Colombia's government is facing its worst crisis since it took the reins 10 months ago with the promise of profound change. The scandal of illegal wiretapping that led to the dismissal of two positions of maximum confidence of President Gustavo Petro aggravates an already delicate situation. The tensions in the legislative coalition and the stalemate on key reforms force the president to demonstrate his ability to govern and to retake the initiative with intelligence to reactivate his agenda. Overcoming this deep slump is imperative not only for the credibility of the first leftist president of contemporary Colombia, but to guarantee governability itself.
The dispute between Armando Benedetti, a volcanic politician who became a decisive figure in the last electoral campaign before being appointed ambassador to Venezuela, and Petro's own chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, degenerated into a case full of edges. The most serious is Benedetti's insinuation about the financing of the candidacy. The leaked recordings are limited to sowing doubts, but they darken the horizon of the Executive. The president urged his former collaborator to give explanations to the Prosecutor's Office and the opposition went to the Accusations Committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the head of state. To this is added that the movement founded by Petro, the Historical Pact, denounced the attorney general, who should abide by the temperance demanded by the public ministry, for statements about the wiretapping plot, accusing him of acting like a politician.
This tsunami damages Colombia's international image, but it has also had direct consequences on the reform agenda that the government was trying to unblock with less than two weeks to go before the end of the session. The Legislature froze three of Petro's major health, labor, and pension projects. Lack of time was not the only obstacle, as the weakness of the coalition made a deal difficult. However, now the open fronts have multiplied.
The social base that supports the government reacted, mobilized by Petro, with the call for demonstrations in defense of the reforms. The marches on Wednesday were joined by trade unions, student organizations and the president, who gave a speech in which he stirred the ghost of a "soft coup" and not only asked for support for the projects that are in Congress, but also announced two additional reforms. The idea of vindicating himself in a demonstration is not new, he himself called another just a month ago. Given the circumstances, however, it does not seem the best formula to reduce tension in moments of enormous confrontation. The Government's priority in this context must be to avoid both confusion and the escalation of social and political tension. The best way to rescue Petro's reformist credibility is to manage the current dangerous crisis with transparency and willingness to dialogue.