Mass protests in Colombia “reflect a deep national crisis”

Mass protests in Colombia “reflect a deep national crisis”

Anti-government protests have extended into their fourth week in Colombia, as student groups, unions and others took to the streets on Wednesday to demand social change as talks continue between government and leaders of the strike.
About 8,000 people attended protests in the capital, Bogota, the mayor’s office said.

“We are accompanying our young people, our children, our grandchildren, who still lack opportunities despite our struggles for so long,” lawyer Roberto Hermida, 68, told Reuters news agency.

Hermida said he wanted to provide more educational opportunities and better health care.

The protests began last month after the government of right-wing Colombian President Ivan Duque introduced tax reform that critics say would disproportionately harm the working and middle classes, already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duque withdrew the proposal, but protests continued as protesters broadened their list of demands to include the withdrawal of a healthcare reform project, an end to widespread violence in the country and measures to combat against economic inequalities.

Protesters take part in a demonstration calling for government action to fight poverty, police violence and inequalities in health and education systems, in Bogota on May 19 [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

The protests were marked by violence, but the exact death toll remains uncertain. The attorney general’s office confirmed 15 deaths linked to the protests, while a human rights group said the tally was over 40.

Duque blamed armed groups for most of the violence, but the United Nations and several rights groups condemned Colombian police for “opening fire” on protesters.

Former President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday urged Duque to take responsibility for police abuses.

“We need more gestures, we need more empathy and humility, and for the state to recognize, ‘Look, we have committed abuse,” Santos told W Radio.

The national strike committee, made up of major unions, student groups and others, has had several discussions with government officials over the protesters’ demands, but the two sides are not yet holding formal talks.

They are expected to meet with the government again on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Dickinson, Colombia’s senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the rallies demonstrated “deep social and economic inequality, frustration with police brutality, widespread mistrust of government “.

The protesters’ demands fall into two categories, Dickinson said on Twitter: social justice and security – and although both issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are historic grievances.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 82,000 people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, has also worsened long-standing economic inequalities.

“Protests are everywhere. The protests reflect a deep national crisis that transcends geography. Although grievances vary from region to region, the feeling of exasperation and frustration is shared, ”Dickinson wrote.

“The crisis is critical, deep and requires a severity that we have not yet seen,” she said.


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