In Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, what started as another hotbed of protests in the country against the tax reform proposed by President Iván Duque has become a kaleidoscope of demands and criticism from the government – actions of struggle against the pandemic to employment and education. , passing through the claims of minorities with a large presence in the Valle do Cauca, where the city is located.
Epicenter of the actions that have taken Colombia over the past two weeks, with roadblocks causing food and fuel shortages, Cali no longer sees clashes limited to protesters and police. Now, residents of middle and upper class neighborhoods are also facing indigenous populations, increasing tension in a scenario which, according to the NGO Indepaz, has already claimed 47 lives across the country, including 35 in Cali alone.
“There are many spaces in the city that foster conflict between different groups and resistance to law enforcement. It’s a place that is very divided geographically, ”explains sociologist Alberto Sánchez. “ We have long seen tensions between interests linked to the coca plantation area, undocumented immigrants and those who exploit illegal mining, in a territory where the oldest presence is that of indigenous people and Afro- Colombians, who reacted to the advances of organized crime. and the police on their activities. “
With 2.2 million inhabitants, Cali is an important stopover on the drug trafficking route between South and Central America, due to the land connection and proximity to the ports of the Pacific Ocean. Between the late 1970s and 1990s, the city rose to fame for being home to one of the country’s most significant drug cartels, led by Rodríguez Orejuela.
The department of Cauca, of which Cali is the capital, is also a refuge for those “displaced” by violence and poverty in Cauca and Putumayo. The lack of access of displaced people to work and housing only adds to the security concerns.
Although Duque visited town last Tuesday (11), he could not prevent further protests from continuing to be called. They did not help statements by the president and members of his right-wing democratic center that the acts are infiltrated by destabilizing foreign forces, associated with dissidents from the guerrillas, cartels and even the Venezuelan government. In reaction, the mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, of the Green Party, in opposition to Duke, replied: “The acts and the blockades are the result of very clear causes. Lack of jobs, health and education” .
In addition to the social problems that affect the entire population, the government has also started to receive demands from trade unions and indigenous movements, gathered at the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (Cric), an organization that denounced an attack during the weekend by civilians associated with the police, with assaults and destruction of blocks set up in protest. “They obstruct the constitutional right to protest. It is a movement that hitchhikes in chaos to express xenophobia,” said Alfredo Acosta, who heads the Colombian Indigenous Guard.
In contrast, residents of Solares de Pance, a condominium in an upscale part of town, were held hostage for a day by a group of natives, also last weekend.
With accusations from side to side, social media is a messy melting pot in the version war. Members of the Jack post videos of peaceful meetings in plazas where, all of a sudden, there are explosions and racing motivated by gunfire. Residents of closed neighborhoods in turn display images captured by drones of the advance of indigenous peoples against their homes. There are also tapes of gunshots and police attacks against unarmed protesters and also from police stations where bombs are detonated.
“We knew something like this could happen in Colombia and especially in Cali, which is marked by segregation,” says Sánchez. “We are now seeing an escalation, with more severe cases every day. In the case of a heavily armed city, like this, where each of these groups has the means to cause damage and death, the situation is. very complex.”
When protests took place across the country in the second half of 2019, Cali also concentrated the most violent. The current ones, which raise flags again from this time on, are also worse in Cali.
For Julián González of the Universidad del Valle, the pandemic has exacerbated the country’s problems. “More than 500,000 small and medium enterprises have been closed, and there are 17 million people in a situation of food vulnerability. The basis of the urban protests is based on this deterioration in the living conditions of the majority ”. In this context, poverty in the country fell from 35.7% in 2019 to 42% in 2020, according to the National Administrative Directorate of Statistics (DANE).
González recalls that Duque, with only 33% popular approval, is too tired to face the situation. “He is only supported by part of his party, the others have disengaged from him, the Catholic Church as well. On top of that, there is the international repudiation of police abuse, Human Rights Watch reports. , the UN and the European Parliament. It will be difficult to control this crisis. “
The UN, moreover, has expressed concern over the situation in Cali in recent days. The representative in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Juliette de Rivero, denounced the attacks against indigenous peoples: “We urge the guarantee of rights and justice for those who have been attacked, including women and children “.