The conqueror Christopher Columbus was one of the victims of the celebrations of the two months of protests in Colombia. Or at least a representation of it. In the coastal town of Barranquilla, last Monday (28), hundreds of people watched the statue get knocked over in the center of town, and the path by which his head was dragged by ropes to the door of the town hall.
In other cities of the country, demonstrators also took to the streets, although with less aggressiveness and in fewer numbers than at the start of the movement on April 28. At first, they protested against a tax reform proposed by center-right president Iván Duque, as part of a package of adjustments that would serve, in part, to ease spending during the coronavirus pandemic.
Reception of the project was so bad that Duque recoiled from the idea, and although he held several meetings with the strike committee, which represents a section of the protesters, he was unable to stop the protests. On the one hand, most roadblocks and roadblocks have been lifted, but in many cities tension persists and protests are constant.
“This climate of tension must last until the elections [marcadas para maio de 2022]. Duke is fragile and isolated. And the idea that you are trading doesn’t mean anything. Unions are a minority, ”explains historian Jorge Orlando Melo, author of“ Historia Minima de Colombia ”, among other titles.
“The greatest dissatisfaction is precisely among the non-unionized, those who no longer have a job. It is the informal, those who worked in companies that have closed, the poor. It is not a confrontation between the workers and the government, it is among them. who were already out of business, those who fell into poverty. And Duque no longer has the time or the political strength to solve the problem in this sector of society.
So far, in these two months of demonstrations, according to the NGOs Indepaz and Temblores, there have already been 74 deaths, of which 44 are the result of the action of the security forces, in addition to 28 cases of rape, 1 832 arrests and 83 people with eye injuries from the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
Officially, the government says there were a total of 48 deaths in clashes during the acts.
In addition to all these figures, the Colombian prosecutor’s office received 572 reports of disappearances, although it only disclosed the investigation of 84 cases. The others, according to the agency, “do not meet the legal conditions constituting a disappearance”.
“Our concern is that the patterns of war against the FARC recur [Forças Armadas Revolucionárias da Colômbia], in which hundreds of people were found years later in mass graves, ”said Luz Marina Monzón, director of the Missing Persons Tracing Unit.
“The authorities urgently need to recognize that there are more missing people than they admit and redouble their efforts to find all of them. it must be investigated, ”said José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at the NGO Human Rights Watch.
According to official data, losses in the economy already amount to more than US $ 1.5 billion, including, in addition to what was lost with the fall in trade, the depredations of public transport vehicles and police stations.
For those who protest, there are three big banners: reforming the police, suspending the dismantling of part of the peace deal with the FARC, and reformulating the state to meet demand for better basic services, such as health and education. On the first point, the demonstrators want the withdrawal of the police from the army and a change in training to fight against urban violence. “Colombia’s militarized police are the same ones that were trained to fight armed guerrillas in the jungle. What people are asking for is a less brutal and fairer police force, ”explains historian Melo.
Regarding the peace pact, the document provided for elements that Duque had not seen, such as the integration of the guerrillas into society, the protection of those who disarmed and the functioning of the special tribunal. Events such as the killings of hundreds of social leaders who helped recover ex-combatants and 150 former FARC members are causing new tensions in the countryside and beyond.
Realizing that they would have no protection during their trial, some of the former guerrilla leaders moved to illegal camps in Venezuela, exacerbating problems with the neighboring country. The explosion of a car bomb in an army barracks and the shots fired at the helicopter in which the president was in the border town of Cúcuta show that the conflict between the armed groups is escalating.
During his tenure, Duque severed the good relations his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, had with the Venezuelan dictatorship. Thus, Nicolás Maduro, in his speeches, asserts that the crisis is the fault of the Colombian leader, who would try to enter the country and to overthrow the regime at the request of the United States. Duque, in turn, claims that the Chavista turns a blind eye to the presence of illegal groups in his territory.
Finally, the demand for reformulation of the state appears to be one of the main reasons in a country which is the second most unequal in South America, behind Brazil, and the seventh in the world, according to the World Bank. The coronavirus pandemic, according to data from ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), has helped reduce poverty from 31.7% in 2019 to 38.7%.
“Colombia had dramatically improved the standard of living of its people over the past two decades. But the pandemic and, to a large extent, this administration got the country out of this path, ”says Melo. “Society feels this, that we are moving towards a country with more poverty, more inequality, a more urban population in precarious conditions and without jobs. For now, I don’t see how to completely calm the streets. “