The social anger that has been raging for a month in Colombia has not weakened and continues to challenge, in the streets, coronavirus and police repression. And it carries its share of dramas.
At least three people died on Friday May 28 in Cali during demonstrations, exactly one month after the April 28 uprising against a quickly abandoned tax reform project led by right-wing President Ivan Duque, which aimed to increase the VAT and to broaden the income tax base.
“Three people are unfortunately dead (…) This happened between those who block and those who wanted to pass” through a barricade erected by protesters, Cali Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina said in a video on social media.
Videos on social media shot at the scene of the tragedy show a man lying in a pool of blood and another man nearby, armed, harassed by protesters. The footage then shows the alleged assailant, also on the ground, after apparently being lynched.
“A fight resulted in this crazy situation of death and pain. We cannot allow such things to continue to happen in Cali. We must not fall into the temptation of violence and death ”, added Ospina.
This new assessment brings the number of dead to 49, including two police officers, listed by the authorities. Some 2,000 people were injured and 123 are missing. The NGO Human Rights Watch mentions up to 61 deaths.
Peaceful protests by day, rebels by night
Since the start of the protest, the scenario has almost always been the same: during the day, the demonstrations are peaceful and creative, at night the rebellion turns into riots where fireworks and Molotov cocktails mix with live ammunition.
This unprecedented revolt shakes the big cities, where barricades are erected and road blockages are causing shortages and exasperating part of the population. On Tuesday, two people died in the southwest of the country during clashes with the police, and Wednesday evening in the south of Bogota, yet another demonstration left 25 civilians injured and four police officers.
The government, despite mediators responsible for negotiating with the National Strike Committee, initiator of the movement, is unable to deactivate a crisis which, for the moment, does not threaten to overthrow it.
For half a century, the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) obscured a reality that has become too glaring: according to the World Bank, Colombia ranks among the most unequal countries in terms of income and has the most informal job in Latin America. The state has concentrated on its fight against the guerrillas – the struggle against the ELN and the FARC dissidents continues – and has completely abandoned social demand.
In 2019, a year after the election of Ivan Duque, students took to the streets to demand better free public education, jobs, a more united state and society.
The pandemic put an end to the mobilization in 2020 without the 42-year-old head of state making too large concessions. The backlash is all the stronger, with poverty which has accelerated to reach 42.5% of the 50 million inhabitants, the pandemic plunging the most vulnerable into poverty.
US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken expressed on Friday “His concern and condolences for the loss of human life” occurred in Colombia and “Reiterated the indisputable right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully”, following a meeting with his Colombian counterpart, Marta Lucia Ramirez, who is visiting Washington this week.