Thousands protest in Colombia against the Petro government, while the labor reform falls

Thousands of demonstrators protested in the main cities of Colombia against the government of the leftist Gustavo Petro. Also this Tuesday, June 20, the labor reform, one of the pillars of the president’s reformist agenda, was shelved as there was not enough quorum to be debated in the country’s House of Representatives.

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Dressed in white and waving the flags of the South American country (with the colors yellow, blue and red), the mobilizations took to the streets of Bogotá, Medellín (northwest), Cali (southwest), Barranquilla (north) and other regional capitals in rejection of the reforms promoted by the president.

According to a police report, some 92,000 people protested across the country. Some of the demonstrators also opposed the so-called “total peace” policy promoted by Petro, which aims to curb hostilities with active armed groups in the country.

Petro “has improvised a lot and instead of wanting to improve what works, he wants to do away with everything that was there and it turns out that things can’t be achieved that way,” Gloria Huertas, 59, told AFP. The woman was one of the 30,000 people who gathered in the center of the Colombian capital.

People take part in a demonstration against Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogota on June 20, 2023.
People take part in a demonstration against Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogota on June 20, 2023. © RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP

The Government began its mandate in August 2022 with the support of the left and some traditional parties that guaranteed broad support in Congress. But various scandals over alleged abuses of power and ongoing investigations into the possible entry of illicit money during the presidential campaign have collapsed the coalition and its reforms foundered in the first legislature, which ends on Tuesday.

Petro spoke out about the demonstrations. “Now there are some marches against the government. Our greatest duty is to take care of them (…) That is the expression of the democratic spirit, that they can express themselves here as they want,” declared the president during the promotion ceremony of the new director of the policeman, General William Salamanca.

The fall of the labor reform

In parallel to the demonstrations, one of the government’s key reforms was shelved this Tuesday after it failed to reach the necessary quorum in the Seventh Committee of the House of Representatives for a first scheduled debate.

The reform was aimed at reducing working hours and increasing overtime pay, two measures that Petro had defended as keys to fighting poverty. However, critics of it said it could hurt job creation by raising wage costs.

“The collapse of the labor reform is very serious,” Petro said in a message on his Twitter account. “It shows that the desire for peace and social agreement does not exist for economic power. The owners of capital and the media managed to co-opt Congress against the dignity of the working people”.

This is a setback for the president, since this Tuesday is the last day of the current legislative session. If the government does not schedule additional sessions to debate the bill next week, the alternative may be to present it from scratch in the next legislative session starting on July 20.

The political scandal

The first left-wing president in the country’s history is also facing one of the worst political scandals of his tenure.

The crisis touched two of the president’s political allies: Laura Sarabia, Petro’s former chief of staff and right-hand man, and Armando Benedetti, a former Colombian ambassador in Caracas.

The former officials were involved in a case related to alleged abuse of power and illegal wiretapping.

According to the most recent survey by the firm Invamer, the approval of his management went from 50% in November to 34% in May.

With AFP and Reuters

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Written by Editor TLN

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