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Inside The Colombia Protests: What's Behind The Turmoil?
The deadly Colombia protests have riddled the country since President Ivan Duque’s tax hike proposal shook the country on April 28. It has been a month since Colombians began taking to the streets of Cali, Medellín, Bogotá and Cartagena.
Starting with largely peaceful protests which have developed into a mass movement, at times escalating into brutal, even deadly, street fighting. Colombia now sees itself involved in the largest mass protest in the country’s history. Despite Duque withdrawing the proposal five days after its announcement, protests continued and went bigger. So far, a total of 45 lives have been taken and thousands have been reported injured.
According to Reuters, the country’s current scenario is chaotic. Protestors blocked roads and raised barricades all over the country. Demonstrators are mainly coming from poor neighborhoods of its main cities. Those residents are showing anger and frustration against extreme income inequality, rampant poverty and corruption. Protestors also want to see the end of police brutality, which is a big issue in Colombia.
“This is a rage against the national government, added to an enormous social discontent. The pandemic has also added great suffering to the population.” said Jorge Restrepo, professor at the Javeriana University and director of the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (Cerac) to El Pais newspaper.
In fact, many of the protesters’ demands are rooted in Colombia’s high levels of inequality. The pandemic has made the lives of many Colombians more precarious. According to Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), the pandemic pushed 3.6 million people into poverty. Now 42.5% of the entire Colombia population makes less than $2 a day.
Cali, the epicenter of the protesters, was the most affected. The city of 2.2 million inhabitants was blocked by air and land for days. Local businesses were looted and banks and government buildings were burned. The Siloé neighborhood, one of the poorest, actually rebelled against the government. 14 people are reported to have died in recent days. On Saturday, President Duque deployed troops in Cali to quell the unrest.
“Blockades are not a sort of peaceful protest. Although they are done without weapons and without attacking, they violate the rights of others. Therefore, the public force has to intervene,” said Duque in an interview to El País.
According to Reuters, streets in the city were reported to be deserted after the military intervention. However, demonstrators in the capital, Bogotá, vowed to hold rallies on Sunday to demand an end to police violence. On the same day, thousands marched to demand an end to protests and roadblocks, as well as to express support for security forces, following a month of demonstrations.