President Iván Duque on Friday (28) ordered the mobilization of military troops in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, after violent protests that left four dead during the day, which marked a month since the start of a unprecedented social upheaval in the country.
According to the president, the army will help the local police. “This mobilization will almost triple our capacity in 24 hours,” he said. More than 7,000 men will be sent to dismantle the roadblocks, including members of the navy.
There will also be a nighttime curfew in the city of 2.2 million people, every day starting at 7 p.m.
One of the victims was Fredy Bermudez, a prosecutor, who fired at a demonstration, killing two people, and was later killed by protesters, according to agency chief Francisco Barbosa. He added that the employee was not on duty.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry released footage of crowds attacking public buildings with stones and homemade explosives in the nearby towns of Popayán and Pasto.
In this month of protests, 49 people died, according to the official count. The prosecution has established that at least 17 cases are directly linked to the protests, but the NGO Human Rights Watch claims to have complaints of 63 deaths, 28 linked to the crisis.
Although the government and protest leaders have reached a prior agreement to end the protests this week, the strike organizers said Thursday (27) that the government had not signed the treaty and accused Duke of paralyzing it.
The government said it did not sign the deal because some leaders failed to condemn the roadblocks, classifying the issue as non-negotiable and adding that negotiations would resume on Sunday.
The protests began when the government wanted to impose more taxes on the middle class, hit by the pandemic, to fill the budget deficit left by the economic emergency.
Duke withdrew from the proposal, but police crackdown has boosted morale. Currently, the streets are full of young people without work and studies, who demand a more united State in the face of the devastation caused by Covid-19.
The protests have already led to the resignation of Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, Chancellor Claudia Blum and High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos, who led the government’s negotiations with the protesters.
Meanwhile, Duke’s disapproval is reaching all-time highs, around 76%, a year before the election his successor is expected to leave.
Since coming to power in August 2018, Duke has faced unprecedented protests. The pandemic silenced the mobilisations for a while, but they started again strongly, as Colombia faced an aggressive wave of Covid-19, leaving hospitals on the brink of collapse.
The pandemic has affected the economy of the country of 50 million people. In one year, the percentage of the poor population has risen from 35.7% to 42.5%, and nearly a third of Colombians – 27.7% – between the ages of 14 and 28 neither study nor work, according to the national statistics agency.