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Colombia enters second week with violent unrest as police fight protests Global development

Colombia has entered its second week of violent unrest as rebel police continued a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests against poverty and inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

As many as 37 people have died in the protests so far, according to Temblores, a local NGO that monitors police violence, though the number is expected to rise, with at least 89 people reported missing since protests began on April 28.

New clashes erupted Wednesday night in Bogotá and other cities across the country as heavily armored police released their arsenal of flash bangs, tear gas and water cannons at protesters.

In the historic center of the city, a group of students sought refuge from tear gas vaults and rain. “We just want the right to protest peacefully and feel we have a future,” said María José López, a student, as part of the rebel police marched past. “We are the majority, but they do not listen to us.”

Elsewhere, protesters held candle guards and painted anti-government slogans on the tarmac as people knocked pots and pans from their apartment windows above.

Demonstrations started over an unpopular tax reform, but have since grown into rage over poverty, human rights violations and the authorities’ harsh response to protests.

Protesters hang a sign on a bridge that reads 'SOS Colombia' in Bogotá on 5 May.
Protesters hang a sign on a bridge that reads ‘SOS Colombia’ in Bogotá on 5 May. Photo: Maria Jose Gonzalez Beltran / LongVisual / Zuma Wire / Rex / Shutterstock

President Iván Duque has since dropped tax reform and called for dialogue to resolve the crisis, though observers say those talks are unlikely to yield results in the near future.

Duque and his ministers have at times been more concerned about vandalism and attacks on police stations and toll booths than the rising death toll. His government has not yet recognized the role of the police in the violence instead of trying to frame the protests as the work of “terrorists” from dissident rebel groups.

“While the Presidency has announced plans to conduct a new national dialogue, this does not appear likely to pave the way for the current crisis,” Elizabeth Dickinson of the International Crisis Group wrote in an analysis published Thursday morning ahead of several planned marcher. “The authorities’ focus on treating the protest movement as a law enforcement problem and the accumulation of complaints offers little hope of a peaceful solution in the short term.”

In the middle of Wednesday’s endings in the capital, many protesters saw no purpose in taking the president at his word.

“Why do we trust the government in any negotiations when all they are doing is lying?” asked Enrique Gama, a truck driver who was protesting with other union members at a roadblock in Bogotá.

Protesters and riot police clashed in Bogotá on 5 May.
Protesters and riot police clashed in Bogotá on 5 May. Photo: Juan Barreto / AFP / Getty Images

In Pereira, a town in the western coffee-growing region, residents kept watch for Lucas Villa, a young protester who fought for his life in an intensive care unit after being shot eight times by police just hours after being filmed and dancing at the marchers. and advocates peaceful protest.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed more than 75,000 lives, with daily deaths last week breaking the country’s records. The number of people living in extreme poverty grew by 2.8 million people last year amid coronavirus lockdowns that exacerbated the country’s deep-rooted inequalities.

Duque has been powerless to quell the unrest despite ordering the militarization of major cities and withdrawing his tax plan. His government has tried to frame the protests as “terrorists” from dissident rebel groups.

Amid growing popular anger, observers have recommended caution over the possible spread of disinformation. But videos analyzed by Amnesty International confirm that police have used deadly weapons, including rifles and semi-automatic cannons, against protesters around the country.

“It is deeply alarming to see the harsh response to crowd control across the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Director of Amnesty International in the United States. “The people’s dissatisfaction with the economic crisis is clear – it is unfair and endangers their human rights.”

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