Colombians in multiple cities took to the streets in protest late last month after President Gustavo Petro submitted his controversial healthcare reform proposal to Congress on Tuesday, February 14. Opponents of the legislation believe it would dismantle the best aspects of Colombia’s medical system in a lurch towards Cuban-style state-controlled health distribution.
Supporters of Petro had come out during the submission of the proposal pushing support for the healthcare reform bill, which centralizes the payment of private healthcare payment services into a single-payer system, but improving access to services in remote, rural areas in Colombia.
Opponents of Petro have criticized the bill, however, for its alleged anti-private-practice measures, saying that the reform could instigate economic instability in the country if it is approved.
Petro’s original proposal included removing private healthcare intermediaries known as EPS—similar to PPO or health insurance providers—altogether, but this was ultimately scrapped after opposition from his opponents.
Opponents of the measure and of Petro came out in droves after the submission of the proposal, and reports from the National Police showed that the anti-Petro protests drew a bigger crowd in Bogotá than the marches supporting Petro and for the health care reform.
Bogotá Mayor Claudia López revealed that while 2,000 people came to the pro-Petro marches, over 15,000 protestors came to the anti-Petro protests. She also reported that both of the events were largely peaceful, with no damage to public or private property during the marches.
“Today 15,000 people marched without any blockade or disturbance or damage to the city.
I thank all the citizens who marched yesterday and today for demonstrating that we can exercise political and democratic controversy peacefully. That is the true total peace that we must exalt,” she tweeted.
The protests have also revealed a bigger gripe that the right has against Petro’s overall policy of “Total Peace,” with many opposed to his proposal of suspending arrest warrants of certain drug traffickers in exchange for them to lay down their arms, with one banner reportedly saying that the administration “puts the trafficker before the merchant, the criminal before the businessman.”
“The change that the government is calling for favors criminals and is dividing Colombians,” elderly protestor William Castro said.
“The streets have spoken, they have spoken in a massive way and they are saying: ‘It (the government) is not going to impose a health reform… it is not going to impose a total peace on us,’” former Vice President Francisco “Pacho” Santos Calderón said.