FOR THE FIRST TIME tens of thousands of Colombians across the country took to the main cities to express their rejection of Gustavo Petro, the leftist president who took office on August 7.
The purpose of the march was to condemn the tax reform proposed by the government and all the measures Petro has taken since he became president. However, the demonstrations were characterized by a direct disdain against Petro.
“Fuera Petro!”, “Fuera Petro!”, chanted thousands as they marched along Carrera 7ma in Bogota, the capital.
“And no, and no, I don’t want a dictatorship like the Cuban one!” shouted other demonstrators from the center of Colombia’s capital.
The protests were massive. Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities such as Cali and Medellin in the morning.
“It’s the biggest protest I’ve ever seen here in my city. It was impressive,” María Gómez told El American, from Cali.
In Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, the crowd was incredibly large.
“We march, we don’t set fires,” shouted thousands from Medellin, referring to last year’s protests in Colombia, organized by the left against the government of then President Ivan Duque, which left destruction across the country.
In fact, several demonstrators emphasized the peaceful nature of the protests. Unlike other protests, this time there was no presence of riot squads in the streets.
“Without the need to break anything, or burn police centers, threaten the community, or resort to terrorism, people are speaking out massively in different parts of the country against this government, which wants to do away with the little that has been achieved,” wrote on Twitter reporter Diego Santos.
One of Gustavo Petro’s most controversial proposals is the tax reform by which he is going to suddenly tax companies in Colombia. Many Colombians are also concerned about a pension reform, which would put an end to private funds.
“I am protesting because I have my business and this government is going to destroy it,” gastronomic businessman Juan Santos told El American from Medellín.
“We are concerned about relations with Venezuela. This government is going to put Colombia at the service of the dictatorships of the continent,” Santos added.
Petro has been in office for less than two months and, although he has not faced significant institutional resistance, this demonstration shows that he will face organized civil society.
Petro won the presidency with 47% of the votes against the almost 11 million votes that went for his opponent, runoff candidate Rodolfo Hernández. The vote in favor of Petro was historic,11 million 291 thousand, but so was the vote against him.
“Today we went out to demonstrate to remind Gustavo Petro that he won with a very small margin. We are more than 10 million Colombians that he has to listen to. He cannot walk over us. We are not going to give up. This is just the beginning. Hope is born here,” Senator Miguel Uribe said.
“We are millions against Petro’s budding dictatorship -Petro you go!” wrote former presidential candidate and leader of the National Salvation party, Enrique Gomez, on his Twitter account from the streets of Bogota.
“Today we are marching against the dictatorial measures of the current government, the health reform, the weakening of institutions and the illegal invasion of lands,” said Congresswoman Verónica Arango from Medellín.
Gustavo Petro was not at his government headquarters in Bogota on Monday, but in Cucuta, a border city bordering Venezuela. He was on the bridge that connects Colombia with its neighboring country, Petro led an event with his foreign minister in which he announced the opening of the border, closed for seven years due to tensions between the two countries.
Petro announced the opening as a historic event and the beginning of a new stage of relations with the regime of Nicolás Maduro, accused of drug trafficking and human rights violations by the United States and the United Nations.
Despite being far from the cities where today thousands came out to protest against him, the president was not indifferent and tweeted: “Their right to express themselves will always be respected. In general the demonstrations were free of violence”.
According to data from the National Police, reported by Caracol, this Monday more than 60 thousand people demonstrated throughout Colombia.
In Bogotá, according to the Bogotá police commander, “approximately 10,000 people marched in a peaceful demonstration.”
According to the police, the city with the largest number of protesters was Medellín, where “more than 35 thousand people” demonstrated.
This demonstration is the first public show of discontent against Petro’s government and is an exhibition of tremendous strength by Colombian civil society that did not support him in the elections.
For several of the demonstrators, today’s protest was crucial to prevent Petro from continuing to impose controversial reforms.
“If this demonstration does not become the beginning of the end of Petro’s regime, it will be the beginning of the end of our freedom,” said renowned economist Luis Guillermo Vélez, who protested in Medellín.