Colombian President Gustavo Petro Warns Of Coup Plot Against Him

Retired members of Colombia’s military forces mobilized in Bogotá on Wednesday to protest the president and call for his removal.

“For the first time there is a president, that instead of trying to take the land away from peasants to keep it or give it to his friends, he is trying to give the land back. And now some former colonel says that this deserves a coup d’état… these coups are resisted and overcome through the mobilization of citizens,” declared Colombian President Gustavo Petro during an event in Sucre, in which land was turned over to dispossessed peasants.

Petro was referring to the incendiary statements made on Thursday, May 11 by retired Army Colonel John Marulanda during a debate on La W radio. Marulanda said that the mobilization of retired members of the military is a sign that Colombia is “following the steps of Peru” wherein “the reserve forces were successfully able to defenestrate a corrupt president.” He added, “Here we will do our best to defenestrate someone who was a guerrilla fighter.”

Marulanda, who is the ex-president of the Association of Retired Army Officials (ACORE), immediately tried to rectify his statement in the interview saying “I correct what was said. It is not about trying to defenestrate the president as Peruvian President Castillo was defenestrated…[Petro] is legitimate, it is perfectly plausible that he is president of the Republic.”

On Wednesday May 10, around 3,000 retired members of the Armed Forces mobilized in the Plaza Bolívar against the government of President Gustavo Petro and his policy of National Security. They particularly take issue with Petro’s government plan for “Total Peace” which has seen the government engage in peace talks and negotiations with numerous different armed groups in the country and establish several bilateral ceasefires. Retired army personnel also criticized the progressive reforms promoted by Petro and the members of Congress from the Historic Pact such as the health care reform and labor reform. Many in the mobilization demanded “Out Petro!” and staged particular opposition to the fact that he is a former member of a guerrilla group.

In this context, the incriminating statements of the retired colonel have sparked serious concerns amongst progressive forces of a possible coup plot against Petro.

Shortly after Marulanda spoke on La W, President Petro wrote on Twitter, “Why do they conspire for a coup d’état? Because they are terrified that we will end impunity. The truth frightens them so much that they get desperate.”

The Attorney General of the Nation released a communique the same day, in direct response to the declarations made in media that mentioned “the possibility of attacking democratic institutions established in Colombia and how a citizen expressed it word for word ‘defenestrate the president’”, and declared that it “rejects any attempt to undermine the democratic institutions and their representatives” and will open up an investigation.

On the other hand, far-right former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez rejected Petro’s warnings about a coup saying “[It is] detrimental to talk about a coup d’état when Colombia has had the most respectful Armed Forces of the democracy. [It is] detrimental that through political agreements with Congress, a coup d’état is made to the Health System.”

The tensions which have come to the fore in the last week, have been brewing since long before Gustavo Petro was even elected. One of the primary challenges facing Petro is how to deal with the massive Armed Forces apparatus which has historically been an ally of the successive right-wing governments in the country and is deeply entangled in its structure of corruption and crime, and is a cornerstone of its historic policy to suppress and eliminate the left.

The creation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) by the 2016 Havana Peace Accords and the numerous investigations it has carried out into the crimes committed by the members of the Colombian Armed Forces, such as the “False Positives” scandal, have caused a stir amongst those who are and have been part of the military apparatus. During the prior governments, there had been a de facto code of silence on the crimes committed by the Armed Forces against Colombian civilians, especially as they were often in collaboration with the government policies. This was the case with Uribe’s ‘Democratic Security doctrine’ which saw the expansion of Colombia’s military presence and the intensification of the campaign to militarily defeat leftist insurgencies.

As Petro’s government continues to threaten the vested interests of Colombia’s large landowners, military forces, health insurance moguls, and other conservative sectors, these attacks are likely to continue. However, as Petro declared, they will not deter his commitment to peace and social justice.

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