Petro says large protests across Colombia were “weak”

Anti-Petro protestor hoists Colombian flag next to Liberator Simón Bolívar. Photo: Daniel Rojas Sánchez.

Tuesday’s anti-government protests were the largest in the country since President Gustavo Petro took office on August 7, 2022, and as the nation marked one year since he won the election, an estimated 100,000 demonstrators (according to the National Police) marched in every city throughout Colombia. Without any acts of violence or vandalism reported by authorities, the impressive Marcha de la Mayoría (March of the Majority) was captured on camera by an estimated 30,000 who filled Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolivar, as well as by media outlets and drones. The 30,000 number was released by Bogotá’s Government Secretary José David Riveros.

By midday, Bogotá’s historic central square was filled to capacity. But it did not take long for President Petro, who departed the Colombian capital on Tuesday to Paris, France, to discredit the march on social media.

Accompanying a photo of the Plaza de Bolívar (clearly taken before midday when the protest was scheduled to start), and image in which the Plaza was only half filled, President Petro stated the following: “That’s how it was, weak on the Caribbean coast, weak on the Pacific coast; it (the march) failed to fill Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar, and was strong as ever in Medellín and Santanderes”.

Tweet by Gustavo Petro to discredit the anti-government protests.

Petro’s comment was strongly rejected by opposition leaders, journalists, and demonstrators who attended the peaceful protests. “How unfortunate to invalidate your critics, instead of listening to the sectors that raise legitimate criticism,” wrote columnist Fernando Posada. “If Petro insists on ignoring popular discontent and active citizenship, he will only continue to bury himself, and incidentally, do a lot of damage to Colombia,” said right-wing Senator Miguel Uribe Turbay. “Today Petro governs for a radical, violent, and sectarian minority”.

For Miller Soto, a Law and Economics Professor from the Colombian coast, the size of the Marcha de la Mayoría is proof that the majority of Colombians are dissatisfied with the Petro administration. “We don’t like your reforms and we feel that the country is going astray. But instead of listening, you belittle,” he stated on Twitter.

Demonstrators also assembled Tuesday outside the Colombian consulates in Miami and New York, as well as Embassies in Washington, Madrid, and London. For Carlos Alberto Ramírez, a Colombian resident in New York City, attending the demonstration in Manhattan’s Midtown was about “supporting his fellow citizens in defending freedom of speech and the right to protest against reforms that fuel discord and hatred among Colombians.”

Colombians protest outside the Consulate in New York City. Photo: María Claudia Peña.

As the march began to dissipate in the afternoon, lawmakers were faced to vote on whether Petro’s Labor Reform would be debated in Congress. With only a few days to go before Congress closes for the summer recess, the controversial reform did not get the necessary quorum and was shelved. Unlike the Health Reform that will be debated in Congress when sessions resume on July 20, the end of the Labor Reform was taken as a victory for the opposition and latest legislative defeat for Petro’s Historic Pact party. “The collapse of the labor reform is very serious,” stated Petro via Twitter, before blaming the “owners of capital and media in co-opting Congress against the dignity of the working people.”

In yet another reference that discredits the role of the press in covering national events, and questioning a labor reform that according to the Central Bank would result in more than 475,000 jobs lost, Petro appears increasingly angered at lawmakers, the opposition, and the very citizens he has to lead – Colombians.