Colombian government prefers force over dialogue as protests continue



Deadly protests that claimed 34 lives show no signs of slowing down

Bogota – Colombia – Deisy Paricio lights candles at a remembrance ceremony in the Soledad neighborhood for those who died during 10 bloody days of protest in Colombia. “We are here to denounce the actions of a criminal regime,” she said with a cold determination in her voice bordering on fury. “We demand justice. We demand the dignity of the victims of this government.

Around her, a few hundred demonstrators hold torches and candles in their hands. They chant over and over again in rhythmic unison “The people, united, will never be divided.”

After a few minutes of silence, a speaker reads the names of the 34 people who have lost their lives since the nationwide protests began on April 28. protest tactic dating back decades called cacerolazo.

In solidarity with the Colombian people, community members gathered at the Ferry Building in San Francisco on May 8, denouncing violence against peaceful protesters by Colombian President Ivan Duque. Photos: Corina De Leon

The mood at the remembrance ceremony is very different from 8 days ago, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets singing and dancing, in a massive and festive protest march in the center. town, where they were quickly gassed by police forces and street skirmishes between angry youths. and Colombian police invaded the side streets of Bogotá’s labyrinthine city center.

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Day after day, the mood grew darker as state violence continued to escalate against mostly peaceful protests. Police have confirmed 34 deaths, although they say seven are unrelated to the protests. NGOs in the region say the actual numbers are higher than official statistics reflect. Temblores, a human rights group in Bogotá that monitored the violence, reports 37 dead and more than 300 injured, with a total of 1,728 recorded cases of police violence.

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“We have watched the increase in violence with extreme concern,” said Alajandro Lanz, co-director of Temblores. “Most of the victims we recorded were young people demonstrating peacefully. There is no guarantee of life for anyone.

Social media is inundated every night with a flood of graphic and disturbing videos of violence, mostly from the police, as young people fight in the streets amid tear gas and flash grenades.

Most of the victims we recorded were young people demonstrating peacefully. There is no guarantee of life for anyone

Alajandro Lanz, co-director of Temblores

Temblores along with another NGO, Indepaz, a peace watchdog group in Colombia, reported receiving credible reports of indiscriminate police shooting against civilians amid the chaos.

In solidarity with the Colombian people, community members gathered at the Ferry Building in San Francisco on May 8, denouncing violence against peaceful protesters by Colombian President Ivan Duque. Photos: Corina De Leon

“I have to go,” Lanz said SMU at 9 p.m. on May 7, cutting short an interview. “Like every night, we are about to start receiving reports of the violence happening across the country. Our investigators and lawyers will be focusing their full attention on this over the next few hours. “

Activists called for a national strike in Colombia almost a month ago against rising violence, a wave of killings of social leaders, rising poverty as well as inequalities and what critics see as broken promises by President Iván Duque’s administration regarding the country’s 2016 peace agreement with the rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC by their Spanish acronym).

The deal ended a 50-year civil war in Colombia, but was also very controversial. Duque won the election in 2018 by promising to dismantle aspects of the deal, and he kept those commitments. The investments promised to rural communities never arrived, the war on drugs tactics intensified and those who lost their lands in the half-century conflict, who hoped that peace meant they could return home. at home, still waiting.

These issues have been simmering over low heat for years and culminated in 2019 with massive protests that were halted by the arrival of COVID in Colombia. Protests have slowed down under extreme lockdowns and a crippled economy that has increased the poverty rate at 42.7%.

A deeply unpopular tax bill that would have raised the cost of food and basic consumer goods gave the protest movement a huge boost in popular support, and has been widely reported as the main problem with the movement, but the Harsh police crackdowns and uncompromising rhetoric from Duque’s party soon shifted taxes as the primary focus of those on the streets. The controversial bill has since been withdrawn, but the protests have turned into deeper discontent with the government itself.

The government’s response has been mostly hard-line rhetoric against protesters. Presidential Human Rights Advisor Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez said in a interview with Semana magazine that “human rights exist only for citizens who fulfill their duties in society”.

Various politicians from the Centro Democratico de Duque party described the people in the streets as “terrorists”, “narcos” and even claimed that the demonstrators were organized by guerrilla groups. These charges were brought without evidence.

“For now, the momentum is clearly with the protesters,” said Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a research and advisory group in Bogotá. “The government is also aware that it is behind in the narrative and is getting more and more desperate. The administration has offered nothing but fear rhetoric since the protests began. But apart from their base, they do not find a receptive audience.

Meanwhile, the government has militarized several cities and even publicly discussed declaring a state of national emergency, a move that could mean the suspension of the right to protest.

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. Embassy in Colombia have all called for de-escalation and respect for the rights of protesters.

Returning to Soledad at the ceremony for those who paid a heavy price during the protests, Ana, who declined to give her last name, sat down with her boyfriend – the couple holding hands as the the last of the names of the victims was read.

“We just want President Duque to listen to what we have to say,” she said. “It seems that all politicians, all experts, all media want to tell us what we think. “

“This violence was so insane. It could have been so easily avoided if they had just listened.



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