Colombian protests continue: Leftist politician accused of turning mob against ambulances

BOGOTA, Colombia – Deadly protests against President Iván Duque’s policies continue in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá, which is still reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the rising need for paramedics and doctors, city officials are concerned about attacks on ambulances.

At the Portal de las Américas, a crowded transit system terminal that serves low-income neighborhoods, evening protests include fiery displays and a lack of social distancing. Protesters who regularly meet there refer to the terminal as the “Portal of the Resistance.”

Heidy Sánchez, a leftist member of the city council, said she has been protesting in these streets regularly since the national strike began in April. Most recently, she tweeted law enforcement was using ambulances to deliver tear gas to the riot police and to arrest protesters.

“We made the complaint that citizens gave us at the time,” Sánchez said in Spanish about tweets on May 22-23 that she claims were based on witness reports.

Protesters in Bogota meet in an area they now deem as the Portal of the Resistance. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Prosecutors are investigating Sánchez after allegations that her tweets prompted more than a dozen attacks on ambulances in Bogotá's Kennedy neighborhood. In some cases, protesters demanded to inspect the ambulances. They also blocked their access to respond to the wounded.

Luis Ernesto Gómez, Bogotá's government secretary, said Sánchez’s tweets were irresponsible. He asked protesters to not interfere with medical and rescue personnel’s mission to assist the sick and the wounded.

“The medical mission, not only in Colombia, internationally, has to be protected, has to be guaranteed,” Gómez said, adding this is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has claimed more than 90,000 lives in Colombia, health officials reported on Thursday.

Medical personnel transport a COVID-19 patient inside the intensive care unit at the Hospital Samaritana on Thursday in Bogota, Colombia. (AP/Ivan Valencia) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Before Sánchez’s tweets, officials reported a newborn baby died on May 4 after protesters prevented an ambulance from getting to Bogotá from the neighboring northern town of Tocancipá. Another baby died on May 22 under similar circumstances on a road that connects the cities of Buenaventura and Cali. A doctor and the babies’ parents pleaded with protesters to no avail.

Human rights activists are asking the international community to intervene as protesters continue to die in the streets of Bogotá and Cali. On Friday, a crowd lynched a government employee after accusing him of fatally shooting two protesters in Cali.

Paramedics retrieve the body of a man who was murdered during protests on May 28, in Cali, Colombia. (AP Foto/Andres Gonzalez) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement on Sunday calling for “an end to all forms of violence.”

Earlier this week, Duque’s administration deployed hundreds of soldiers to provide support to law enforcement in Cali. Talks between the organizations behind the protests and Duque’s administration have stalled.

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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

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.