After more than a week of protests that left at least 24 dead in Colombia, the city of Cali, epicenter of the protests, is under a state of emergency – the mayor decreed the measure for three months on Wednesday evening (5), and announced that it could be extended.
Since April 28, protests against President Iván Duque have been severely repressed and the city, one of the hardest hit, has plunged into violence.
In response to the closure of streets and roadblocks, which caused shortages of fuel and medicine amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government sent armed forces to Cali.
According to the Office of the Public Defender, 17 of the deaths recorded during the protests occurred in the department of Valle del Cauca, where Cali is located.
The state of emergency decreed by Mayor Jorge Iván Ospina allows the administration to make changes to the budget and the allocation of public resources and relaxes contractual rules that normally require calls for tenders.
The measure is provided for in the statute of public administration contracts to deal with exceptional situations which affect “the supply of goods or the provision of services, or the execution of works”.
According to the mayor, the decree aims to “meet the needs of the population and strengthen actions aimed at protecting the inhabitants of Cali”.
The new measure comes on top of the curfew – between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. – and the dry law instituted in the city, which will remain in force at least until May 14.
The violence of the demonstrations against the Colombian government erupted in the city called “post-conflict capital”, one of the poorest in the country, where the peace agreement signed with the former guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ), in 2016, did not bring the expected calm.
The situation was made worse by the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic – which affected industry, commerce and agriculture. In Cali, poverty affects 36.3% of the population and the homicide rate is 43.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, against 23.79 in the country.
Kevin Agudelo, 22, participated this Monday (3) in a vigil in Siloé, a slum in Cali. His mother, Angela Jiménez, remembers that he had promised not to approach the “riots”, but that was the last time she saw her son.
According to statements gathered by the AFP news agency, riot police and special forces attacked the peaceful demonstration. Agudelo was killed along with two other people, all shot dead, according to photos and videos.
“We had to go into hiding because we were scared,” said one of the event attendees who asked not to reveal his identity. “What I did was run to try and save my life.”
That same night, Daniela León was caught in the midst of clashes between security forces and protesters trying to wreak havoc in Palmira.
“The confrontation happened when [os manifestantes] they were about 500 meters from the toll and the whole platoon attacked, ”the activist described.
According to León, the demonstrators “started to enter the forest to protect themselves from the gases”. Seventeen people who fled between the cane fields are still missing, according to figures which coincide with the officers.
The tension in Colombia sparked protests from the UN, the European Union, the United States and human rights NGOs, which denounced the disproportionate use of force by the police to control demonstrations.
On Thursday (6), smaller groups of demonstrators again took to the streets. After a violent night in Bogotá earlier this week, things calmed down, Mayor Claudia Lopez said in a statement, adding that 23 other civilians and six police officers were injured, but not seriously.
Small groups also marched in Medellín, but dissipated amid heavy rains, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told Reuters news agency.
Under pressure from the streets, the government of President Iván Duque on Wednesday (5) promised that it would listen to protesters to seek consensus to end the crisis, but accused criminal groups of being behind the violence in the streets .