Demonstrations shook Colombia for three weeks, with thousands of people pouring into the streets of its main cities – and before a repression of government security forces. More than 40 people, many of them protesters, were killed.
On Monday, Colombian President Iván Duque ordered the country’s military and police forces to make ‘maximum deployment’ to clear roads blocked by protesters. ‘more violence.
The fuse for the protests was a tax recovery imposed by Mr. Duque was proposed, which according to many Colombian residents would be even more difficult to get by in an economy plagued by the pandemic.
But the outbreak quickly turned into a widespread expression of anger over poverty and inequality – which increased as the virus spread – and over the violence the police faced the movement.
Students, teachers, health workers, farmers, indigenous communities and many others gathered in the streets.
“People are fed up,” Sergio Romero, 23, said during a recent rally in Bogotá.
Protesters’ demands began with the repeal of the tax proposal, which the president granted. But over time, they have grown to include ask for the government to guarantee a minimum income, to prevent police violence and to withdraw a health reform plan that critics say is not doing enough to solve systemic problems.
Mr. Duque’s popularity declined ahead of the pandemic and is now almost the lowest point since its 2018 election. According to the polling station company Invamer.
What first caused the protests?
At the end of April, Duque, a Conservative, became one of the first leaders in Latin America to try to address an economic deficit created in part by a pandemic that plagued the region’s populations and economies. .
His tax plan has tried to keep new subsidies for poor people in place while raising taxes on many everyday goods and services. While many economists have said that some kind of fiscal restructuring is needed, many Colombian people see the plan as an attack on their already difficult existence.
Even before the pandemic, many Colombians struggled with full-time jobs to earn even the minimum wage of about $ 275 a month.
Helena Osorio, 24, for example, is a nurse who works nights and earns $ 13 per shift for Covid patients, who are barely enough to survive her and her younger brother. This forced her to attend recent protests.
The president’s tax proposal also came as cases of coronavirus and deaths rose in the country, leaving hundreds of desperate Colombians waiting for a bed at overcrowded hospitals, even as the vaccination campaign is slow.
What are Colombians still angry about?
The tax proposal was a catalyst that fueled long-standing frustrations.
Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the world. A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2018 states that it will last 11 generations for a poor Colombian to approach the average income in his or her society – the highest number of 30 countries surveyed.
Despite the reduction in poverty in the decades before the pandemic, many Colombian people, especially the young people, feel that the engines of upward mobility are beyond their reach.
Many Colombians are also frustrated by the implementation of the government’s side of the peace agreement with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, or Colombia’s revolutionary army.
The agreement, signed in 2016, was supposed to end generations of armed conflict. The rebels would lay down arms, and the government, among other things, would provide economic opportunities for rural areas that had suffered during the war.
But Mr Duque’s party strongly opposed the agreement, saying it was too easy for the FARC. His critics say he was not aggressive enough to set up programs designed to promote peace, including one that would help coca-growing families switch to other crops. And violence continues in many rural areas, fueling frustration.
As the protests escalated, leading to clashes between protesters and police, the government of Mr. Duque regularly blamed the violence against armed groups that they said had penetrated the protests.
What was the police’s response to the protests?
The country’s national police force, one of the few in the United States that sits under the Department of Defense, has reacted violently and sometimes fired bullets at peaceful protesters, according to New York Times interviews with witnesses. This exacerbated anger.
At least 42 people have been killed, according to Colombian Defensoría del Pueblo, a government agency investigating alleged human rights abuses. However, Human Rights Watch and other organizations say the death toll is likely to be higher.
The Defensoría says it has received 168 reports of people disappearing amid the protests, and that only some of them have been found.
In an interview, Mr. Duque admits that some officers were violent, but attributed the violence to some bad actors and said that major change in the police was not necessary.
“There was violent abuse,” he said. But ‘just to say that there could be any possibility that the Colombian police would be seen as a systematic abuse of human rights – well, that would not only be unfair, unfair, but without any basis, any ground.’
What about the protesters, were they also engaged in violence?
Protesters also blocked major roads, preventing food and other essential goods from passing through. Officials say it has hampered efforts to fight the coronavirus at a time when new cases and virus deaths are almost on record.
The Department of Defense says hundreds of officers were injured and one was killed, while people connected to the protests vandalized police stations and buses.
While tens of thousands marched in the streets, not everyone supported the protests.
Jhon Henry Morales, 51, a taxi driver in Cali, said his city had been nearly paralyzed in recent days. Some protesters blocked the roads with tires.
He could not work, he says and puts himself behind his accounts. “Protests are legal,” he said. But he said: “I also have rights as a Colombian citizen.”
Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil and Steven Grattan in Bogotá.