August 1, 2021

In Colombia, thousands of demonstrators in the streets again

Several thousand Colombians took to the streets again on Tuesday, July 20, to protest against the government of President Ivan Duque and to demand from the Parliament, which is opening a new session, reforms for more social justice and against police repression.

“I hope that this Parliament will finally legislate in favor of the interests of all the Colombian people and not just of a group of individuals who get richer”Ivan Chaparro, a 46-year-old dentist, told Agence France-Presse, in the middle of a festive demonstration in central Bogota. “We are fighting to assert our rights in matters of health, education and non-violence”, added Noelia Castro, a 30-year-old teacher.

People dressed in national colors at the anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia on July 20, 2021.

The National Strike Committee, initiator of the mobilization at the end of April, but which does not represent all the components, called for the resumption of the rallies after more than a month of break.

Read also: the power in Colombia withdraws a tax reform criticized

42% of Colombians live in poverty

The protesters demand more social justice, a reform of the police, accused of brutally cracking down on demonstrations, and a more united state in the face of the social damage caused by the pandemic. Some 42% of the 50 million Colombians now live in poverty.

“We cannot remain indifferent to injustice, to the fact that students are being killed because they demonstrate, that they are attacked as if they were terrorists”, says Jeanneth Gomez, a 59-year-old teacher.

A child holds a shield that reads

Composed of students, indigenous and social associations, the Committee suspended its mobilizations on June 15. Several weeks of talks with the government came to nothing.

The demands of the Committee, “We are going to present them to Parliament since the government did not want to negotiate”, said Fabio Arias, leader of the Central Unitarian of Workers at the local radio station W Radio. The security forces closed the access to the seat of the Presidency and the Parliament.

Deployment of 65,000 soldiers and police

The day before, the government had announced the deployment of 65,000 soldiers and police in the country in anticipation of the demonstrations that it accuses of being infiltrated by dissidents of the former guerrilla forces of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last active guerrilla in the country.

Protesters clash with police in Bogota on July 20, 2021.

More than 60 people have been killed and several thousand others injured since April 28, according to the People’s Defense Office, a public body responsible for ensuring respect for human rights.

The government of Ivan Duque, in power since 2018, has faced several waves of protest. The last one began at the end of April to protest against a plan to increase VAT and broaden the income tax base, which has since been withdrawn.

“A country in full transformation”

On Tuesday, the right-wing president, whose unpopularity rises to 76%, inaugurated the new parliamentary session which will have to debate a new tax reform. “The voices in the street we hear them and they must feed the debate, but you are summoned by history to be the spokespersons of a country in full transformation”, did he declare.

For this new reform, the government has given up the most controversial points and hopes to recover $ 3.9 billion in state coffers. The previous project provided for a return of 6.3 billion dollars. He had sparked the anger of Colombians and had caused the Minister of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, to resign.

A police reform project, announced in mid-June by Ivan Duque, must also be debated in Parliament. But it is considered insufficient by the protesters who demand that the police no longer depend on the Ministry of Defense.

The legislative elections will take place in March and the presidential election in May 2022.

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The World with AFP