Bogota Colombia – Anti-government protests took place across Colombia for the eighth day in a row on Wednesday, as rights groups excessive violence by the security forces.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital’s main public square, Bogota, around 3 p.m. Wednesday, as well as other parts of the city where people had gathered.
But protesters said they would continue to take to the streets, despite right-wing President Ivan Duque withdraws the contentious tax reform this prompted them to protest in the first place last week.
“Yes, they withdrew the reform, but they didn’t change it,” said Olga Cabos, a 48-year-old Emerald union worker, who took part in the second national strike since April 28 in downtown Montreal. Bogota.
“We cannot let this Duque government continue to make things harder for the poorest of us,” she told Al Jazeera, holding up an anti-government sign.
The protests were sparked by an unpopular tax reform that the government said was aimed at stabilizing an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. But working and middle-class Colombians said the plan favored the wealthy while put more pressure on them.
Duque withdrew the proposal on Sunday and his the finance minister resigned a day later, but protesters are now calling for the withdrawal of a health reform bill and a guaranteed basic income of one million pesos ($ 260) for all Colombians, among others.
“Although tax reform was the initial spark, the current protests in Colombia reflect a wide range of social, political and economic grievances that the Duque government will struggle to address with existing scripts for the national dialogue,” said Arlene Tickner, Policy Officer. science professor at Rosario University in Bogota.
Increase in violence
Violence escalated Monday evening in the country’s third largest city, Cali, where protesters said police opened fire to disperse the crowds. Videos of police misconduct in Cali – which Al Jazeera could not independently verify – were widely shared on social media on Tuesday.
Sources on the ground said police had fired indiscriminately at protesters, even from helicopters.
The death toll linked to the protests remains widely controversial and varied between the government and independent NGOs. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said 24 people had died, while local NGO Temblores, which documents police abuses, estimates 37 were killed.
There have been reports of looting and vandalism during some of the protests, and these acts have been condemned by local politicians.
Unrest escalated in Bogota on Tuesday evening, with 30 civilians and 16 police injured, the mayor’s office said in a statement, adding that a crowd attempted to “burn alive” 10 police officers by setting a small post on fire. from police.
At the same time, various American officials, the United Nations and the European Union denounced the national police for opening fire on demonstrators. Celebrities, including Colombian-born musician Shakira – known for avoiding commenting on political issues – have also spoken out against the violence.
“I call on the government of my country to take urgent action now to end the violation of human rights and restore the value of human life above all political interests,” the singer tweeted on Tuesday. in Spanish.
But, according to Tickner, “growing international pressure to end police brutality and respect human rights has so far had little impact on state violence and accountability.”
In a video on Wednesday, Duque repeated government claims that illegal armed groups were engaged in vandalism and looting, and said more than 550 arrests had been made.
“There will be no truce with those who commit these crimes – all of society will bring them to justice,” Duque said.
The president had previously called for a national dialogue “to listen and build solutions” before the marches, similar to that of 2019, when Colombians took to the streets because of economic inequalities, a slow implementation of the peace process and growing insecurity.
Elizabeth Dickinson, Colombia’s senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that although illegal groups have in some cases infiltrated the ongoing protests, “there is no way to credibly claim that a group armed or criminal motivates or compels demonstrators to street “.
What is happening is a “legitimate social movement,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Here in the capital Bogota, the number of people living in extreme poverty has tripled in barely a year, so it’s a real moment of social crisis across the country and I think the protests could be more lasting. than in 2019. “
Still, Sergio Guzman, a political analyst who runs Colombia Risk Analysis, said many of the protesters’ claims are unrealistic – and will not be welcomed by the Duque government.
“Demands such as universal basic income are not achievable in any scenario,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that the protesters have yet to establish a negotiating position that would be considered realistic or acceptable by the government.
However, he said the government needed to start responding more to the concerns of protesters, especially police brutality.
Dickinson agreed, and also said both sides are currently very entrenched in their positions.
“The demands of the protesters are really increasing day by day,” she said. “This is a list of very important changes for the state and for good or bad they would involve very important and far-reaching reforms in the way the state works.”