What's wrong with Gustavo Petro? Concern in Colombia over the president's health problems

His recent tendency to cancel official events along with his repeated lack of punctuality, frequent grammar mistakes and accusations from Ingrid Betancourt call into question the progressive president's ability to govern.

Colombia's leftist president, Gustavo Petro, has been wrapped up in scandals left and right. Between the drug money that financed allegedly his campaign —something his own son admitted to be true, the illegal eavesdropping that involved the former ambassador of Colombia to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, and the insistent criticism for abusing several institutions as well as the press, the Colombian president has had a very complicated first year in office.

Now, to make matters worse for the president, people are concerned about his state of health and his ability to govern.

The crossing between Betancourt and Petro

In an explosive interview with SEMANA magazine, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt recalled an episode she witnessed in Belgium, when she saw Petro, apparently unconscious, on the floor of his apartment without any reaction.

"I saw their little children, they were very small, they must have been three years old, they ran around the house because it was a private visit. I imagine that for the little ones it was normal because they jumped on top of the current president, they went around. His wife, embarrassed, said: 'Well, what a pity with you, we were waiting for you, but you didn't respond. Come back later,'" said Betancourt, suggesting a possible addiction by the Colombian president.

Betancourt's words resonated strongly with the president, who quickly used his Twitter account (now X) to respond and try to dispel doubts about his mental and physical health.

"Ingrid is one of the people I wish I wouldn't have met in my life," Petro wrote from Costa Rica, while on an official visit. "I made a great effort to help free her out of my own moral principles. I welcomed her in my home, but yet I receive nothing but slander."

Petro spoke to the press over the weekend and ensured that he is in good health. He also tried to explain why he has missed several official commitments.

"No, it's nothing serious and it's not the same always. At first, it was inexperience with my team," Petro said in an extensive interview with Cambio magazine, without going into the specific details. "I need my balances, permanent fatigue is a bad counselor. If you overdo it, you're not going to think well, you're going to make mistakes and in this case, I can't afford to make many mistakes."

"We are very concerned about the powers of the president"

Petro's claims were not reassuring to many, especially his critics who are pushing for President Petro to undergo a medical examination to prove his ability to govern.

Throughout his term, but especially throughout the month of August, Petro has canceled important government events, meetings with businesses and even military activities without any clear explanation.

Due to this breach in his agenda, the opposition is asking the Senate for permission to order the president to undergo a medical examination, to make sure he is able to fulfill his obligations.

Opposition leader María Fernando Cabal went so far as to say in a radio interview that the Colombian president should get help for his alleged problems with alcohol.

"I do not know if these absences are a matter of personality or a behavior of his, but some say that Petro has problems with alcohol and if this is the case, he needs to be treated and understand that the role he has now is different," Cabal told Caracol Radio.

Betancourt and Cabal are not the only ones to question the president's sobriety. Many people from the press have also had the same concerns following his constant grammatical errors on Twitter. Some have also suggested that Petro may have problems with alcohol consumption.

Professor and economist Luis Guillermo Vélez, who is at the top of the Democratic Center's list in Medellín, spoke to Voz Media and also pointed out his concerns about the state of health of the Colombian president.

"Indeed there are many concerns about what is happening with President Petro, his breaches of his official commitments are concerning," Vélez told Voz Media. "It is no longer just whether or not it fulfills the commitments, it is the unusual disappearances that seem strange."

"On a trip in Europe, in Paris, he disappeared for 2-3 days. At the Amazon Summit, the man also disappeared. He refuses to comply with others. So there are concerns about what's going on. If that is due to health problems or another disorder, then it has to do with drinking or consumption of substances that alter the behavior of the president. So, indeed, there is a lot of concern in Colombia about the situation of the president," added the renowned economist from Medellín, the capital of the department of Antioquia.

Vélez also referred to the controversial interview with Ingrid Betancourt, pointing out that these accusations are not new. He recalled that Petro had a small diplomatic altercation in Brussels, the Belgian capital.

"Ingrid repeated something she had said, I think, when we were still on the presidential trail. She said she went to Brussels and found him there in an apartment lying on the floor in an unfortunate situation," the economist explained. "Petro had a small diplomatic post in Brussels. In his autobiography, he describes this situation. What strikes one most is that he confesses that he had no idea what his functions were. The fact is that he later confessed that he spent his time at bars, looking at the city, and doing nothing."

"Anyway, it was really a very embarrassing situation that seems to be very common in the Colombian and Latin American diplomatic service (...) But in his autobiography, there are many, many pages devoted to his experience in Brussels, and on one of them, Petro confessed, he said, that he also explored the use of various drugs with a friend. Then maybe Ingrid found him exploring the world of drugs. The situation with President Gustavo Petro and his physical or mental health disorders is very worrying," Vélez said during his conversation with Voz Media.