Bogota Colombia — Friday is a month since the Colombian protests began. The protests caused shortages of fuel and food supplies, unemployment, and damaged infrastructure, forcing companies to close down and harming the local economy.
The negotiations between the government and the demonstrators have hardly made any progress, and the protesters’ demands are getting higher and higher.
Although the number of voters seems to be decreasing, protests and unrest are still happening every day, and another nationwide strike is expected on Friday.
The disruption is most obvious in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, where roadblocks prevented the supply of food, fuel and other commodities, forcing some businesses to close and thousands of people losing their jobs.
During the protests, vandals attacked bus stops and street lights, most prominently in Bogota and Cali, disrupting public transportation.
Felipe Suárez, a 26-year-old electrician in Bogotá, told Al Jazeera: “I had to travel many hours to get to work. I had to walk home because of the demonstrations.” “But I still support a national strike. …We shouldn’t complain too much about the protests.”
The protest was triggered by a tax reform proposal in mid-April, which was opposed by many Colombian workers and the middle class. On April 28th, tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets across the country, and the demonstrations turned into violence in some cases.
Right-wing President Ivan Duke withdrew the reforms on May 2, and the minister responsible for drafting the reforms resigned.
But sometimes deadly demonstrations-intensified by severe police repression-have continued since then, with protesters making countless new government demands. For many, these requirements include Duke’s resignation.
The death toll is still a controversial issue. According to government data, 17 civilians and two policemen directly related to the demonstration were killed, while local human rights organizations claimed that the number of civilians who died by police was much higher, at more than 40.
During the weeks of protests, many local businesses were also destroyed or burned.
Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at the University of Rosario in Bogotá, said that material destruction and blockades have affected the daily lives of Colombians in many ways.
She said: “Public transportation in cities such as Bogotá has been severely affected, and it is especially difficult for working-class people to travel long distances from home to work.”
“The blockade of roads and ports has reduced the supply of natural gas, food and medicine. Small businesses in particular have been hit hard by the dual effects of COVID-19 and the nationwide strike.”
Tickner said that although negotiations with the government continue, there are few signs that a meaningful solution is coming.
“So far, President Duke has hardly shown a willingness to listen to the countless social, economic and political dissatisfaction expressed by different strata of Colombian society. His lack of credibility and governance capabilities have weakened his actual ability to make compensation,” she said. “The fact that his government ends next year also makes him a lame duck in the eyes of many people.”
Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst at the Colombian International Crisis Group, said that the national-level discussions set the tone for what is happening across the country, but did not address the grievances of local protesters.
Dickinson said: “I think we have seen initial progress in setting the basic conditions for how to negotiate, but we are still far from really solving the problem.”
Dealing with the abuse of power by the police
The protesters stated that they hope to provide more opportunities for young people, provide all Colombians with a basic universal income, achieve better equality in education and health care, disband the riot police, known as ESMAD, and comprehensive police reform.
“It all started with tax reform, but this is the last straw that crushes the camel… For more than 20 years, many problems have accumulated,” 68-year-old protester and retired school teacher Jaime Valencia (Jaime Valencia) ) Tell Al Jazeera. The main public square in Bogotá on Wednesday.
He said that to end the protests, “no one else can be killed”, the police need to stop “extreme force” against young people. He said that serious negotiations—international intervention—need to start.
International human rights organizations condemned the Colombian police who reported to the Ministry of Defense for firing on the protesters.
Human Rights Watch Americas Department Director Hese Miguel Vivanco told Al Jazeera that punishing police for abuse and taking serious action to prevent police abuse of power should be the government’s top priority.
“Although President Duke stated that his government has adopted a’zero tolerance’ policy for police abuses, police officers who committed serious human rights violations against protesters in 2019 and 2020 have not been held accountable,” Vivanco said.
“If you don’t seriously discuss accountability and police reform, there will be no meaningful way out of this crisis.”
The protester Miguel Ángel Chávez is part of Guardia Cimarrona, an Afro-Colombian organization established to protect ancestral lands and has been involved since the beginning of the demonstration.
“We hope that security forces like ESMAD will stop stigmatizing young people,” Chavez said, and he wants Duke to resign.
“We will no longer tolerate these violations of human rights, nor will we forgive you for everything you have done in the government for the past three years,” he said of the president.
“I think the protests will continue. People are beginning to realize that their rights have been violated, so more people will join and demonstrate.”
Ariel Avila, a political analyst and deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares), predicts that there will be a peaceful protest every three to four weeks, and there will be fierce protests in the following week— —This pattern will repeat itself in a period of time.
“I think this is the situation before the end of the government,” Avila told Al Jazeera.
“No one is really interested in negotiations, and no one is really capable of negotiating,” he said.
He said a clear sign is that the head of government negotiations, Miguel Ceballos, quit his job on Saturday.
Ceballos, who is responsible for negotiating with the opposition National Strike Committee (CNP) composed of major unions and student groups, said on Saturday that he had submitted his resignation to Duke for “personal reasons.”
The government and the Chinese Kuomintang reached a “pre-agreement” on Monday, for example, to ensure that the protests can continue without violence. The government expressed its hope that the protests can be ended through negotiations.
“At present, before the 2022 election, Colombians may most hope that the government will make a firmer commitment to protect the democratic rights of social protest, end its stigmatization and control police brutality, while the protesters here, Lift the blockade and commit to non-violence,” Tickner said.
On Wednesday afternoon, when Al Jazeera was talking to the demonstrators, there were more pigeons than protesters in Bogotá’s main public square, but people there expected a large turnout on Friday.