The frontrunner in Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Historic Pact coalition, resumed his election campaign on Thursday, May 5, after a three-day interruption due to threats against his life by a paramilitary group called La Cordillera. With notably reinforced security, which included bodyguards with shields who stood in front of him on the stage and a visible bulletproof vest, Petro attended a massive rally in Cúcuta city, the capital of Norte de Santander department, bordering Venezuela.
Hundreds of people, carrying flags, banners, posters and wearing t-shirts with symbols of the Historic Pact, welcomed Petro with loud cheers.
During his speech, Petro shared his government plans for the department. In order to resolve the border crisis in the department, Petro promised to restore diplomatic and consular relations with Venezuela. Relations between the “brother republics” were broken in February 2019 after outgoing Colombia President Ivan Duque recognized self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and assisted him to enter into the country and then stage the “humanitarian aid” border crisis on February 23. Petro also vowed to open the key border between Colombia and Venezuela that has been repeatedly closed since 2015 due to security threats.
“I have to tell you that Cúcuta cannot be a city, it cannot prosper, it cannot overcome problems without opening the borders. Reestablishing diplomatic relations normally is a difficult and even controversial issue. Debatable on a global scale, undoubtedly, but I do not see an alternative for Cúcuta if there is no full reestablishment of diplomatic and consular relations between the two countries,” said Petro.
He also proposed to promote the agro-industrialization of the department and expand public higher education. He also proposed to resume the railway network that had operated for years on the border from Cúcuta to Maracaibo, which he described as an excellent project to improve trade relations.
Cúcuta deja de ser mayoría uribista. Planteamos la industrialización de la ciudad, la agroindustrialización del Catatumbo,la articulación por tren con el lago de Maracaibo y el mar.
La expansión de la universidad pública pic.twitter.com/WiuQ7zkQg0
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 6, 2022
On Monday, May 2, Petro announced the suspension of his two-day visit to the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) region in Central Colombia after his security team warned him that it had uncovered plans by the La Cordillera criminal group to assassinate him. He made the announcement through a statement posted on his Twitter account.
According to the statement, “La Cordillera is a paramilitary organization dedicated to drug trafficking and contract killing, which has broad control over regional civil authorities and politicians in the Eje Cafetero, as well as some officials of the police and the army.”
The statement added that “the information was verified by the analysis and investigation team of the Petro Presidente campaign group, which has access to highly credible sources and some members of the police institution, who indicated that an agent of the Judicial and Criminal Investigation Sectional Units (SIJIN) who participated in the murder of student leader Lucas Villa (killed during the 2021 national strike in Pereira city) would also be part of the criminal plan” against Petro.
“The step by the sectors of corruption to pay gangs of assassins for my physical elimination, shows the political desperation they have reached,” condemned Petro.
Lamentable que tenga que suspender la gira del eje cafetero. El paso de los sectores de la corrupción a pagar bandas de sicarios para mi eliminación física, muestra la desesperación política a la que han llegado. pic.twitter.com/4dZMaD7Y9C
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 3, 2022
This was the second death threat that Petro received in a less than month. Last month, on April 4, the far-right paramilitary group, Aguilas Negras or Black Eagles, issued a death threat against Petro, his running mate Francia Márquez and various other members of the Historic Pact coalition.
Since March, the coalition’s vice-presidential candidate and environmental activist Márquez has received at least three such threats, and has been demanding guarantees to carry out her election campaign safely.
The progressive ticket Petro-Márquez is leading the voting intention for the elections on May 29, with 36.5% of the votes, threatening to break the decades-long rule of conservatives in the country.
The possible assassination plan against Petro was condemned by several fellow political leaders.
“In Colombia we cannot afford to doubt or delegitimize a death threat. These complaints must be processed with all rigor. My solidarity with Gustavo Petro,” tweeted Sergio Fajardo, presidential candidate for the centrist Hope Center coalition.
“Life comes first. Threatening a candidate with death is threatening democracy with death. My total solidarity with Gustavo Petro,” tweeted independent candidate Rodolfo Hernandez
As a result of the denunciation of La Cordillera’s plan to assassinate Petro, the interior ministry reinforced his personal security. The ministry has also instructed the police to increase the presence of officials in places where Petro will be. According to interior minister Daniel Palacios, the measure is to facilitate Petro to continue with his campaign agenda without any problem, especially in public square activities.
The State Attorney General’s Office has also initiated criminal investigations of the complaints.
Senator Armando Benedetti, one of Petro’s trusted colleagues, confirmed that the presidential candidate would resume scheduled meetings, appointments, interviews and encounters. Today he is expected to go to Valledupar city, on Saturday to the Bolívar department and on Sunday he will visit the Chocó department. The visit to the Coffee Region has not been rescheduled for another date for the moment.