Colombian President Iván Duque said the issues raised by the protesters would be included in national debates to find ways out of nearly two weeks of anti-government protests. He made the statements while paying a brief visit to Cali, the scene of scenes of violence this weekend.
“We know we need to prioritize a series of interventions necessary to generate hope and a future for young people,” Duque said, citing free education in public universities, political participation and entrepreneurship among the subjects to be debated. On Monday, he also met with strike leaders in Bogotá.
Although Duque initially insisted he would not go to Cali, which has become the epicenter of the protests, he visited after heavy clashes. At least nine indigenous people from southwestern Colombia were shot dead on Sunday (9) during a demonstration in Cali. The caravan was attacked by police and armed civilians, the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) said in a statement.
In a press release, the police assured that the agents were in the region “responding to the request for assistance from the community (…) which was attacked by a group of indigenous people”. The text also indicated that the natives had injured four people with sharp objects, as well as the incineration and vandalism of several vehicles.
In a statement, Duque called on the locals to return to the state they came from and ordered his defense minister, Diego Molano, to strengthen security in the city.
The protests began on April 28, fueled by the revolt against tax reform aimed at increasing sales taxes. The proposal was rejected, but protesters’ demands now include a basic income of US $ 250 (R $ 1,300) for the poorest, the withdrawal of a health reform and an end to aerial glyphosate fumigation in drug plantations.
The acts were violently repressed. In Bogota and Cali, for example, the army has started patrolling the streets. The president is facing pressure from protests called by unions, transporters and indigenous people, among other sectors, which demand a change of course from his government and the demilitarization of fields and towns. One of the main demands of the protesters is the disbandment of the dreaded Esmad riot squad, short for Esquadro Móvil Antidistúrbios, which Duke rejected.
The tension in Colombia sparked protests from the UN, the European Union, the United States and human rights NGOs, who denounced the disproportionate use of force by the police to control demonstrations.
The country’s human rights ombudsman has reported 26 deaths since the protests began, but said seven were unrelated to the marches themselves. Human Rights Watch said it reported 38 deaths, and human rights group Temblores and the Indepaz Institute reported 47 killings, most of which were committed by police.