EL PAÍS, Spain, May 11,2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The President announced it in his Twitter account after a retired Colonel declared, “We are going to do our best to overthrow a guy that was a guerrilla.”

The relationship between President Gustavo Petro and a large sector of men that are retired from the Armed Forces is going through its worst moment, ever since the new administration got underway in August of last year. “Why are they conspiring for a coup d’etat? Why are they terrified that we are going to put an end to impunity?” wrote the President of Colombia in his Twitter account this Thursday after he shared Retired Colonel John Marulanda’s interview on  Radio. In the interview, the former Director of the Association of Officers Retired from the Armed Forces of Colombia (Acore) said, referring to the political crisis in Peru, that there “the reserves were successful in overthrowing a corrupt President.” He was referring to the leftist Ex-President Pedro Castillo, who failed in his attempted “self-coup” last year, and which Petro had defended several times. “Here, we are going to try to do our best to overthrow a guy that was a guerrilla,” added Marulanda. With that last phrase, he set off all the alarms.

Ever since Petro came to power last year, there has been the fear that the military would not allow an administration to last four years in the hands of a former guerrilla, the first time that has taken place in this country. Up to now, he has been accepted. Colombia regularly prides itself on being the most stable democracy on the continent, along with the United States, and it has not had a coup d’etat in decades (if you count the short dictatorship of General Rojas Pinilla in 1953). During the administration of former liberal President Ernesto Samper (1944-1998) there was sabre-rattling talk on several occasions, something that never happened. Petro, on the other hand, has been able to maintain a cordial relationship with the active duty Armed Forces in these 10 months of his administration, even after he appointed the renowned anticorruption investigator Iván Velásquez as Minister of Defense. But his relationship has been not nearly as smooth with the retired military.

After the declarations by Marulanda, Petro warned on Twitter of a possible coup d’etat, although the pronouncement was not from a person on active duty in the Armed Forces of Colombia. Petro’s Chief of Staff, Lara Sarabia, also denounced the declarations, making clear that there can be no doubt of the democratic character of Colombia’s Armed Forces. “Disagreeing with the administration is very different from inciting the overthrow of the government. And that anyone in the reserves is calling for that is not only an aggravating circumstance, but it also dishonors the uniform that he once wore. The democratic tradition of our Armed Forces ought NEVER to be placed in doubt,” she said on her Twitter account.

However, as W Radio reported, Marulanda later reversed himself. “I am correcting what I said. It’s not about overthrowing President Gustavo Petro the way Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was overthrown,” he clarified. The correction came too late. The fire had already started.

Marulanda’s interview took place after hundreds of retired Armed Forces men had demonstrated in Plaza Bolívar on Wednesday. They yelled, “Down with Petro!” several times, and they carried placards that talked about “progressives’ contempt” for the Armed Forces. In that kind of demonstration there is always a doubt about how much those political positions opposed to the President are aligned with the views of the members that are on active duty. Those on active duty may not legally be involved in political demonstrations, parties, or voting, while the retired military are allowed to do that. And ever since the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) the retirees have been great allies of Uribism, the greatest critics of Petrism.

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