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Colombia - Threats to Democracy: Is Colombia’s Petro Administration Facing a Coup?

The election of Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez was made possible by a wave of national strikes and other mobilizations against Colombia’s oligarchy and in favor of peace and human and labor rights. Petro and Marquez are the first Colombian heads of state who came from the grassroots. Marquez is the first Black and the first woman Vice President. Today that government is under threat. The Alliance for Global Justice has reported how even before the election, the right was trying to derail the Petro/Marquez campaign including different levels of US collaboration

Currently, the term of Attorney General Francisco Barbosa, is ending, and there are supposed to be elections by the Supreme Court to replace him. Barbosa, a holdover from the previous government of Iván Duque, alleges the FECODE teachers union made an illegal contribution to the Petro campaign. He is arguing that with these investigations going on, the transition to a new Attorney General should be suspended. However, despite threats, intimidation, and even torture of union members, no credible witnesses have stepped forward to back Barbosa’s accusations. 

Even if an infraction occurred, it is the kind that has been routinely overlooked and dismissed in the past. Indeed, Barbosa’s ally, Carlos Camargo, Colombia’s Ombudsman who is responsible for human rights monitoring and defense, is implicated in the cover up of an almost $2 million bribe by the Brazilian transnational Odebrecht to the 2014 presidential campaign of Oscar Iván Zuluaga. Zuluaga was the Center-Right candidate, known for connections to paramilitary death squads. Beneath the hypocrisy, we can see that the coup plotters are pursuing the same playbook of “lawfare” that has been used to threaten and bring down popular Leftist leaders throughout Latin America. The situation has deteriorated so much that Barbosa and his allies have even advised the Colombian Armed Forces to not obey orders from the president. All this happens as the Petro administration is advancing groundbreaking initiatives such as the Total Peace Plan and an innovative agricultural reform package.  

Carlos Camargo, Colombia’s Ombudsman, is another leader of the attempts to block Petro’s ability to govern, and, if possible, remove him from office. Camargo is especially seen as an enemy of Colombia’s peace process and, despite his position as Ombudsman, someone who prefers to ignore human rights abuses rather than document and prevent them. He has booted the SINDHEP human rights monitors union from the negotiating table, and leaders of the union have been threatened and assaulted. SINDHEP President William Salazar has been forced to leave Colombia because of the danger to his life and to his family. Camargo has been accused by his own workers of covering up abuses during the 2021 National Strike. During the 2022 elections, when threats and assaults against campaigns were setting new precedents, Camargo suspended monitoring of the situation by his office. 

Is there a US role in the attempts to bring down the Petro administration? The situation is complicated, and we have seen in the past how Republican members of the US House have pursued strategies to denounce, isolate, and bring down the Petro administration and undermine his Total Peace Plan. The Biden administration has used a more carrot and stick approach, seeking to “tame” Petro and bring him into line with their policies. However, Petro continues to pursue normalization with Venezuela, an end to the Drug War, and other positions that directly contradict US plans for the region, and there have been indications that if Petro does not cooperate on these matters, he is considered expendable. 

It is ominous that at the end of January, just before the current crisis unfolded, Attorney General Barbosa was in Washington DC, meeting with the White House and other government officials. Meanwhile, high level US officials are in Bogotá this week to meet with President Petro regarding his policies on Venezuela. While Petro is seeking to normalize relations with the Bolivarian government, the Biden administration has enacted new sanctions. These are exactly the kinds of scenarios we have seen in the past around so very many coups against elected governments in Latin America: a visit by coup plotters to Washington, DC, followed by highly placed US officials traveling to the target country right before or during destabilizations. It is easy to infer that Petro may be receiving an ultimatum: back up US policies on Venezuela or else…. 

According to an article published in Bloomberg News

“US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer and the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere Juan González will travel to Colombia’s capital and hold meetings alongside Chief of Mission of the Venezuelan Affairs Unit Francisco Palmieri, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named because the discussions are confidential. 

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a key ally to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro since taking office in 2022, is expected to be at the meeting, two people with knowledge of the plans said. 

The meetings will take place a week after the Biden administration restored sanctions on Venezuela’s gold sector....” 

The power of the Colombian oligarchy lies in its ties to transnational capitalism and the US/NATO Empire. The power of the Petro/Marquez government lies with the people. For this reason, demonstrations backing the elected government have been called for Thursday, February 8, throughout Colombia and the world. In the US, there are actions planned in New York, Washington, DC, and elsewhere demanding NO COUP and that the will of the Colombian people be respected. We of the US and the international community must denounce any foreign interference and demand that the US, United Nations, and other international bodies not recognize any coup government in Colombia.

A coup against the Petro/Marquez administration is an attempt to destroy Colombia’s peace process while renewing and amplifying threats to Venezuela and the region. It is in the interest of all who hunger for peace and support popular democracy to stand with the people of Colombia. “The peace of Colombia is the peace of the world.”