Thousands of Colombians demonstrated in Bogota and other towns on Tuesday against measures proposed by the country’s first Marxist president, Gustavo Petro, that many feel go too far.
Petro has filed many reform measures to parliament since assuming office last August, including proposals to decrease private participation in the healthcare system, redistribute unproductive land, and modify labor and pension legislation.
After decades of warfare, he has initiated negotiations with armed factions in the pursuit of “total peace” and has vowed to lead the country to a greener future.
Called by the rightwing opposition under the banner “march of the majority,” protesters gathered Tuesday in cities including Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla.
Many waved Colombia’s yellow, blue, and red flags, and held up posters with such messages as: “No to ending up like Cuba or Venezuela.”
In the capital, they marched to Bolivar Square near the presidency and parliament, shouting slogans denouncing Petro and his plans.
Among them, Diego Molano, defense minister under the former rightwing government, accused the Petro government of “weakening institutions” while pointing to what he said was an increase in violence “while the guerrillas get stronger” under the peace process.
“They (the government) are going to destroy pensions and healthcare,” Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal charged at the demonstration in Cali in western Colombia.
On the campaign trail, Petro had vowed to address deep social inequality.
However, in a country where the political left is synonymous with guerrilla forces that have sowed decades of misery, the opposition was ferocious, with competitors attempting to portray him as a radical, Hugo Chavez-style populist.
Petro, an ex-guerrilla, has lost his parliamentary majority since taking power, limiting his ability to implement changes.
In addition, he has been embroiled in a scandal concerning an ex-aide’s alleged unlawful eavesdropping of a nanny suspected of stealing a briefcase full of money.
According to the most recent Invamer poll, the president’s popularity has dropped from around 50% in November to 34% last month.