
Minister Corcho has raised the suspicions of the opposition after having asked Congress to reduce the budget allocated to the health system, a request that has been interpreted as a maneuver to defund the health insurance system and cause the crisis that Corcho claims is necessary to reform health in Colombia.
The current situation of the country is a source of concern for Colombians
Apart from the oil reforms, there is another series of events taking place in Colombia that have Colombians who oppose Petro’s government worried.
In the Cauca region, in the Colombian Pacific, conflicts between peasants, companies, and indigenous movements for land are worsening, with confrontations where there was even an exchange of gunshots. Petro’s government has been conspicuous by its absence.
On the other hand, many citizens view with concern the negotiations with the extreme left-wing terrorist group, ELN, whose guarantor of talks is none other than Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela, a regime akin to this narco-terrorist organization.
The government has extended talks with the ELN to other armed groups such as the Gulf Clan and the Urabeños. According to an exclusive by journalist Daniel Coronell, the Petro administration would offer criminals to keep up to 10% of their illicit profits if they submit to justice.
The disagreements that Petro’s Cabinet has had with the Colombian business sector, especially those of his Minister of Mines and Energy, Irene Vélez —who has shown little experience to occupy the portfolio she precedes— are also worrying.
Vélez is a staunch supporter of Petro’s climate agenda, which boils down to attacking the hydrocarbons sector while seeking to outsource the demand for hydrocarbons to Maduro’s Venezuela.
In the three main cities of the country, Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali, their progressive mayors were also part of the focus of the protests. The insecurity in Bogotá, the corruption in Medellín, and the bad management in Cali have alarmed the citizens who during the demonstrations dedicated several chants of rejection to the management of Claudia López, Daniel Quintero, and Jorge Iván Ospina, in their respective cities.
After 50 days, the Government of Gustavo Petro, who promised to unite Colombians and build on dialogue, has generated a hostile and polarizing political climate as it has not been seen in the last 30 years. Coincidentally or not, President Gustavo Petro organized the commercial reopening of the border with Venezuela for the same day as the march. Even so, the headlines of the Colombian press were taken by the demonstrators, and in second place was the bombastic opening of customs.
Economist, writer and liberal. With a focus on finance, the war on drugs, history, and geopolitics // Economista, escritor y liberal. Con enfoque en finanzas, guerra contra las drogas, historia y geopolítica