Tens of thousands marched across Colombia on Friday to mark a month of protests, which were sparked by the now-withdrawn tax reform and have since expanded to include a long list of demands.
The streets of Cali, the country’s third-largest city with 2.2 million inhabitants, were quiet on Saturday, hours after clashes between protesters, police and armed civilians left several dead.
Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina said in a video message that at least 13 people died on Friday, while adding that it was not clear whether all the deaths “are fully linked and associated with the protests.”
“That fateful day left a very large number of deaths,” Ospina said, adding that at least 34 people were also reportedly injured.
Confirmation of the cause of death is expected to be announced on Sunday, a representative from the attorney general’s office said.
On Friday, in one case, a representative from the Cali prosecutor’s office said that an investigator on leave fired at a crowd, killing a civilian, before being lynched by protesters.
Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood and another nearby brandishing a gun; this man was then attacked by a group of people.
“In the south of the city, we had a real confrontational scene and almost an urban war where many people not only lost their lives, but we also had a significant number of injured,” the secretary said earlier. to the safety of Cali, Carlos Rojas. Saturday.
Cali emerged earlier this month as the epicenter of the nationwide protest movement, with some protesters erecting roadblocks that hampered access to fuel and other goods.
Talks between the government and protest leaders, including union leaders who have formed a national strike committee, have stalled.
Violence erupted during the protests and dozens of people have been killed so far, according to local human rights groups, who accused Colombian police of using excessive force.
Duque announced on Friday that he was sending troops to Valle del Cauca province and Cali, its capital, after the deadly violence escalated.
“From this evening begins the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police in Cali and in the province of Valle,” Duque said in a televised message.
He ordered 7,000 troops to help clear and patrol blocked roads in 10 departments, while a total of 1,141 troops were deployed to Cali.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on Saturday that Duque’s measures to restore order in the province “do not include any explicit reference to prioritizing dialogue, avoiding excessive force and respect for human rights ”.
“A serious failure which can have irreparable consequences”, he said. tweeted.
A day earlier, the United Nations human rights office in Colombia Express concerned about the deaths, calling for “calm and non-violence”.
Elizabeth Dickinson, senior Colombian analyst for the International Crisis Group, also tweeted that “the risk of violent escalation in #Cali is extremely high”.
“There is NO armed or military solution to this crisis. But agendas of all stripes are increasingly tempted to look for one, ”she wrote on Friday, adding that Colombia was“ on the brink of a new armed conflict ”.
Meanwhile, Colombian protesters have pledged to continue their protests.
“Until the government listens to us, we must stay on the streets,” Alejandro Franco, a 23-year-old protester, told Reuters news agency in the capital, Bogota.
Franco said he was walking for better education and better health, among others. “If the people don’t have peace, neither does the government,” he added.
Let me make it clear: the risk of violent escalation in #Cali is extremely high
There is NO armed or military solution to this crisis. But agendas of all stripes are more and more tempted to look for one
Without being alarmist, we are hovering on the brink of a new armed conflict
– Elizabeth Dickinson (@dickinsonbeth) May 28, 2021
Sandra Borda, analyst and protests expert, told the Associated Press news agency that there was a representation crisis both in the government, which has limited room for maneuver, and in the National Strike Committee. , which does not represent all sectors that are demonstrating.
“We are faced with a scenario which I think will not be resolved soon, because the only thing the government can control with any level of efficiency are the forces of the state and therefore it keeps trying to resolve. the situation with the heavy hand, ”she said. .
“When state forces are excessive, there is more outrage, more anger and more fuel is added to the fire of the protests. “
Luis Felipe Vega, a political scientist at Javeriana University, also compared the military deployment to “putting out a fire with gasoline”.