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Bogota (AFP) – Thousands of people took to the streets of the main cities of Colombia this Tuesday to support the legislative initiatives with which the president, Gustavo Petro, seeks to reform the health and pension systems to strengthen state participation.
Unions of workers, educators and health workers, among others, responded from the morning to the call for the first left-wing government in the history of Colombia, which this week presents an ambitious battery of reforms to Congress, where it has a majority thanks to a coalition with parties of center and moderate right.
“Today I’ll wait for you at 4 pm in the Plaza de Armas and the Plaza de Bolívar and in all the public squares of the country,” said the president on Twitter, who will explain his projects in a speech from the government headquarters in Bogotá.
“Whoever won (the elections) was the people and the people want change in Colombia. We are going for the changes towards a democratic and peaceful country,” the president harangued.
A health system with greater state power
With Colombian flags, musical instruments and banners, the demonstrators gathered in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and other cities, on the eve of protests called by the opposition to reject the policies that Petro aspires to implement in his four-year term ( 2022-2026).
Until now, your government has only released the text of its health reform, which aims to reduce private participation in the system to strengthen the capacities of the State and expand coverage to the poorest through the public system.
“It is necessary and urgent to reform health in Colombia (…) there is never an agenda to attend to a patient or an appointment, it is unfair,” Isabel Córdoba, a 38-year-old Afro-descendant lawyer and human rights defender, told AFP. was demonstrating in Bogota.
Gloria Peñuela, a nurse at a university hospital, pointed out the “lack of opportunities” for health workers and patients, “especially in regions where people have great difficulty accessing health services.”
Opponents and certain members of Petro-friendly parties are critical of the reform. In addition to its million-dollar costs, they point out the possibility that it encourages corruption and makes the medical union even more precarious.
Between defenders and detractors of the health reform
Petro has great convening capacity since before he came to power, in August. In 2021 he led the massive protests against his predecessor, Iván Duque.
Last Wednesday, teachers from a union tried unsuccessfully to force their way into the Capitol and have camped out in front of the building ever since.
“The message for the congressmen is that they approve this health reform, at a desk (in an express manner and without space for debate) if possible,” said a lawyer who marched in favor of the president.
Right-wing politicians and the companies that are currently in charge of providing health services resist this change.
“They revive a public health system that was a disaster and the worst: they hand over public health resources to mayors and governors,” criticizes former Health Minister Fernando Ruiz in an interview with the local station Caracol Radio.
Pension reform and legal proposal against drug trafficking, also under debate
The Executive also plans to reveal a bill for the judicial submission of the “mafias” that dispute the income from drug trafficking in the country that produces the most cocaine worldwide.
The initiative contemplates reduced penalties for drug traffickers who dismantle their organizations and other benefits such as keeping 10% of their fortunes, announced Justice Minister Néstor Osuna.
Petro has also announced a pension reform that seeks to bring more resources to public funds and set a minimum income for the elderly, as well as a change in the prison system.
Congress approved at the end of last year the tax reform proposed by the Government. But on this occasion the president of the Senate, Roy Barreras, has expressed reservations about the health reform and the demobilization of the drug traffickers.
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