Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets on February 14 to support progressive social and economic reforms proposed by President Gustavo Petro.
Members of social movement organisations, unions and left-wing political parties marched to the presidential palace in the capital Bogotá, before Petro delivered a speech to the packed Plaza de Armas. There were also large rallies in the cities of Cali, Pasto, Barranquilla and Valledupar.
Petro called for the mobilisations with the purpose of informing people of planned reforms and strengthening support for the health reform he presented to Congress the day before. Interior minister Alfonso Prada said the marches are “a way of socialising the reforms to the public”.
The health reform focuses on improving primary care and disease prevention, increasing access to healthcare for rural communities, raising healthcare workers’ salaries and increasing state control over the sector.
Health minister Carolina Corcho said that the government is seeking to guarantee the right to health for all Colombians.
Corcho said the reforms will also focus on the “determinants of health”, recognising that health is “not just about disease”. “The bill is an instrument for the design of policies on drinking water, mining, mercury, environmental pollution and hunger.”
Petro vowed to implement reforms to tackle the problems faced by working-class Colombians.
He reinforced plans for labour and pension reforms, programs to guarantee universal access to tertiary education and welfare schemes for poor families and the elderly.
Petro’s government began a second round of peace talks on February 13 with the National Liberation Army — Colombia’s biggest active guerrilla group — with the aim of bringing about “total peace” in the country.