Thousands of Colombians took to the streets Monday to protest against the reforms proposed by President Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla leader who came into power less than two months ago.
The so-called Great National March was staged in more than 20 cities nationwide and also in the United States, Mexico, Panama, and Switzerland. It was the first demonstration against the country's first-ever leftwing leader who has been head of state for less than two months.
In Bogota, people gathered mainly at the National Park and at the Plaza and Monument of the Fallen. Most were carrying Colombian flags and wearing white T-shirts. An encore is scheduled for October 24, organizers told reporters.
Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said Petro's government respected the people's right to protest and that public order would be maintained peacefully.
”The opposition called for today (Monday) a national day of protest. This government will respect the right of all citizens to social protest. Expressions of nonconformity will always be welcome and heard,” Prada said on Twitter.
Demonstrators argued that Petro's proposed tax reform will affect the poorest. Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo seeks to raise 25 trillion pesos annually (about US$ 5.55 billion), to reduce the social debt.
They have told the country that this reform was for the 4,000 richest Colombians, but it seems to be for 48 million Colombians, a demonstration leader was quoted as saying. With Petro in office, some of his campaign promises are not quite as he said they would be. The demonstrations are also against the labor and electoral code reforms Petro intends to get through Congress next year. The latter would entail the creation of a body with the power to cancel any political party in an arbitrary manner under criteria that they themselves will create, the protest leader argued.
During the protest, Petro was at the border with Venezuela as the barriers were officially lifted. Nicolás Maduro did not attend the event. After that, Petro ordered all college degrees of Venezuelans to be validated within Colombia through the speediest mechanism available while hoping for reciprocity on Maduro's part.