Colombia, Strained by Pandemic and Financial Hardship, Explodes in Protest | Latest News Table

Colombia, Strained by Pandemic and Financial Hardship, Explodes in Protest

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A young person shot to dying after kicking a police officer. A younger man bleeding out on the road as protesters shout for assist. Police firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling by means of neighborhoods, explosions echoing within the streets. A mom crying for her son.

“We’re destroyed,” mentioned Milena Meneses, 39, whose solely son Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.

Colombians demonstrating over the previous week in opposition to the poverty and inequality which have worsened the lives of tens of millions because the Covid-19 pandemic started have been met with a robust crackdown by their authorities, which has responded to the protests with the identical militarized police power it typically makes use of in opposition to insurgent fighters and arranged crime.

This explosion of frustration in Colombia, consultants say, may presage unrest throughout Latin America, the place a number of nations face the identical flamable mixture of an unrelenting pandemic, rising hardship and plummeting authorities income.

“We’re all linked,” mentioned León Valencia, a political analyst, noting that previous protests in Latin America have been contagious, leaping from nation to nation. “This might unfold throughout the area.”

On Wednesday, after seven days of marches and clashes that turned components of Colombian cities into battlefields, demonstrators breached protecting limitations across the nation’s Congress, attacking the constructing earlier than being repelled by police.

A number of folks within the political get together of President Iván Duque are asking him to declare a state of siege, which might grant him broad new powers.

The clashes have left a minimum of 24 folks lifeless, most of them demonstrators, and a minimum of 87 lacking, they usually have exacerbated the anger with officers within the capital, Bogotá, who many protesters say are more and more out of contact with folks’s on a regular basis lives.

On Wednesday, Helena Osorio, 24, a nurse, stood on the fringe of a rally in Bogotá.

“I’m in ache for Colombia, I’m in ache for my nation,” she mentioned. “All that we will do to make ourselves heard is to protest,” she went on, “and for that they’re killing us.”

The marches started final week after Mr. Duque proposed a tax overhaul meant to shut a pandemic-related financial shortfall. By Sunday, amid demonstrations throughout the nation, he rescinded the plan.

However the unrest has not abated. As a substitute, fueled by outrage on the authorities’s response, the crowds have solely grown.

Demonstrators now embrace academics, medical doctors, college students, members of main unions, longtime activists and Colombians who’ve by no means earlier than taken to the streets.

Truckers are blocking main highways. And on Tuesday, demonstrators within the capital burned buses and lit over a dozen police stations on hearth, singing the nationwide anthem, yelling “assassins!” and sending officers operating for his or her lives.

“This isn’t simply concerning the tax reform,” mentioned Mayra Lemus, 28, a schoolteacher standing not removed from the nurse on Wednesday. “That is about corruption, inequality and poverty. And all of us younger individuals are uninterested in it.”

The demonstrations are, partially, a continuation of a motion that swept South America in late 2019, as folks took to the streets in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Every nation’s protest was completely different. However in all of them, folks voiced their grievances over restricted alternative, widespread corruption and officers who seemed to be working in opposition to them.

Then got here the pandemic. Latin America was one of many areas hardest hit by the virus in 2020, with cemeteries filling previous capability, the sick dying whereas ready for care in hospital hallways, and relations spending the evening in strains to purchase medical oxygen in an try to maintain family members alive.

The area’s economies shrank by a median of seven p.c. In lots of locations, unemployment, notably among the many younger, spiked.

Then, in Colombia, Mr. Duque introduced his tax reform, one of many first makes an attempt within the area to attempt to cope with the financial shortfall exacerbated by the pandemic. Whereas the measure would have saved in place a important pandemic-era money subsidy, it will have additionally raised costs on many on a regular basis items and providers.

Quickly, long-brewing resentment spilled over into the streets.

On Tuesday, Mr. Duque mentioned he would open a nationwide dialogue to seek out options to fiscal issues and different challenges.

“It’s critical to have all of the establishments, events, the non-public sector, governors, mayors and leaders of civil society” in dialog he mentioned. “The outcomes of this area might be translated into initiatives we will act upon rapidly.”

However the name for nationwide dialogue was just like one he made in 2019, and plenty of civil society teams have mentioned that dialogue produced few outcomes.

Mr. Duque, a conservative, has misplaced vital reputation because the starting of the pandemic, in accordance with polling from the agency Invamer. And analysts say he’s at his weakest level since he got here to workplace in 2018.

The police and navy response has made a nationwide dialog constructed round compromise extraordinarily troublesome, mentioned Sandra Borda, a political analyst and columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo.

“He has no political capital,” she mentioned. “Individuals can not sit right down to dialogue with a authorities that by evening kills individuals who protest and by day extends a hand in dialog.”

“I believe there might be a variety of upheaval,” she went on. “And I believe this subsequent yr and a half might be horrible for the federal government, horrible for Colombian society and with only a few long-term options.”

Colombia will maintain presidential elections in 2022. For many years, the nation has elected conservative leaders. However Gustavo Petro, a left-wing former mayor of Bogotá and former member of a demobilized guerrilla group, now leads within the polls. Mr. Duque, restricted by legislation to 1 time period, can not run for re-election.

The federal government’s response to the current protests could possibly be a major think about subsequent yr’s vote.

On Saturday evening, Santiago Murillo, 19, a pupil in his remaining yr of highschool, was headed again to the house he shares along with his mother and father within the midsize metropolis of Ibagué, and crossed by means of a crowded protest.

Two blocks from dwelling, in accordance with his mom, photographs rang out and he fell to the bottom. In a video, a witness might be heard shouting.

“Is he OK?” the witness says. “Can he breathe? Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!”

A passing deliveryman loaded Mr. Murillo onto his motorcycle and rushed him to a clinic. There, his mom’s anguished cries had been captured on tape. “Son, take me with you! Son, I need to be with you!”

Medical doctors couldn’t revive him, and residents of Ibagué held a protest vigil in his identify the subsequent day.

“I requested them to protest civilly,” mentioned his mom, “in peace.”

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