EL COLOMBIANO, May 2, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
From the balcony of the President’s Palace, the President criticized business owners, Congress, and the courts in a message that seemed to put pressure on the framework of democracy.
Almost at the end of his long speech on the balcony, President Petro summed it up. He said, “Don’t leave us alone in these enormous and cold palaces. Don’t leave us alone to face the mob of the privileged, this is the time for changes, and we don’t have to go back.” Following his defense of his reforms or a review of Colombian history from the times of the colony, there was a long dissertation, asking for the accompaniment of the people when his reforms bog down in the Colombian Congress.
With his popularity declining, as the latest Invamar poll reveals a 56% disapproval rating, the President took a few minutes in which he compared himself with Simón Bolívar, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and Alfonso López Pumarejo, calling out, “It’s not enough to win the election, social change implies a permanent struggle and the permanent struggle happens when the people are mobilized, and leading the mobilization have to be the young people, the laboring people, the working class. The attempt to stifle the reforms could lead to a revolution.”
Barricaded in the balcony, with his wife Verónica Alcocer guarding his back, the President looked a bit tired and sick, with a cough that sometimes interrupted his speech. They say at the President’s Palace that he has had a stubborn flu for several days, without counting the cloudburst of the numerous bittersweet results that the Chamber of Representatives rained down on his health care reform bill, and the departure of seven Ministers before concluding even one year as President.
Everything in the speech shows that the President feels that things aren’t going well with either the legislative or the judicial, so therefore, he calls on the “working people” to take to the streets, and although they did fill the Plaza de Armas next to the President’s Palace, it wasn’t a campaign rally that could fill the Plaza de Bolívar, which is much larger.
In the middle of his speech, President Petro sounded like the incarnation of the battles that started with the liberation campaign of Simón Bolívar and, in a message that sounds like an attack on democracy and that was harshly criticized on social networks by politicians of all sides, he attacked the institutions that are the framework of democracy and the separation of powers.
“Maybe they thought, Petro as President has so many internal obstacles within the administration, and external also with the Congress, the Courts, and the principles of independence of the branches, that they can beset him in his attempts to bring about reforms. Because now, it seems to me that, without repeating history, because history is never repeated, we are at a time like that of General Melo, of President Bolívar, of the great reformer, Alfonso López Pumarejo.”
It was an emotional speech, oriented toward a rhetoric limited in that there were some falsehoods or far-fetched truths, and it was one that definitely moved to attack and away from the search for dialog. The central point was based on saying that it’s the political classes and the oligarchy that are opposing the reforms he has lined up in his bills in the Congress, such as health care reform, pension reform, and labor standards reform. But that is not accurate, as the criticisms are even coming from those who have been members of the administration, people with reputations based on experience and expertise in every area, such as former Minister Alejandro Gaviria.
Besides that, several opinion polls have shown that the reforms don’t have majority support; for example, the Polymetrica Cifras y Conceptos (Statistics and Concepts), which in a survey made between last February 24 and March 6, found that 80% of the respondents disapproved of the extinction of the EPS (health insurance entities).
From his balcony, Petro went back to rant about the Colombian health care system, claiming that it ranks 81st in the world according to the publication Lancet. Already at the beginning of April when he mentioned this statistic for the first time, La Silla Vacía, after subjecting the statement to analysis, had pointed out the mistake, as the data resulted from an analysis about the evolution of access and the quality of health care between 1990 and 2016, so it’s not recent. There is another survey that reaches 2019 in which this country ranks higher.
In his diatribe, in order to defend the pension reform in passing, Petro claimed that the EPS are on a path of self-destruction and are doomed to disappear, and that the private pension funds will meet the same fate because “their annual expenses are more than their incomes, there is already no capacity for saving, therefore the business ceased to exist, the utilities and the commissions of the funds are headed downward.” The outlook went from destroyer to savior: it’s better to close down the EPS and the funds before they disappear.
This is a panorama very different from the one painted just a few days ago by the trade association Asofondos. Its president, Santiago Montenegro, presented a positive balance, with a saving of 336 billón pesos (roughly USD $72,127,000,000 at today’s exchange rates) and earnings in the first quarter of this year totaling 18.25 billón (roughly USD $4,000,000,000 at today’s exchange rates), the best quarter in fifteen years.
What’s true is that, based on these allegations unsupported by evidence, Petro was calling on the Labor Day marchers to “be in the front line in the struggle for the transformations,” claiming that now is the time to make use of protest marches to influence decision-making.
“In history there has never existed one single reform in favor of working people that has not been the fruit of struggle in the streets, we can’t go backwards and lose the momentum,” he said, adding that we could not “leave these great reforms for change by themselves to be negotiated by the ones that have always opposed them.”
And it was then that came the phrase he used to support the tone of the whole speech, and it’s worth repeating: “Don’t leave us by ourselves in these enormous cold palaces; don’t leave us alone to face the mob of the privileged; this is the time for the changes, and we don’t have to go backwards.”
At least 2,000 people took to the streets of Medellín this Monday, May 1, to take part in the Labor Day marches, according to reports by the authorities.
Even though in the greater part of the capital of Antioquia, the day was observed peacefully, the City Clerk’s Office confirmed that there had been some acts of vandalism to a speed observation camera installed at 65th and to a Police office in the Caribe neighborhood.
