Controversy over Felipe VI’s decision not to stand up to Bolívar’s sword
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One of the most anticipated guests at Gustavo Petro’s presidential inauguration in Colombia, which was held outdoors in the heart of the capital, Plaza de Bolívar, was not a person but a sword. The weapon that belonged in the 19th century to Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Colombia and part of Latin America, had been stolen by the M-19 guerrillas in the 1970s and was only returned to the State when the armed group demobilized at the beginning from the nineties. On Sunday they would meet again, plaza and sword in honor of Bolívar. Petro, who was a member of that organization, had asked outgoing president Iván Duque that the sword play a central role in possession, but the right-wing president refused to grant the request. So, a minute after being appointed commander of the military forces and with the presidential sash around his blue suit, Petro gave his first order: “As president of Colombia I ask the military house to bring the sword of Bolívar, an order from the popular mandate”. Hundreds of citizens shouted euphorically at the first order of the new president.
The long sword, which lived in the presidential house known as the Palacio de Nariño, was then transferred in a glass case by four soldiers. When the gun reached the main square, citizens and attendees from all over the world (Chile, Serbia, the United States) rose from their chairs to welcome it. Everyone except King Felipe VI.
The Spanish head of state was sitting in a space for the presidential guests in front of the thousands of left-wing citizens who supported the new government. As leftist presidents entered, such as Chile’s Gabriel Boric, the public shouted their support. When the one from Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, recently criticized for the excesses of his government against citizen protests, entered, the public shouted “assassin!” When the presence of the King was mentioned twice, the monarch received boos.
The King’s stillness before the sword, however, did not generate any comment from the new cabinet of President Petro, nor a great reaction in the political debate. Petro’s possession was an event of many symbols, the sword only one of them, and the attention was far removed from the guests. The president also made no reference to Spain or the Spanish crown in his speech. And a photo that perhaps generated more attention is that of Felipe VI with the vice president, Francia Márquez, during the inauguration: an Afro-descendant woman who speaks openly about racism and decolonization processes.
In Spain, however, the King’s decision has drawn criticism from some sectors. The founder of Podemos and former vice president, Pablo Iglesias, described the gesture on Twitter as “lack of respect for a symbol of freedom in Latin America”, giving rise to other comments on social networks. “From Podemos, we consider the matter extremely serious and we are going to consult the Foreign Minister if this disrespectful act by the head of state was endorsed by the government as required by the Spanish Constitution,” party sources indicate.
The House of the King has not wanted to fuel the controversy and has chosen not to comment on the episode. Diplomatic sources have explained, however, that the presence of Bolívar’s sword was not included in the program nor was it foreseen what protocol treatment to give it, but rather it was President Petro who ordered that it be brought after taking office, which forced extend the ceremony (which lasted three hours) and wait for their arrival about 40 minutes, reports Miguel Gonzalez.
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