Colombia protests against Petro gain momentum for April 21

Protestors displayed anti-Petro placards and posters in defense of defense of country's security forces. Photo: Mará Claudia Peña.

Colombians nationwide are gearing up for what promises to be one of the largest displays of public dissent in recent memory, as protests against President Gustavo Petro gain momentum. Scheduled to take place this Sunday, April 21, these demonstrations across the country, including planned protests in Houston, Miami, New York and Toronto, are shaping up to be a watershed moment in Colombia’s political landscape.

The groundswell of discontent against President Petro has reached a fever pitch, with recent polling data from Datexco revealing a staggering 64% disapproval rating. This widespread dissatisfaction stems from a myriad of grievances, including concerns that the national government is pushing the healthcare system to a brink of collapse, fears of escalating insecurity by FARC dissident groups, ELN, and more recently, an impending energy crisis.

Fueled by a myriad of factors including the re-grouping of illegal armed groups, the proliferation of drug trafficking, many Colombians across all social divides feel increasingly unsafe in their communities, with reports of extortion, kidnappings, and targeted violence on the rise.

At the forefront of these protests is a diverse mix of opposition groups, united in their rejection of President Petro’s policies and authoritarian leadership style. Spearheaded by figures like former mayoral candidate for Cali, Jaime Arizabaleta, Senators of the Centro Demócratico party Miguel Uribe Turbay, Paloma Valencia, and María Fernanda Cabal, David Luna of Cambio Radical party, and Bogotá Councillor Daniel Briceño, the coalition of right-wing and centrist political movements share a commitment to defending democratic principles and constitutional integrity.

One of the key focal points of the protests is the planned “March of the White Coats,” organized by medical associations to denounce government intervention in health promotion entities (EPS). This mobilization underscores the growing discontent within Colombia’s healthcare sector and adds another dimension to the broader opposition against President Petro.

But dissatisfaction with President Petro’s administration extends beyond domestic issues. His outspoken stance on international affairs, particularly his criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza and his reluctance to condemn the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro in barring Maria Corina Machado continues to draw condemnation on the domestic front and among international allies.

Critics argue that Petro’s foreign policy approach undermines Colombia’s standing on the world stage and has exacerbated tensions with Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, and El Salvador.

As the protests gain traction on social media, with hashtags such as #21A and #TodosALaCalle trending, a massive turnout on Sunday is expected in four of Colombia’s largest cities: Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla.

Prominent figures, including former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt and former M-19 guerrilla Carlos Alonso Lucio, have thrown their support behind the protests, lending them additional credibility and visibility. “I believe in a march of millions of people to prevent disaster in Colombia. Let’s leave the excuses and hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Petro,” expressed columnist Diego Santos.

In addition to the high-profile political representatives, the labor union CGT and numerous civil society organizations have also confirmed their participation on April 21. The broad-based coalition reflects the widespread dissatisfaction with an administration that has raised the spectre of another tax reform to be presented next year. Even one of Petro’s former allies, ex-Health Minister and presidential candidate Alejandro Gaviria, is rallying citizens to march against the current government.

Sunday’s demonstrations are poised to be a litmus test for the resilience of Colombia’s democratic institutions in the face of mounting challenges. With President Petro threatening to bypass Congress to push through a Constituent Assembly “of the peoples” the stakes now have never been higher. “The citizens’ contempt of Petro is enormous. We must defend the rule of law; we will march against the Constituent Assembly because what is happening is very dangerous,” highlighted Arizabaleta.

Former Colombian Finance Minister, Rudolf Hommes put it eloquently as to why citizens should take to streets. “On April 21 let’s march so that happiness returns to Colombia,” he wrote on “X”.

In Bogotá, the march will start from Parque Nacional at 10:00 am and go along Carrera Séptima, toward Plaza de Bolívar. In Medellín, there will be three points of concentration: at Parque El Poblado, Avenida Oriental with Playa, and Estadio metro station. The route will go to Parque de las Luces. In Cali, people will gather at Parque de las Banderas and walk to Plaza San Francisco in the city center. Barranquilla will have the Monumento del Joe Arroyo as the meeting point, and the march will proceed to Parque Santander.