Conflicts & War

Colombian protesters dial back blockades to promote talks

By Klarem Valoyes and Irene Escudero

Bogota, Jun 1 (EFE).- The self-proclaimed National Strike Committee (CNP) said Tuesday that some of the blockades mounted to put pressure on Colombia’s right-wing government since the start of a popular mobilization on April 28 are being dismantled as a goodwill gesture to advance dialogue.

Yet some of the people on the front lines of the blockades reject the CNP’s claim to speak for them and appear disinclined to go along with the proclaimed “de-escalation.”

“There are more than 40 ‘points of resistance’ that have been suspended thanks to the de-escalation,” the leader of the Fecode teachers union, Nelson Alarcon, said. “Today, therefore, the national government has no excuse to say that it won’t sign accords.”

Tuesday’s announcement marks the first glimmer of progress after two weeks of discussions between representatives of the CNP and President Ivan Duque’s government.

What remains to be seen is the impact of the CNP’s pronouncements on protesters in the slums of Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city and the epicenter of the uprising.

“The problem is that once May 1 came, the CNP completed detached from the protests,” a human rights campaigner known as Pipe told Efe from Puerto Resistencia, a cluster of poor, gang-terrorized neighborhoods in Cali.

He said that activists in Puerto Resistencia and places like it have asked the CNP to sit down with them to formulate a unified set of demands.

“But they don’t have the will to do that. So they don’t have the legitimacy to tell us to lift the blockades,” Pipe said.

While the government, supported by the business community, made the end of the blockades a condition for negotiations, young protesters contend that blocking roads is the only way they can force authorities to pay attention to them.

The Attorney General’s Office says that at least 20 people have died in events related to the protests. Independent groups, however, cite a death toll of 60, including 43 people killed by the security forces.

For many in Colombia, Pipe said, normality means living in terror of hunger, poverty and unemployment.

The Cali municipal government has initiated direct talks with the youths of Puerto Resistencia, but Duque’s administration shuns them.

“While during the day the president speaks of dialogue through his preferred channels, at night people come out in luxury cars to shoot the boys,” Pipe said, adding that three people were slain Monday night in Puerto Resistencia.

The emergence last Friday of armed vigilantes in parts of Cali escalated the conflict, resulted in at least 13 fatalities in a 24-hour period. EFE


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