Sunday, June 13

“You can die because you want peace”: Colombians split in protests | Colombia

NorthAt the beginning of two weeks after massive anti-government protests began in Colombia in late April, President Iván Duque promised a national dialogue on the issues raised by the young protesters, including free college tuition.

“We know that we must take urgent measures to generate hope and a future for our youth,” Duque said during a brief visit to Cali, a city of more than 2 million inhabitants that has been the scene of violent clashes.

But the government has flatly rejected some of the protesters’ demands, such as a basic income, and ignored broad calls for police reform. At least 47 people have died, according to local watchdogs Temblores and Indepaz, and local and international human rights organizations have blamed the police for the killings.

But the protests, mostly peaceful, some rampant and destructive, have divided the Colombian population. “Unfortunately, in my city this has not been a peaceful protest,” said Juan, 40, a doctor at a Cali hospital.

“We are in the middle of the third Covid peak in Cali. During the last three to four weeks, we have had 85-95% occupancy in the ICU. My work at the hospital has been greatly affected by the blockades erected throughout the city and its surroundings.

“My hospital was forced to cancel outpatient consultations and surgeries, until further notice. We are only seeing emergencies and we are operating perhaps at 10% of its capacity. “

Nurses from a hospital greet during demonstrations in Bogotá, Colombia, on May 3.
Nurses from a hospital greet during the demonstrations in Bogotá on May 3. Photography: Sebastian Barros / NurPhoto / REX / Shutterstock

Juan is one of hundreds of people who responded to a call from a reader asking about the situation in Colombia.

Carolina, 26, a pediatrician in Bogotá, where protesters and police have also clashed, is still on the side of the protesters. As the main breadwinner for her family, she feels it is too risky to participate in marches herself, but tries to do her bit by sharing information on social media to counter what she sees as a flood of pro-government fake news.

“It is difficult for me to go out on the street. My parents are worried that I won’t come back, but it frustrates me so much to see so many videos of my people confronting the police and getting hurt, ”she says. “Our president ignores the complaints of the people and sends the military and police to kill us.”

Carolina also feels abandoned by wealthier citizens who oppose the uprising and others from the ruling political class. “It is quite depressing to be afraid of dying and to know that the police cannot be called, because they are the ones who shoot.”

He admits that some protesters have damaged property and lifted roadblocks, but he blames a small minority. “Most of the protesters are peaceful,” he says. “We hear the helicopters at night and the tanks going through our neighborhoods. No matter what you do, you are a criminal in the eyes of the authorities and you could die just because you want peace, a better country, and an uncorrupted government. We need international help. “

Riot police officers fired tear gas at protesters in Cali on May 10.
Riot police officers fired tear gas at protesters in Cali on May 10. Photograph: Luis Robayo / AFP / Getty Images

Carolina says that Covid infections and deaths have increased in Bogotá since the protests began. “This is the third peak in our country, and perhaps the worst so far. But believe me when I say that people think the government is more dangerous than Covid. As a pediatrician, I am tired of seeing children sick with hunger. “

Carolina’s opinions reflect those of dozens of university students and young people from Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, Manizales, Barranquilla and other parts of the country who wrote through the call to express their support for the protests and their despair at the police repression.

Denouncing poor living conditions, censorship, government blockages of social media and police brutality, several teenagers, students and young professionals commented on scenes of violence and disorder from their homes, too scared to leave.

Fabián, 25, a chemical engineer from Bogotá, fears that the police are trying to set up protesters. “The police constantly provoke clashes with protesters, but we also suspect that plainclothes policemen are engaging in criminal activities to discredit the protests and justify violence against people,” he said.

But this narrative is not convincing everyone, and many people believe that social unrest has gone too far. Several Colombians who contacted The Guardian appeared shocked by reports that a pregnant woman lost her baby while trapped in an ambulance at a roadblock.

Others cited reports from an incident in which protesters set fire to a Bogotá police station with 10 officers trapped inside.

María, 40, a human rights lawyer from Cali, believes that the destruction caused by the protests is inexcusable. “The situation in Colombia is getting worse every second. Many protesters have a complete lack of respect for human rights, “he said.

Fernando, 60, a web and graphic designer from Bogotá, initially sympathized with the protests, but strongly disapproves of the disorder now gripping his city. “Colombia’s democracy is under attack. What started as peaceful protests by unions and other citizens ended in a bloody mess, ”he said.

Protesters are seen at a barricade as the Cali fires burn on May 11.
Protesters are seen at a barricade as the Cali fires burn on May 11. Photograph: Luis Robayo / AFP / Getty Images

Yet 37-year-old Raúl *, a self-proclaimed far-left activist from Palmira, a city about 17 miles from Cali, is elated.

“People like me had to keep a very low profile under this regime. For the past 20 years, we true far-left activists [were conflated with] the so-called ‘left’ guerrillas that operate in some regions of this country.

“These guerrillas used to be far-left political organizations inspired by the Cuban revolution, but now they are only armed organizations that profit from drug trafficking and are in the midst of war against the regime.

“We had a hard time fighting for the workers in the unions, for the rights of the people, selling our publications and expressing our political beliefs because any kind of demonstration by the oppressed or the workers was instantly perceived as a Marxist and related activity. warfare.

“I am so happy right now. It is like leaving a very long and dark night. Now I can participate openly in political activities. I can finally say what I think. “

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