Anti-government protests have entered their third week in Colombia, as union members, students, pensioners and more took to the streets to protest against recent violence and demand economic assistance in the pandemic-hit country.
Thousands of people gathered in Bogota’s Bolivar Plaza on Wednesday.
The demonstrations, which have at times turned violent, were initially driven by outrage at the Colombian government’s now-withdrawn tax reform plan.
Now, demonstrators are demanding that police be held accountable for excessive violence used during the ongoing demonstrations and calling for the withdrawal of a proposal to further privatise the country’s healthcare system.
As many as 40 people killed in connection to the protests are being investigated by the human rights ombudsman, though the exact number remains disputed. Local and international rights groups allege the toll may be higher and have blamed the police for the violence.
Cristian Urena, a student at the protest, told the Associated Press news agency that “the acts from the police have been a complete violation of human rights against all demonstrators and all of us who are protesting in peace in Bogota as they are in the rest of the cities”.
“The abuses by police are too frequent,” Urena said.
John Jaime Jimenez, 47, who works for the Green Party, told the Reuters news agency that he wanted an end to violence the government often blames on drug traffickers. “We demand the massacres stop,” he said.
President Ivan Duque has offered dialogue but many protesters have voiced scepticism that government promises will lead to change. Meanwhile, the national police force has launched dozens of disciplinary investigations and so far three officers are facing murder charges.
But demonstrations and road blockades have continued daily around the country. In the western city of Cali, about 200 people gathered on Wednesday morning at a local university.
“There’s no work in Cali or in Colombia,” said 50-year-old construction worker Daniel, who declined to give his last name to Reuters “We have been silent for too long.”
Many Latin American countries – already deeply unequal and politically volatile – have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rolled back recent anti-poverty strides. Unemployment in Colombia reached nearly 17 percent in urban areas in April.
But the protests go beyond the anger at inequality and the effect of COVID-19, said Gimena Sanchez, the director for the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Colombia also has struggled with decades of bloody civil strife and drug violence that a 2016 peace agreement has diminished but not ended.
“The Colombia protests are not just about COVID, they are about anger towards Duque for police repression from 2019 onwards, not advancing the 2016 peace accord, rising massacres and killings of social leaders and the perception by middle and working-class Colombians that the government is only interested in advancing the economic and political elites’ agendas,” Sanchez said