The march began at 9:00 a.m. in the Castilla neighborhood, in northwest Medellín, close to 79th and 99th Street, in front of the Educational Institution CASD.
Workers centers, victims organizations, and members of the student movement took part in the demonstration, which went past points like the Mico Bridge, close to the North Transportation Terminal, and toward the end of the afternoon they came together at the Park of Desires in northeastern Medellín.
John Jaramillo, an official delegated by the Permanent Unit for Human Rights, said that in spite of the acts of the vandals, there was nothing outrageous that left anyone injured or arrested.
To accompany the demonstration the Police deployed 1,000 officers and the Army sent 270 soldiers.
“Long live the front lines!”: Francia Márquez
Vice President Francia Márquez issued a controversial declaration after her participation in the Labor Day marches in Cali. Speaking from a platform, Márquez requested a minute of applause for the workers of the country, and then said, “I’m not afraid to say it here. Long live the front lines! Many of them have been killed, they pulled out their eyes, they jailed them, and today the people are saying ‘we’re with you and we won’t forget you’. They asked me for education, and the tax reform that has been passed is directed to that objective,” Márquez said.
With new Ministers, “the political fight is improving”
After the formal signings and the photos with each new Minister now making up the cabinet that had been dismantled eight days before, President Gustavo Petro gave a talk that heated up the atmosphere for his balcony speech.
In an attempt to find out who was on his side, Petro began his talk with evident determination and in a threatening tone, “This is a political fight that isn’t over yet, but it’s gotten better now. Let’s have a balcony speech with the working people, it shows whose side this administration is on,” he said, to laughter.
What the President was trying to do during the speech was to establish a firm position in the face of the social conflicts before this country, and in passing, he took the opportunity to throw out some jibes at previous administrations and at the “elite” classes.
“The social conflict was choked in the prisons, in repression. It was a dictatorial manipulation by those administrations that belonged to some special elites, and they transmitted that “elite” position into the laws, a position that defended the privileges of a “business” class that doesn’t get rich through its own labor, but rather gets rich by running the government.”
Later he lit into the Congress that has his reforms on hold. “I hope the Congress of Colombia can reflect, in spite of the pressure it receives every day from the most reactionary and backward sectors of this country that are trying to influence the Congress not to adopt the reforms,” said Petro.
The President’s next words were to welcome the Ministers: Ricardo Bonilla, Finance Minister; Jhenifer Mojica, Minister of Agriculture; Luis Fernando Velasco, Interior Minister; Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo, Health Minister; Yesenia Olaya, Minister of Science; Mauricio Lizcano, TIC (Technology and Information); and William Camargo, Transportation Minister.
In the same way, he used the time to assign them some tasks and, after a fashion, put pressure on them so that this time his objectives would be accomplished.
The first mission was assigned to the Minister of Agriculture, and he told her that, “agricultural reform is one of the most important, it’s fundamental. If this administration doesn’t end up with anything else in that area, it would have failed to keep its promise of change,” he said.
In addition, he asked for, “exhaustive labor, because we are hoping to democratize the land in Colombia, so that the campesinos have access to land ownership, as ordered in the Constitution. To satisfy the necessities and extend freedom.”
And he added that it’s necessary for the administration to use legal tools to purchase the 3 million hectares required by the Peace Agreement for the benefit of the campesinos.
During his speech, the President did not ignore the tasks needed for one of his most controversial projects, health care reform, now headed by Minister Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo.
Of him, he asked, “take and make the health care reform triumphant in the Congress. The change in Ministers doesn’t change the essence of the project, that the public money spent on health care be managed by the public, and not some entities that interfere with the people receiving medical attention. Those criteria for health care reform have to be maintained, and they have been accepted by the parties, but they backed out under the pressures that came from a powerful group.”
And he added that, “in spite of the fact that they weren’t able to sink the reform, in spite of the fact that we won that, they still were able to destabilize the discussions. The Congress has to decide which side they’re on, the side of the people or the side of the huge fortunes and their privileges. The Health Minister has a tough job, which is to attract the majority of members of Congress to vote on the side of health care reform.”
The Finance Minister also came out with tasks assigned. The President emphasized the necessity to prioritize the rural or campesino roads.
“I expect the Minister of Transportation to prioritize rural roads, the campesino trails, the steps toward the railway mode of transportation, which is what supports and helps mitigate the climate crisis,” he stated. In addition, he asked for construction of landing strips in the regions to promote the tourist industry, which must in time replace the drilling for petroleum and mining of coal.
Petro also took the opportunity to talk about a current issue: the price of gasoline. And he asked Minister William Camargo to work on the proposals to keep the gasoline subsidy from continuing to be paid with money from the poorest people, because it’s necessary, “for Colombia to put forward a policy in which the gasoline subsidy, besides diminishing to zero, not be paid with poor people’s money, but rather from the pockets of those who use that gasoline. That would free up funds for the poorest in society.”
Also at the event, the new Director of Ungrd (National Unit for Disaster Risk Management), Olmedo López, and the Director of Superintendency of Industry and Commerce, María del Socorro Pimienta, were inaugurated.