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Demonstrations End with Blockades of the Supreme Court of Justice


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Demonstrations in Colombia end with blockades of the Supreme Court of Justice – Credit: Josep Freixes / Colombia One

Pro-government demonstrations on February 8, organized by the National Federation of Educators (Fenalco) and backed by major labor unions, aimed to show support for President Gustavo Petro’s administration. The timing of these protests coincided with the Supreme Court of Justice’s scheduled decision on appointing a new Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa’s successor. This overlap led to speculation that the march sought to influence the court’s decision on a replacement, which has already been delayed many times.

Protests erupted in Bogota and other Colombian capital cities starting in the early morning hours. Initially peaceful, the demonstrations took a turn when news broke in the early afternoon that the appointment of the new prosecutor was delayed once more due to the lack of consensus among the judges responsible for selecting the nominee from the presidential shortlist.

All this takes place in the context of a strong political confrontation between the presidency of the country, in the hands of the leftist Gustavo Petro, and the office of the attorney general, appointed in 2020 during the previous administration of the conservative president Ivan Duque

Blockade against the Supreme Court of Justice

Protesters converged on Bolivar Square, adjacent to the Supreme Court of Justice building, expressing their outrage over the latest delay by obstructing the justices’ departure.

Hours of tension unfolded when several hundred individuals blocked magistrates from departing. During this period, the police chief issued a warning, stating that he would direct law enforcement to intervene if the blockade was not lifted, ensuring the magistrates and court staff could move freely.

President Gustavo Petro himself asked for calm and police action to guarantee the orderly exit of the members of the Supreme Court of Justice, as well as the rest of the workers of the institution. After more than two hours of blockade, police intervention forces finally charged against the people who were still blocking the well-known building in downtown Bogota.

Police disperse protesters

At 5:30 p.m., authorities managed to proceed with the eviction smoothly, following the dispersal of aggressive protesters by the police. With law enforcement securing the building’s exits, vehicles facilitated the safe departure of judges and employees through a side street adjacent to the central building.

Once the judicial headquarters were evicted, police actions against citizens confronting the forces of law and order in the streets persist. Photographs and videos showing the dispersion and confrontations between a small group of radicals and police forces have provoked widespread condemnation among various social and political groups in Colombia.

The initially peaceful demonstrations that took place ended in violence, a shift that some media outlets and political opponents have quickly blamed on President Petro, holding him responsible for the turn of events.

While the president did not officially summon the demonstration, he did endorse it as a show of public dissatisfaction through peaceful means, in response to what he perceives as the prosecutor’s office’s hostility towards his administration. He emphasized that the instances of violence witnessed at the day’s end were the work of “infiltrators” aiming to disrupt the peaceful march.

This statement is supported by the representative to the House of Representatives for the pro-government Historic Pact, Jorge Bastidas, who has uploaded a video to his social networks in which some demonstrators can be seen “protecting the entrance of the Palace of Justice”.

Calls for calm and accusations against the president

Several judiciary bodies have urged calm and respect for institutions following today’s incidents at the Supreme Court of Justice headquarters. Meanwhile, numerous political figures critical of the government have directed strong criticisms towards both the administration and the president.

From the Democratic Center, a conservative party, Senator Miguel Uribe has voiced his “complete rejection of the violence attributed to Petro and his associates against Supreme Court judges.” He directly blames the president for the incident.

For his part, the former president of the country and current leader of the Liberal Party, Cesar Gaviria, has said that “President Petro is acting in violation of the Constitution. We will not allow Petro to break 200 years in which these institutions defended our democracy. The rule of law is in grave danger”. Gaviria leads the most conservative faction of his party and has been an outspoken opponent of Colombia’s first leftist government, clashing even with members of his own party who do support the government.

With the streets now clear, President Gustavo Petro convened an emergency security council meeting to assess the day’s events following the protests in Colombia. The selection of the new attorney general has been delayed to February 22. With the departure of the current prosecutor, Francisco Barbosa, his deputy, Martha Mancera, will serve as the acting attorney general starting next Monday until the formal appointment is confirmed.

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