Activists explain why Colombians are still protesting

BOGOTA, Colombia – The few indigenous teenagers who have left their impoverished communities behind to get a public college education in Bogotá have joined the tax reform protests. Some of them decided to march against police brutality. Others are demanding more access to education, health reform, and an increase of the $285 monthly minimum wage.

A student participates in a play during a protest in Cali, Colombia on May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Andres Gonzalez) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

According to the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, the protests have resulted in more than 160 disappearances and at least 42 deaths. There was fear when Colombian President Iván Duque ordered the military and law enforcement to clear the roads. The protesters’ roadblocks caused supply chain disruptions in Cali and Bogotá.

Women kneel to pray during protests in downtown Bogota, Colombia on May 8, 2021. (AP Foto/Ivan Valencia) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Francisco Maltés, the president of The Central Union of Workers, or CUT, said protesters have had the legitimate right to participate in the national strike, which started on April 28. The dissent continued even after Duque agreed to drop his proposal for tax reform, which aimed to raise $6.3 billion over 10 years.

A demonstrator shouts during an anti-government march in Plaza Bolivar, in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“President Duque’s tax reform proposal was the last straw,” Maltés said in Spanish adding that the rising levels of poverty and the inequities worsened by the coronavirus pandemic made it easy for workers to feel anger when they learned their grocery bills were going to be taxed.

Maltés is part of the ongoing negotiations with Duque’s administration.

A woman prays during a protest in downtown Bogota, Colombia on May 8, 2021. (AP Foto/Ivan Valencia) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In Cali, Duque’s administration blamed the violence on armed groups who infiltrated the tax reform protests. But several protesters there said the violence was coming from police officers who had even shot at a crowd engaging in peaceful dissent with music and dance.

Retired members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, joined the protests on May 4. They have been upset that Duque didn’t follow through with the 2016 peace deal’s promises.

A protester holds a sign in the shape of a headstone with the name of one of the victims of the ongoing protests in Bogota, Colombia on May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

On Tuesday, the FARC, which transitioned from an armed to guerrilla to a political party, reported Jesus Santrich, a prominent leader who was also known as Seuxis Hernandez, was killed on Monday in Venezuela. The U.S. had accused Santrich of narcotrafficking.

In this May 17, 2019 file photo, former rebel leader Seuxis Hernandez, known by his alias Jesus Santrich, leaves La Picota jail escorted by prison guards in Bogota, Colombia. He had been at large for three years and was killed in Venezuela on May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Meanwhile, Sen. Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla fighter with the M-19 and the former mayor of Bogotá, is preparing for next year’s presidential election. He asked his followers on Twitter to march on Wednesday in “defense of democracy.”

In response to Duque’s statement on Monday, Petro tweeted: “There is no right in Colombia to kill citizens, or for public officials to sexually abuse minors, to damage the eyes of youth, to torture and to disappear. You, Duque, do not have that right.”

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About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.