"I wanted to make a revolution and I still want to make it," Colombian President Gustavo Petro told the progressive U.S. program Democracy Now! this weekend. The message is that he is coherent, that he maintains the ideals of social and political change that led him to be a guerrilla of the extinct M-19 in his youth and a leftist politician — he uses the adjective progressive — since then, more than three decades ago. That identification with his history and his trajectory, precisely, is what he shows in his most recent political decisions, which put his most traditional bases and flags back at the center of his Government.
On Tuesday, she endorsed a message of support for gender equality. Although she reformed the shortlist she sent to the Supreme Court of Justice to elect attorney general, she maintained a trio of women criminalists. The change he made, by removing Amparo Cerón to include Luz Adriana Camargo, reinforces in turn two additional ideas, very typical of his political career.
On the one hand, with the entry of Camargo he recalls his struggle against the alliance between politicians and paramilitaries, known as parapolitics. As an opposition congressman in the government of Álvaro Uribe, Petro was one of the great leaders of the debates on this criminal phenomenon. He worked closely with a unit of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court in charge of these investigations, which was coordinated by his current Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez, and where Camargo worked.
Velásquez later led the UN-funded International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), charged with investigating the crime in the Central American country. The CICIG also took Camargo, who, although he is not a publicly known figure, does bring in his career that fight against corruption, another traditional Petro flag. The president also removed Amparo Cerón from the shortlist, who, according to people close to the president, did not advance enough in the investigation into the Odebrecht scandal, which she was in charge of in the Prosecutor's Office. This replacement, in short, reiterates an anti-corruption message that has taken a back seat in Petro's speech on issues such as energy transition, total peace or the reform of the social security system and public services, but which he has been resuming.
Petro speaks during a march called in support of him in Bogotá, June 7. Nathalia Angarita
Proof of this is his recent announcement that in his Government there will be no tenders with a single proposer, something that the law allows when there are no more interested parties or when they are disqualified for not complying with the requirements. The president made that statement after the Foreign Ministry declared void a tender to choose the company in charge of producing the passports, and despite the risk of both lawsuits from the only company authorized in that contest, Thomas Greg & Sons, and delays or problems in the issuance of the document required to travel outside the country.
Petro has not only dusted off flags that characterized them for decades, but has reinforced his commitment to mobilize sectors that have been faithful to him in the past. The marches he has called for this Wednesday, in support of the reforms he has proposed and that have a difficult path in the Legislature, are the most obvious proof. Unions, peasants, teachers or indigenous people, several of the social groups that most promoted his presidential campaign in 2022, are the main guests. Once again, he has already called them to take to the streets several times since April, when he broke his coalition government and took a first turn to the left.
On this occasion, the Government has called for marches "for life", a kind of umbrella term for the changes it promotes on several fronts. And it has not only promoted the call with a call, but with concrete incentives. For example, organizing and publicizing the closing concert of the mobilizations in the central Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, led by the famous rock group Aterciopelados.
For those who work the land in the territories, for those who form collectives to raise their voices, for those who lead cultural and creative processes in the regions, for those who join the culture of peace, #NosMovemosPorLaVida this September 27. Let's go to the square! pic.twitter.com/8m2iwg9xs3
— MinInterior Colombia (@MinInterior) September 25, 2023
Music summons precisely another of the sectors most traditionally related to Petro, youth. It was the younger ones who voted for him the most, and it is in that demographic group that he has the best opinion in the polls. Young people were also the majority in the demonstrations of 2019 and 2021, a social outbreak that cornered the Government of the right-wing Iván Duque and that promoted the presidential aspiration of Petro in 2022, since he had become head of the opposition after having scratched power.
The recent announcement that one of the victims of police abuses in these mobilizations, Gareth Sella, will be the Deputy Minister of Youth of the new Ministry of Equality, is another sign of Petro's return to his social bases. In the campaign, Petro promised not only to watch over these victims, but to ensure the freedom of dozens of young people who were detained for participating in the protests, in several cases for processes with irregularities. Obtaining that task has been difficult both in Congress and before the courts, and hence the appointment of Sella as head of all public policy of youth is an especially relevant wink for another group that has historically been close to Petro.
Gareth Sella in May 2022.Camilo Rozo
And not only him but, even more clearly, his party's candidate for mayor of Bogotá, former senator Gustavo Bolívar. The former television scriptwriter, who told this newspaper that "the survival of the Historic Pact [the coalition of political parties and movements for which Petro was elected] depends on his electoral success, directly supported the young people who were mobilizing against the Duque government. He made collections to obtain helmets, shields, goggles and gas masks for the so-called First Line, an organized group of young people in charge of protecting other demonstrators from the attacks of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) of the Police, and to which Sella belonged.
That initiative earned him strong criticism from the government of the time and its allies on the right, but it also won him the sympathy of many of the young demonstrators and their families and relatives. Just a month before reaching the polls, Bolivar has said he will attend the mobilizations called by Petro. The government candidate has said that it is not an electoral demonstration, which would be prohibited because it would be financed with public resources, but the marches themselves, and the "taking of Bogotá" that the government will make in the following days have been criticized by his political rivals.
Supporters of Petro during a march on June 7. NATHALIA ANGARITA
"The meetings of the national government in Bogotá are made to benefit the campaign of his party," candidate Carlos Fernando Galán, leader in the polls, said in X —formerly Twitter— . The former director of the Police and right-wing candidate Jorge Luis Vargas called for a cacerolazo of rejection, this Wednesday, at seven o'clock at night. Independent Juan Daniel Oviedo, who on Tuesday received the news that he is not officially disqualified from being candidates, said that the president "is intervening in politics." The candidate of Uribismo and Minister of Defense during the mobilizations of 2019 and 2021, Diego Molano, has said that the marches are "the procession of terror."
Petro has moved on. The votes on October 29 will be read by many as an assessment of his mandate, a barometer of popular support, although they obey to a greater extent local logics. Losing Bogota, the city he himself governed a decade ago and which paved the way for him to the presidency, would be a heavy blow. The strength of the marches on Wednesday will be a sign of how many forces Petro and Bolivar have, mobilizing the sectors most related to the Government and waving the flags that launched Petro to the presidency, in the final month of the campaign.
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