Bogotá sees two days of peaceful demonstrations

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A student draps Simón Bolívar in a Colombian tricolor flag. Photo: Richard Emblin

In one of the largest public demonstrations since President Gustavo Petro was sworn-in on August 7, 2022, some 20,000 took to the streets of the Colombian capital in protest over the leftist government’s reforms. With Bogotá at the epicenter of two protests, including a smaller demonstration on Tuesday attended in the capital by some 4,000 pro-government supporters, both #14F and #15F were conducted peacefully.

The pro-Petro demonstration on Tuesday – in “defense” of government reforms – also congregated in Plaza de Bolívar, and was attended by the usual cast of trade unions, left-wing movements and parties Patriotic Union (UP), Communist Party of Colombia (PCC) and FARC’s political party Comunes. The flag of the M-19 was raised near the steps of the Palace of Justice, which in 1985, was stormed by the guerrilla resulting in the deaths of more than 100 magistrates and judicial employees. Gustavo Petro was a combatant with the M-19, before demobilizing in 1990.

Sympathizers of the M-19 guerrilla hoist the flag in Plaza de Bolívar. Photo: Richard Emblin

The march, accompanied by percussionists of the Central Workers Union (CUT) left Parque Nacional at 10 am and reached Plaza de Bolívar by midday.The NASA indigenous guard and anti-bullfighting activists voiced their support of Petro’s “change” agenda.

Anti-bullfighting activist during the pro-Petro rally. Photo: Richard Emblin

Many in attendance formed a line to enter the Presidential Palace’s Plaza de Armas to hear President Petro deliver his speech from a balcony. The open audience with the President was attended by some 600, including members of his cabinet, legislators and ex-FARC’s top commander Rodrigo Londoño.

Members of the indigenous guard ASOINCA maintain their blockade of the Colombian capitol. Photo: Richard Emblin

Petro was accompanied on the presidential balcony by his wife, Veronica Alcocer and daughter Antonella. As evening fell, and the Plaza de Bolívar empty, President Petro delivered a one hour and 20-minute speech in which he “socialized” reforms to health, pensions and labor. “Change will be more profound to the extent that the majority of society accompanies us. Change is only possible with the people,” he said.

President Petro warned that the three reforms “are not the last” and denounced Neoliberalism as the economic model that has exacerbated climate change, social inequality, and hunger. “If we hand over the State to the most powerful, from the point of view of wealth, there will be no human inclusion. If we hand over control of health to the most powerful in Colombia, a poor woman, or poor child, will die.”

The leftist leader then called on “the people to rise up, not to kneel, to become a crowd.” But the much-anticipated crowds Petro was anticipating to present his government’s agenda as a plebiscite, never materialized, and as he preached to his political converts – many part of Historic Pact coalition – the country’s opposition leaders decried his speech as among the most populist ever delivered.

On Wednesday, it was the opposition’s turn to take to the streets. Starting also at Parque Nacional, by 11 am the crowd swelled to cover both lanes of Carrera Séptima. As the march made its way to Plaza de Bolívar, the crowd also made itself heard with anti-Petro chants, and the blaring of tricolor horns. By noon, an estimated 15,000 filled the historic square, lined the façade of the Primary Cathedral, and hoisted banners with slogans critical of the government’s economic policies.

The anti-Petro rally on February 15 drew a crowd of 15,000. Photo: Richard Emblin
An anti-government protestor looks at the crowd from the Primary Cathedral. Photo: Richard Emblin

A group of students gathered around the statue of Simón Bolívar tied a Colombian flag to the neck of the Liberator. During the two marches that defined a politically-charged week in the Colombian capital, no there were no reported acts of violence or vandalism.

Anti-Petro protest in Plaza de Bolívar. Photo: Richard Emblin