By Ovidio Castro Medina
Bogota, May 12 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bogota and other cities once again on Wednesday in a new national strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque, calling for an end to some of them and demanding effective action to halt police brutality.
The 15th day of the anti-government marches drew artists, workers, students, union members and informal street vendors who chanted slogans against Duque, who seems to be everywhere at once meeting with many different social groups and traveling twice to Cali, the city hardest hit by the crisis and the epicenter of the protests.
“The aim of the strike we’ve been staging since April 28 is to get the national government to negotiate on the emergency list we presented in June 2020 and (to give) guarantees regarding social protest,” the president of the powerful CUT union, Francisco Maltes, told EFE. The union leader is also a member of the National Strike Committee that met on Monday with the president without arriving at an agreement.
Regarding police brutality, Duque, who still has not made any definitive statement about the protesters’ demands, said that the authorities have initiated 65 disciplinary actions, including eight for murder, 27 for abuse of authority, 11 for physical attacks and 19 for other abusive conduct.
However, the Ombudsman’s Office also said on Tuesday that it had received reports that 42 people – 41 civilians and one police officer – had died during the two weeks of the strike and that 168 other people are missing.
According to records kept by the non-governmental organization Temblores, which monitors and denounces police violence, during the protests 40 people have become the victims of “homicidal violence” by the security forces and at least 1,956 incidents of physical violence have occurred, as well as 12 incidents of sexual violence.
The marches receiving the most attention have taken place in Bogota, where several were staged in various parts of the city, not all of which ended up on the central Plaza de Bolivar.
In similar manner, demonstrations have also been under way in the Barranquilla, Cartagena and Monteria, Colombia’s main Caribbean coastal cities, along with Bucaramanga and Cucuta, where people have also turned out to express their discontent.
Meanwhile, in Cali, indigenous people also joined the marches of “young people and the mobilized public because they were massacring us,” as Aida Quilcue, a strong opponent of the Duque government, told EFE.
The indigenous leader emphasized that despite the fact that the Valle del Cauca provincial government, based in Cali, closed the provincial borders last Sunday to ensure public order, the tribespeople still managed to travel there from neighboring provinces to participate in the protests and on Wednesday began to leave the city to travel back to their lands.
Meanwhile, the government is planning to present in the negotiations issues like massive anti-Covid vaccinations, safe resumption of normal activities, non-violence, protection of the most vulnerable members of society, stabilization of the public finances and other measures.
It is expected that the two sides will be able to sit down to discuss these matters and others, and hopes are that an agreement can be hammered out to bring the country out of the current crisis, the worst so far for the Duque government and one of the most difficult periods in recent Colombian history.
In addition, the government announced that it is willing to “negotiate” with the Strike Committee, which is demanding “talks” and not “dialogue.”
The government has insistently asked the demonstrators not to block the country’s streets and roadways so that normal shipments of food and medicines can get through.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Rodolfo Zea has warned that the losses so far from highway blockades have amounted to some 1.7 trillion pesos (about $458 million), with some 700,000 tons of food remaining undelivered due to such problems.