Bogota, May 5 (EFE).- At least 72 civilians and 19 police were injured in a night of violence in the Colombian capital that included attacks on at least 23 police substations, one of which was set on fire with 10 officers inside.
Tuesday night’s unrest took place on the eve of a new national strike scheduled for Wednesday.
“We were transferring wounded people to our hospitals and receiving them throughout the pre-dawn hours,” Bogota’s government secretary, Luis Ernesto Gomez, said early Wednesday. “There were 72 civilians and 19 police injured in the protests.”
The National Police said for their part that 25 of that force’s substations – known as immediate attention centers (CAIs) – were attacked by vandals, three of which were completely destroyed.
The worst incident occurred at the CAI in Bogota’s southern La Aurora neighborhood, where vandals set fire to the staffed substation and forced 10 officers to flee for their lives.
“It’s sad what they did. It’s totally wrong … Yes, we have the right to protest. We support the protests entirely, but seeing what they’re doing to these people makes you want to cry,” Gladys Villamizar, a resident of Bogota’s south side Candelaria neighborhood, whose CAI also was destroyed, told Efe.
Bogota’s centrist mayor, Claudia Lopez, described the events that occurred on the seventh day of anti-government protests as “painful” and a “brutal” escalation of violence.
The mayor’s office also said 104 of Bogota’s public transport buses were targeted by vandals and that three of them were set on fire.
Colombia’s conservative president, Ivan Duque, described the violence in harsher terms.
“Bogota is being attacked by organized criminals who are being confronted by our police. We emphatically condemn these attacks against police officers,” he said in a speech around midnight Tuesday.
The violent anti-government demonstrations began on April 28 against Duque’s plans to introduce a tax overhaul bill to Congress but have evolved into a more general protest against poverty and also police violence.
Duque’s proposed revenue-boosting measure would have required a broader swath of the country to pay income tax and raised value-added taxes on goods and services, but the president said Sunday he would withdraw the proposed reform amid the unrest and significant congressional opposition.
Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned a day after the tax plan was shelved.
A total of 19 people (18 civilians and one police officer) have died in the protests, according to Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office, although the Temblores non-governmental organization, which documents police violence, says the real death toll is 31.
Most of the deaths have been blamed on police violence, mainly in Cali, Colombia’s third city, with international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union condemning the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.
The Colombian government’s orthodox economic approach is supported by financial markets, but the recent demonstrations have brought attention to the plight of millions of people who face a daily struggle to survive, a situation aggravated over the past year by coronavirus-triggered restrictions on economic activity.
Among people under the age of 28, the jobless rate was 23.9 percent at the end of the first quarter, and that lack of opportunities is one of the main root causes of the protests. EFE