President Gustavo Petro dealt a blow to Colombia’s democratic integrity on Monday during a speech to mark International Workers’ Day. Making his third appearance from a window of the Presidential Palace Casa de Nariño in Bogotá, the leftist leader, accompanied by his wife Verónica Alcocer, warned congressional lawmakers that attempts to curtail government reforms could “lead to a possible revolution.”
This statement, that sounded more like a threat, sent shock waves across Colombia’s political divides, and remark that was preceded by a call for mass mobilizations. “It is not enough to win at the polls, social change implies a permanent struggle, and the permanent struggle takes place with a mobilized people.”
The one-hour discourse to an audience of loyal supporters has many Colombians worried given that Petro is radicalizing his narrative to get his reforms passed even if Congress votes against the Health, Pension and Labor reforms. “This government of majorities needs a mobilized people. The reforms that we know are fundamental have been presented. Approving them should be an objective of the Colombian Congress – despite pressures of privileged groups.” Petro then went on to call on farmers, and working people, “to unite, organize, and go out onto the streets.”
As soon as Petro mentioned a “possible revolution”, and “mass mobilizations” to pressure the legislature, reactions were immediate. “In the face of this turbulence, serenity, patriotism and firmness to defend the independence of powers, the autonomy of the judiciary, the integrity of men and women in the public force, national sovereignty and freedom of expression, information and opinion,” wrote the respected journalist Juan Lozano in El Tiempo.
Ex-Defense Minister Diego Molano stated on Twitter that President Petro “cannot intimidate Colombians, nor affect the democratic debate on reforms that Colombia does not share.” Former presidential candidate Enrique Gómez highlighted that Petro is “becoming more radical every day. ‘Either you do what I say, or I end everything.’ What a danger to have another autocrat in Latin America.”
For Senator David Luna of Cambio Radical, Petro’s speech threatens to perpetuate the internal conflict another 60-years. “Petro’s speech is a sign that we have a wolf in sheep’s clothing as president, or rather, an authoritarian dressed as a democrat.” Former presidential candidate Juan Manuel Galán also warned that Colombia’s democracy is in danger. “The wolf took off his sheep’s clothing and threatens a (violent?) revolution to those who do not share the dogma of his reforms,” reads his Twitter post.
Petro’s polarizing words were spoken on the same day the country’s Vice-President Francia Márquez attended a May Day rally in Cali, and praised the First Line movement, by belting with microphone in hand: “Qué viva la Primera Línea!” The Primera Linéa was responsible for widespread acts of urban terrorism during the National Strike.
The Paro Nacional besieged the southwestern city of Cali and resulted in excessive vandalism to the departmental capital’s public and private infrastructure. Márquez’s remark also generated outrage among Colombians who witnessed the torching of police command posts in Cali, and other major cities. “I regret that the VP comes to hurt us with the Primera Línea,” stated the department’s governor Clara Ruíz Roldán. “Her (Márquez) words are an apology to violence.”
Former Colombian VP and ex-Ambassador to Washington, Francisco Santos, also joined the chorus of outrage, stating: “All of Colombia should learn about these statements by Vice President Francia Márquez in Cali, so that they can see how she defends those who violently destroyed that city. The Government of Change? No! A Government that protects criminals,” he said.
According to one of Colombia’s most outspoken journalists, and director of the country’s leading digital news magazine Semana, Vicky Dávila, “Vice President Francia Márquez disrespects Colombians when she defiantly launches “vivas” for the First Line. A group where there are murderers and torturers, a violent group that destroyed courthouses and commercial premises, which filled the streets with terror.” Dávila then affirms “Did the VP show her true face? What she did in Cali appears to go beyond ideological sympathy with a group that committed acts of terrorism and vandalism. This is not how you govern Mrs. Márquez, please respect and comply with the Constitution and the Law.”