The National Strike Committee in Colombia announced on Tuesday (15) the temporary suspension until July 20 of the mobilizations that took over the country for more than a month. The protests are expected to continue, however, as the organization does not represent everyone who takes to the streets.
Francisco Maltes, one of the committee’s spokespersons, told Blu Radio that the mobilisations organized on Wednesday would be interrupted. On July 20, Colombia’s Independence Day, he announced that the committee would call a large mobilization in Congress to present bills.
Without giving more details on the content of the proposals, the committee guaranteed that during this month it will collect the demands of the population.
Colombians have been demonstrating since April 28. Initially, the acts were against the tax reform proposed by President Iván Duque. Although he withdrew the bill, the violent crackdown on protests – at least 61 people died during the period – continued to fuel discontent.
Since then, acts have multiplied, without a defined agenda or direction, but with demands calling for a more just country and a more united State that guarantees life and security in the face of the damage caused by the pandemic, which caused 42% of population in poverty.
Due to the diversity of the actors behind the mobilizations, the announcement of the suspension by the committee does not mean the end of the protests in the country, even if the organization is its most visible front. Maltes said the acts will continue “because the reasons behind them are still there”. Unions, students, indigenous peoples and social organizations make up the committee, created in 2019.
The president of the National Confederation of Labor (CGT), Percy Paola, said some movements will continue in the streets, according to the newspaper El País, and asked for protection for them and for the young people who negotiate with the local authorities.
After the announcement, Presidential Advisor Emilio Archila said the government would guarantee peaceful protests and recalled the police reform announced by Duque. He also stressed that the committee does not represent all those who have taken to the streets to protest by highlighting the dialogue that the government has with different organizations.
Archila also said the government “is not asking the committee for anything” in criticizing the organization’s decision to suspend dialogue. “We had all the arrangements, we had worked with them [o comitê], the same as we have done with all the other fronts, ”he said. “Now we see that they are thinking of acting differently and we don’t need to invite them.”
In early June, the strike committee broke off talks it had been having since early May with the Duke government without reaching an agreement to defuse the crisis.
The organization demanded an explicit condemnation of police brutality and an apology for the excesses. For its part, the government defended the end of roadblocks as a condition for the progress of negotiations.
A possible agreement with the National Strike Committee is seen as a step towards ending the crisis, but not towards a definitive solution. Last month, Colombian authorities and protest leaders even declared that they had reached a “prior agreement” to end the period of protests, but the government ended up backing down because part of the leaders of the strike refused to condemn the roadblocks – a demand the government considers non-negotiable.
There are at least 15 roadblocks in place, according to the AFP news agency, although the National Strike Committee lifted most of them in a “gesture of good will”. The Duke government attributes millions of losses to the strikers, in addition to the deaths of two babies trapped in ambulances that did not follow their path.
Mobilizations have been mostly peaceful during the day, but at night they tend to turn violent, with violent clashes between civilians and police. The UN, the United States, the European Union and NGOs have denounced the serious abuses committed by the public forces.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was in the country to assess the situation in Colombia. At the end of the visit, the country’s government pledged to investigate 21 murders committed during anti-government protests.
According to the Defense Ministry, around 2,500 people, including civilians and members of the security forces, were injured in this context. The NGO Human Rights Watch reports credible allegations of 34 deaths during the protests, including 20 apparently at the hands of police officers. Of these, 16 were shot with the intent to kill.