Violence erupts during Gustavo Petro’s visit to Cucuta

By James Rosenfield March 7, 2018

Image by David González/Espacio

Last Friday, Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro’s caravan came under attack by protesters as he traveled through the city of Cucúta that borders Venezuela. An investigation into the attack has since been launched by the attorney general.

Petro was not injured in the attack, which saw protestors hurling rocks and eggs at his vehicle. The candidate had arrived in Cucúta to make a speech, which he eventually did in front of riot police and supporters. Petro accused local police of driving him through an unsafe area filled with protesters, as opposed to directly to the place where he was meant to speak.

Gustavo Petro is a polarizing figure in Colombian politics, not least due to his membership of M-19, a leftist guerrilla group infamous for storming the Palace of Justice in Bogotá in 1985. The resulting military intervention resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, dozens of them civilians.

In 1990, M-19, along with Petro, joined the Colombian government as part of a peace deal which stated that if they handed in their arms, the rebel group could have seats in parliament. They won a number of seats in the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia representing the Cundinamarca Department.

In the mid-2000s, Petro helped to uncover the “parapolitics” scandal, which exposed several politicians who had received funds from various paramilitary groups, including the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the AUC, who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. He has even attempted to shed light on former president Alvaro Uribe’s connection with the paramilitary group.

Gustavo Petro is running on a platform of environmental protection, indigenous rights, exposing corruption, and other leftist economic policies. He is extremely popular amongst the working poor of Colombia, but amongst the upper classes there is fear that he could turn Colombia into a socialist state resembling neighbour Venezuela.

This is the most violent election since 2006, when AUC paramilitaries roamed rural areas in death squads coercing voters to support their candidates. There have been violent protests against various FARC candidates, as well as protests against former president Uribe and this most recent attack against Petro.

Petro claims that the attack was orchestrated by former mayor of Cucúta, Ramiro Suarez, who is currently serving a 27-year jail term for the assassination of a political rival. When Petro served in the Colombian senate, he exposed ties between Suarez and the AUC. Petro’s claims have yet to be substantiated by a formal inquiry.