Colombia protest leaders suspending weekly demonstrations

A spokesman for the national strike committee says the fight for better social and economic policies will continue.

Demonstrators march during a protest demanding government action to tackle poverty, police violence and inequalities in healthcare and education systems, in Cali, Colombia June 2, 2021 [File: Juan B Diaz/Reuters]

The leaders of mass anti-government protests in Colombia have said they plan to suspend their weekly demonstrations but promised to continue to fight for widespread social and economic reforms.

National strike committee spokesman Francisco Maltes said on Tuesday that the umbrella group of workers’ unions, student organisations and others had decided to “temporarily” pause the protests that have taken place on Wednesdays.

“That doesn’t mean protest will stop in Colombia,” Maltes said. “Protest in Colombia will continue because the reasons behind it are still there.”

Anti-government demonstrations broke out across the South American nation in late April after the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque introduced a now-withdrawn tax reform that critics said would disproportionately harm the middle and working classes.

Large rallies have continued, with protesters expanding their list of demands to include health and educational reforms, police reform, and the provision of guaranteed basic income for millions of people, among other things.

Violence has also escalated, especially in Cali, the country’s third-largest city, which emerged as a protest epicentre.

The exact death toll linked to the protests remains disputed, but human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed by security forces.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last week that Colombian forces had committed “egregious” abuses against “mostly peaceful demonstrators” during the weeks of mass demonstrations and called on the government to “take urgent measures” to protect human rights.

The protest leaders on Tuesday accused Duque’s government of undermining an effort to start negotiations after talks were called off earlier this month.

The government is committed to talks, it said in a statement, reiterating that roadblocks across the country do not constitute peaceful protest.

Blockades tied to the demonstrations have prompted shortages of some basic goods and price increases, and the finance ministry says economic losses total more than $3bn.

Meanwhile, Maltes said unions and business associations would meet to draft bills to share with Congress when it begins a new session on July 20. Another protest is also expected that day.

“We hope that Congress, and lawmakers, do not fail Colombians like President Ivan Duque has,” he said.

Source: News Agencies