BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s congress should approve health, labor and pension reforms, President Gustavo Petro said on Wednesday, as the lower house weighed whether to shelve the health bill, which would be a major legislative defeat for leftist who campaigned on improving the beleaguered system.
“We ask, with all due respect…that they approve the reforms, that they guarantee to the Colombian people their rights,” Petro told thousands of union members and other supporters gathered in downtown Bogota.
The health proposal, which the government says would increase access, raise salaries and combat corruption, caused the biggest rupture to date in Petro’s originally wide congressional coalition, prompting a cabinet reshuffle in April.
Efforts to shelve the bill come after the lower house said it would pause debate on the reforms amid accusations of campaign finance irregularities, which Petro has vehemently denied.
The accusations are based on audios sent from former ambassador Armando Benedetti to Petro’s ex-chief of staff Laura Sarabia, in which Benedetti uses phrasing interpreted as being related to illicit campaign funds. Benedetti has said the audio was manipulated.
He and Sarabia, who both resigned over a separate but interlocking scandal, will testify to the electoral authority next week.
The government could punt the reforms to the next legislative session, which begins on July 20.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio)
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