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Colombia: Thousands protest President Petro's reforms

April 22, 2024

An estimated 250,000 people in Colombia took to the streets in various cities to protest the social and economic reforms of the left-wing President Gustavo Petro. Many chanted "out with Petro."

Protesters draped in Colombia flags hold up placards reading Petro Out
Chants of 'Petro out!' echoed through Colombian citiesImage: Luisa Gonzalez/REUTERS

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets on Sunday to protest the reform agenda of the left-wing government of Gustavo Petro, whose popularity is now at an all-time low.

Shouts of "Petro out!" echoed on the streets of cities across the nation. Despite rain, some 70,000 people marched in the national capital of Bogota, according to city government estimates, waving national flags and blowing on trumpets.

They eventually gathered in the central Bolivar Square.

"I voted for change, for Petro, but we're still in the same situation. I'm demonstrating because I think Colombia still has hope and because I love my country," said Martha Estrada, a 64-year-old pensioner wearing a tricolor hat in Bogota. 

Petro, in turn, said the main goal of the marches is to topple the "government of change," calling the protests a "soft coup" to thwart reforms. He called for a massive pro-government march on May 1.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he said the demonstrations had seen some 250,000 people take to the streets across the country. The protests were large in Medellin, Bogota and Bucaramanga but "weak" in 18 other locations, he said. 

Unpopular reforms

Petro, a former leftist guerrilla, has faced protest off and on since taking office in 2022.

During the most recent protests, medical associations, opposition groups and even former Petro allies, have urged people to take to the streets to protest the reforms he is trying to implement.

These include efforts to nationalize health services and the troubled peace talks with armed guerrilla groups.

The president wants to reduce the role of private companies as health service providers.

"This government's policies are dire. The health system, despite its flaws, was working and now Petro is putting an end to it by plunging patients who have no healthcare or medicine into a crisis," said Monica Leon, a 45-year-old doctor. 

Hundreds of protesters against Colombian President Gustavo Petro carry flags and banners in Bogota
The government estimates some 250,000 people took part in the protests across the countryImage: Luisa Gonzalez/REUTERS

Meanwhile, Petro's policy of "total peace" which attempts to bring an end to six decades of armed conflict, has also faced a backlash.

According to polling group Invamer, 70% of Colombians say the situation in the country "is getting worse."

"This man protects the criminals of the guerrilla more than the good people of this country," said 67-year-old protester Betty Ospina.

Petro weakened

It has been a mere 20 months since Petro took the reins of a country generally governed by conservative elites.

He recently suffered an important defeat when Colombia's congress refused to pass legislation to boost state control of the country's health care system aimed at improving and lowering the cost of medical care.

In response to this defeat, Petro ordered the takeover of two of the country's top medical insurers by decree. 

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mk/jsi (AFP, AP, Reuters)