SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 25 June 2021, Friday |

Colombia protests stretch into fourth week, demonstrators vow to carry on

On Wednesday, Colombia’s wave of antigovernmental demonstrations entered its fourth week, with unions, student organizations, and others marching to demand social reform, despite sporadic talks between the government and strike organizers.

Both police and civilians have used abuse during the demonstrations. The attorney general’s office has reported 15 protest-related deaths, while one human rights organization claims there have been more than 40.

President Ivan Duque ordered the removal of roadblocks across the country earlier this week, causing food and fuel shortages.

The demonstrations, originally called in late April against a now-canceled tax plan, have expanded to include demands like a basic income, an end to police violence and opportunities for young people.

A health reform also opposed by many protesters, which they had criticized as too vague to make real change to Colombia’s fragile healthcare system, was shelved by a joint congressional committee on Wednesday.

Some 8,000 people attended protests in capital Bogota, the mayor’s office estimated. It added in a statement that all demonstrations were peaceful, but urged people to begin journeys home by 4 p.m.

A few hundred gathered in Bogota’s Bolivar Plaza.

“We’re accompanying our young people, our children, our grandchildren, who still lack opportunities despite our fighting for so long,” said lawyer Roberto Hermida, 68.

Hermida said he wanted there to be more educational opportunities and better healthcare.

Ati Quigua, 40, an Arhuaco indigenous leader, said she was protesting murders of human rights activists with 50 members of her community, saying they were on an “indefinite strike.”

The national strike committee, made up of major unions, student groups and others, has held several discussions with government representatives about protesters’ demands, but the two sides are not yet holding formal talks.

They are set to meet again with the government on Thursday morning, and organizers have vowed protests will continue.

The economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic has rolled back recent anti-poverty gains in Colombia, sending unemployment soaring, shuttering businesses and forcing the government to increase its debt load.

Demonstrations and blockades cost the county some $132 million per day, the finance ministry has said, and analysts predict the protests may slow Colombia’s recovery from a record economic contraction of 6.8% last year.