Colombian President Ivan Duque has met with political opponents and expressed more optimism than his detractors about the progress made in calming more than a week of widespread and sometimes deadly street protests.
“We had a productive meeting with the Hope Coalition, a great opportunity for dialogue, to overcome differences and without political tallying,” Duque wrote on social media Friday, referring to the group of politicians.
But opposition participants said Duque needs to do a lot of work to respond to demands for action against poverty, unemployment and an end to police violence.
The group “started talks with President Ivan Duque as the opposition and we left as the opposition,” said Jorge Robledo, Senator for the Colombian Dignity Party.
“We have presented our views and he has presented his.
They urged Duque to meet with the organizers of civil society protests.
Peaceful marches have taken place in Bogota and Medellin, while roadblocks across the country have slowed food deliveries, pushing prices up.
Preventing the supply of food and other items, such as oxygen, is never justified, Duque said.
“Yes to the conversation… but no to the roadblocks,” he told reporters. “They are not peaceful because they affect the rights of others.”
“ Government with two faces ”
The government is expected to meet with the national strike committee – made up of unions and other groups – on Monday but said it was willing to hold the meeting earlier.
Protests began last week in the Andean country, fueled by outrage over plans to raise sales taxes. That proposal was quashed, but protesters’ demands now include a basic income and the withdrawal of a long-debated health care reform that opponents have deemed too vague to correct inequalities.
The human rights ombudsperson said 26 people had been killed since the protests began, but said seven were unrelated to the marches themselves. Advocacy group Human Rights Watch reported 36 deaths and called police violence “alarming.”
The armed forces justice system said Thursday evening that a major had been arrested for suspected manslaughter in connection with the death of a protester last weekend.
Protest groups are skeptical of a dialogue with Duque, saying similar talks were not successful after the 2019 protests.
The government must stop police violence, said Green Party congressman Katherine Miranda.
“The government has two faces. During the day it offers dialogue and conciliation, but at night it only shows repression, ”she told Reuters.
One of the main demands of the protesters is the disbandment of the riot police squad, ESMAD, which Duque has excluded.
“The protests will continue as long as there is no outcome of the dialogue,” Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), said in a video this week.
Some Colombians have called for an end to the protests.
“When the government decided to withdraw [the tax reform], the popular victory should have been declared, ”Gustavo Petro, left-wing senator and probably 2022 presidential candidate, told Blu Radio on Friday.
“At the moment there are no clear goals,” he said.
Poverty and unemployment have increased during coronavirus lockdowns, exacerbating entrenched social inequalities. Almost half of Colombia’s 50 million people were living in poverty at the end of 2020, according to government statistics.
The talks offer a way forward, said Edward Rodriguez, Congressman from Duque’s Democratic Center Party.
“The success of the dialogue depends on listening to everyone,” Rodriguez said. “And that this leads to public policies.”
Voters are likely to carry discontent to the polls in 2022, added Miranda of the Green Party, predicting: “There will be a change in the model of the country. [of government]. “
Duque cannot run next year, but continued protests could hurt the chances of his party’s candidates.
What happens during the protests “is not favorable to the government, its party, or its electoral fate in 2022,” said analyst Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis.