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Protests in Colombia | 3 conclusions of the marches for and against the government of Gustavo Petro in Colombia | WORLD

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"The President of Colombia He invites his people to rise up," he said. Gustavo Petro on Tuesday in a march called by the ruling party to defend its reforms. “Change is not possible without the people,” he added.

It was the first time in recent history that a president gave a speech from a balcony of the presidential palace. His wife and his daughter accompanied him. In Bogotá, hundreds of militants saw him who filled the Plaza de Armas that adjoins the Congress. In the rest of the country they also marched.

Look: Thousands of Colombians go out to march against the reforms of Gustavo Petro

The next day it was the turn of the opposition. Many dressed in white, some with banners calling Petro a "tyrant" and "worse than Chávez", thousands took to the streets in various cities to defend the health system, capitalism and democracy, which is allegedly under threat.

It is a voice in reaction to Petro, which has labor and pension reform projects; plans to change the police, public education and justice; and, as part of his "total peace", proposals for laws to subdue criminals so that they confess and get out of crime.

But the protagonist of the week was her health reform, which Petro sent to Congress on Monday and intends to deprivatize an important part of the system. Many, including allies and members of his cabinet, have expressed skepticism about the reform, because the Colombian health system, although fragmented and deficient for some, reports high coverage and, according to surveys, relative satisfaction of the majority of users.

"The government has chosen to gamble almost all its political capital on this reform with a radical text in its principles and without having its entire cabinet aligned on the same line," says political scientist Yann Basset.

"The president, in his speech, seemed to set the scene for the possibility of a defeat, that the reform will not finally pass," adds Basset.

Petro began his term seven months ago with a broad coalition in Congress in favor of him. With it, he approved an ambitious tax reform. But experts believe that so many reforms on so many fronts, when the country — and the world — is experiencing an economic crisis, can generate a parliamentary fracture.

None of the marches for and against Petro this week were massive or comparable to those of 2019 and 2021, which many described as a "social outbreak". That, however, does not mean that they have been the last of this reformist government.

These are three conclusions left by the week of the marches and counter-marches in Colombia.

The opposition marches brought together more people than those of Petro.  (GETTY IMAGES)

The opposition marches brought together more people than those of Petro. (GETTY IMAGES)

1. Petro's honeymoon ended

During the first six months of his term, Petro enjoyed approval in public opinion, the media, and political establishments. The historic nature of his election, the first for a leftist and ex-guerrilla, gave him extraordinary political capital.

But then came the devaluation of the peso, the contradictions within the cabinet, the appointments of questioned politicians and now, the health reform.

On the day of the president's speech, a handful of parliamentarians, including several pro-government supporters, signed a letter asking that the health reform law be statutory —and not ordinary—, which would mean a longer and more complex process in The congress. Even if they end up processing it through the ordinary route, from the outset it is clear that there are some skeptical members of Congress.

Also last week three polls showed a drop of between 5 and 10 points in approval of the Petro, which is now around 35%.

At least this week, says Basset, "Petro lost his pulse in the streets, in public opinion, and suddenly in Congress."

And the political scientist Sandra Botero adds: "Believing that all those who voted for Petro necessarily approve his reforms is an optimistic calculation, but perhaps not entirely accurate."

Petro from the balcony, an image that will probably be repeated in these 3 and a half years that remain.  (GETTY IMAGES)

Petro from the balcony, an image that will probably be repeated in these 3 and a half years that remain. (GETTY IMAGES)

2. Petro will use the street to govern

During the campaign, Petro warned that if Congress did not approve his reforms, he would go to the streets, to that social mobilization that manifested itself in 2019 and 2021 and that generally supports him.

On Tuesday he reiterated it: "I must warn that, if for some reason the reforms were to get in the way of Colombia, the only thing that is being done is not building the paths of a social pact, of peace."

"It is up to the people to deepen these reforms as far as you say (...) change does not consist only in winning elections, but in permanently mobilizing", he added.

With the call to the street, Petro appeals to a main facet of his political career: speech.

Forceful exhibitions in Congress denouncing the link between politicians and paramilitaries, defenses of his Bogotá mayor's office with emotional harangues from the balcony with megaphone in hand, more than 100 interventions in public squares in the last campaign and vehement speeches at the United Nations and COP27 last year they are part of Petro's experience in speaking.

Contentious public speaking has been one of the main tools of his successful political career. As president, now as a spokesman for the ruling party, he is going to use it.

"Petro's call to mobilization is not surprising due to the nature of the movement that brought him to power," says Botero. "It's your style".



3. The opposition begins to find its narrative

After last year's elections, the Colombian right was left frayed and divided. The low popularity of the outgoing president, Iván Duque, and the legal proceedings against his natural leader, Álvaro Uribe, took their toll.

Petro won by just three points, but the symbology of his victory and the pragmatism he initially displayed in approaching the opposition left his opponents without a narrative.

But now, on the eve of the regional elections in October and given the normal wear and tear that Petro can suffer, the right is beginning to find a line of action.

"The opposition is worn out and weakened, but now it has an opportunity," says Botero. "He is trying to appropriate the protest repertoire and should try to have a programmatic discussion on the reforms."

Since Petro wants to make reforms in all areas, the opposition has a wide range of options. But he will have to choose, according to Botero, "what is the discussion that he wants to give."

The opposition seems to find a narrative in the reactionary discourse.  (GETTY IMAGES)

The opposition seems to find a narrative in the reactionary discourse. (GETTY IMAGES)

There is an opposition concerned about Petro's personality, which they consider authoritarian and demagogic; another that criticizes his "total peace", an alleged "submission of the State to criminals"; and there is an opposition focused on the details of each reform and the controversial appointments and alliances.

Uribism in the opposition demonstrated, with the discourse of "Castrochavismo", to be very efficient during the government of Juan Manuel Santos.

But the right has changed and the president is a very different character: an ex-guerrilla, no less.

The Colombian right finds itself in the need to decide what opposition it should make to Petro. From the counter-reform to the accusation that "it's Chávez." How he chooses will mark the degree of success.

Petrism and anti-petrism, in any case, will be on the streets for the next few years.

More than 6 years of experience in Digital Journalism. I write on political and tech topics. Follow for regular updates of country, foreign and tech news.

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