Colombia marks a full month of anti-government protests on Friday that have left dozens dead and called on the international community to condemn its police response. Observers fear the end is in sight.
Protesters first took to the streets on April 28 against a proposed tax hike that many Colombians said would leave them poorer even as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out jobs and nibbled away savings.
Although the reform was quickly withdrawn, it sparked a broad anti-government mobilization on the part of people who felt left on their own in the health crisis and angry at the backlash from the security forces.
Some fear that deep-rooted resentment continues to fuel revolt in a country intimately familiar with violent conflict and deep social inequalities, where many have little to lose.
“There is an active sector (of society) which has long been excluded from politics, from the world of work and now also from the education system, and which has grown tired of being excluded,” said political scientist Sandra Borda from the University of the Andes. AFP.
“It is the sector that manifests in the street. “
Colombia is still recovering from nearly six decades of civil war and battles the continued violence fueled by drug wars and dissident fighters who turned their backs on a 2016 peace deal.
– Barricades on fire –
For more than 50 years, Colombia’s war on FARC guerrillas has eclipsed all government priorities, leaving the country with a huge income gap and the largest informal labor sector in Latin America, according to the World Bank. .
# photo1The state has emerged from the conflict militarily strong, but weak in terms of social reparation.
Analysts blamed its militarized past for the government’s response to four weeks of near-daily protests that officially left 43 dead, all but two of them civilians.
Human Rights Watch takes stock at 61.
Most peaceful protests during the day have often turned into riots at night and battles with the armed forces.
Protesters burned barricades across the country and blocked dozens of key roads, causing shortages of many commodities.
Two weeks of negotiations to end the unrest have yet to bear fruit.
To move forward, the leaders of the protest insist that the government must recognize the abuses of the armed forces.
But Bogota, while conceding individual bad apples, says left-wing guerrillas and dissident FARC fighters infiltrated the protests to foment violence and vandalism.
– ‘Country of urban conflict’ –
Analyst Hernando Gomez Buendia believes violence in Colombia is moving from rural areas, where much of the armed conflict has taken place, to cities.
# photo2 ″ This is part of what is exploding: a very large force of young people from the city who are discovering politics, ”he told AFP.
“Colombia is becoming… a country of urban conflict. “
And there is a lot of fodder for urban anger.
As elsewhere in the world, the pandemic has plunged Colombia’s most vulnerable populations into despair, with 42.5% of the country’s 50 million people now living in poverty with little state aid.
“The fight against poverty has been postponed for at least a decade,” said Borda.
A third of Colombians between the ages of 14 and 28 do not work or study.
There is a whole generation “without fear – the children of people displaced by armed conflict who live in difficult areas of large cities and who have great difficulty in accessing education, labor”, Borda said.
– No ‘dump valve’ –
Already in 2019, the year after President Ivan Duque took power, students have taken to the streets to demand free and more accessible public education, better jobs and a united government.
The coronavirus epidemic ended it without Duque having to make any major concessions.
Then, as the pandemic continued to bite, Duque this year announced additional taxes on the middle class – an outrage that “united” and rallied the protest movement, according to Gomez Buendia.
Unlike the social upheavals in Chile – where protests led to constitutional reform – or in Ecuador, which held elections, Colombians have yet to experience a “relief valve” to their many frustrations, said Cynthia Arson. , director of the Latin American program at Woodrow. Wilson International Center for Researchers.
29 others injured in clashes – including four police officers – were reported Thursday as the Senate rejected a motion of censure against the Minister of Defense, to whom the police report.
Due to his departure in 2022, Duque now weighs between a “repressive or negotiated exit” from the challenge to his government, said Gomez Buendia.
In any case, his unpopularity seems to help the left, which has never won the presidency in Colombian history.
Former guerrilla fighter and former Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro leads the polls.
© 2021 AFP