Controversy between the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, and the Mayor of Bogota, Claudia Lopez, over violence in Colombia. Contentious remarks by the capital’s leader, stating that in the country “criminals and delinquency have a free pass to act,” were countered by the head of state, who sided with Lopez, pointing out that such criminality “is the result of violence in the country.”
The latest disagreement between the two leaders follows shortly after an attack on a toll booth on the road south from Bogota to Villavicencio. In response, the city mayor expressed that “Colombia is a world power in crime, not in life,” mocking the national government’s slogan aimed at highlighting the country’s ecological beauty for international representation in a friendlier light.
Disagreements about the Origin of Criminality
On his part, the country’s president responded to Lopez, acknowledging the reality of criminality while presenting his viewpoint on its origins. “Yesterday, they said Colombia is a crime powerhouse. They are right. This is the result of violence, according to homicide rates in 2021,” stated the president, referring to the country’s crime indexes during the presidency of Iván Duque, a year before he took office.
However, Petro also affirmed the government’s determination to “pull this country out of the quagmire of blood it was left in.” The president acknowledges the difficulty of the task but also mentioned that “the Colombian people deserve it.”
The figure shared by the president was based on the United Nations Global Study on Homicide for the year 2023, analyzing figures from 2021 and 2022. The report indicates that Colombia was one of the countries in the region that saw an increase in homicide rates between 2020 and 2021.
According to the UN report, in 2021, Colombia stood out as the only country in South America with a homicide rate above 25 points. It ranked fourth in Latin America after Mexico (28.2), Honduras (38.2), and Belize (31.3). However, by 2022, it dropped to fifth place in the ranking due to increased violence in Ecuador, which reached a rate of 27 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants during that period.
Nevertheless, according to the United Nations, a significant portion of criminal activity in Colombia stems from the presence of various illegal armed groups that have occupied geographic spaces vacated after the demobilization of the now-defunct FARC guerrillas in 2016. These groups, which the state made peace with, have not been effectively controlled by military and police forces.
For President Petro, the origin of criminality lies in the social and historical violence experienced in Colombia. From his position as a senator in the opposition and now as president, his diagnosis of the country’s reality consistently ties the lack of opportunities, especially in education, to delinquency.
According to the current president, the enormous social and economic disparities that have always existed in the country are the root cause of both political violence and criminality.
Social Reforms: Government’s Plan
This is why his government is undertaking, with significant challenges, a plan for extensive social reforms that, according to his judgment, should enhance opportunities for the entire society.
The government has proposed tuition-free enrollment in universities to provide quality higher education access to the most disadvantaged social strata in the country. Likewise, reforms in strategic sectors such as healthcare, pension, and labor regulations aim to shape a more inclusive country that fosters social mobility and reduces historical crime rates.
In this regard, the political opposition disagrees with the diagnosis, maintaining staunch opposition to the social reforms undertaken by the government. These reforms have faced considerable challenges in parliamentary debates, reaching points of intense confrontation in Congress.