Anti-government protests planned across Colombia for Saturday

Protesters on Saturday will march to Bogotá's Plaza de Bolivar/Richard Emblin

Anti-government marches are scheduled across Colombia on Saturday, the largest taking place in the country’s two main cities: Bogotá and Medellín. Promoted by right-wing political parties, coalitions and business associations, the protests are directed against leftist President Gustavo Petro, who has yet to complete 100 days in office.

In sharp contrast to the mass mobilizations that brought the country to a standstill last year with the National Strike and social uprising that resulted in road blockades, ensuing food shortages, and vandalism to urban infrastructure, on Saturday, despite tens of thousands taking to the streets, the protests will be conducted peacefully. Opposition leaders from the Centro Democrático and Salvación Nacional parties are rallying their bases to assemble at 10:00 am in central locations, including Bogotá’s Parque Nacional.

Ahead of Saturday’s protest against the government’s hefty COP$25 billion tax reform, and other government reforms that have rocked the financial markets,  accelerating the devaluation of the peso, on Friday, members of the so-called First Line are also staging protests in the Colombian capital. The First Line movement was responsible for violent actions during the Paro Nacional, including the torching of police command posts, attacks on ambulances and destruction to Bogotá’s articulated bus system TransMilenio.

The protests on Friday by Primera Linea is in response to a decision by the Colombian Congress to not grant amnesty to the members who are serving prison terms on charges of vandalism, other violent acts, among them kidnapping and homicide. Representatives of Petro’s Colombia Humana party, including the hard-left Senator Gustavo Bolívar, had proposed under the new Public Order Law (Ley 418) general pardon to the First Line as part of President Petro’s “Total Peace” objective.

Petro was given the green light by Congress as part of his “Paz Total” to resume peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla and negotiate surrenders of FARC dissident groups with ties to drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

In a sharp letter addressed to President Petro, the NGO Human Rights Watch alerted the country’s first leftist leader that “Colombia should prioritize obtaining concrete human rights commitments from Venezuelan authorities; supporting access of humanitarian assistance; reestablishing the rule of law; ending Venezuelan security forces’ complicity with the National Liberation Army (ELN).”

The letter highlighted that “Colombia’s response to the Venezuelan exodus has been mostly exemplary, despite the enormous challenges posed by a large influx of people and the economic consequences of the pandemic.” Colombia’s “exemplary response” to the influx of more than 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans is widely credited to the former right-wing government of President Iván Duque. Among the “landmark steps” initiated in 2021 was granting legal status to more than a million Venezuelans with Temporary Protection Status (TPS).

Human Rights Watch advises President Petro that “Colombia’s engagement with Venezuela should not be seen as a reason to be silent about human rights violations,” and the full reestablishment of diplomatic and consular relations, including any military cooperation, “should be seen as an opportunity to obtain concrete human rights commitments from Venezuelan authorities, such as the release of all people who have been arbitrarily detained.”

Members of Primera Linea are expected to engage in violent confrontations with the National Police’s Anti-Riot Squad – ESMAD – and block major roads in the city, including Avenida El Dorado (Calle 26) near the main entrance of the National University, Carrera 30 at Calle 45, and Calle 72 with Avenida Caracas.