Cali emerges as epicenter of riots in ongoing protests in Colombia Police News


Bogota, Colombia – The southwestern city of Cali, Colombia, the third largest in the nation, has become the focal point of the city anti-government demonstrations amid rising violence among protesters, security forces and armed civilians.

Protests across the country have continued since April 28 after unpopular tax reform sparked anger. He the proposal was withdrawn and the finance minister resigned, but protesters did they expanded their list of demands of the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque.

While many now want a health care reform to be overturned to further privatize Colombia’s health services, others continue to take to the streets to denounce widespread violence and murders engulfing the Andean nation.

Tensions rose in Cali on Sunday evening as protesters were attacked by armed civilians demanding an end to the protest blockades. Protesters have blocked major highways, disrupting the arrival of food and fuel supplies in the city.

More than a dozen people were injured, mostly indigenous people who had come to the city to join the demonstrations and organize a traditional protest known as “minga”.

Duke, who paid a brief visit to Cali on Monday early in the morning addressing violence, said additional security forces would be sent to remove the blockades. The president also called for indigenous people to return to their territories to “avoid violent clashes with citizens.”

Police violence

Cali was also at the center of anti-government protests last week, when police opened fire on protesters, causing several deaths and international attention to discomfort.

Governments, politicians and human rights organizations have urged the Colombian government to curb security forces, which were widely criticized for using excessive force against protesters.

“At first, Duque said he didn’t need to go to Cali, that he didn’t get along very well with everyone, including his supporters,” said Gimena Sanchez, director of the Andes of the Washington Office of Latin America working group.

“He was eventually pressured, but again what has he done to ensure accountability for the abuses committed against so many protesters?” Sanchez told Al Jazeera.

“I think his inept and arrogant response to the protests, along with pressure from his ruling party on him to use all the force needed to stop the protests, will only anger the protesters and prolong the protests.”

A burned car is seen on a street after clashes between indigenous people, police and civilians in the neighborhood of Ciudad Jardin in Cali on May 9 [Juan B Diaz/Reuters]

The death toll is still unclear

The number of deaths related to the protests remains hotly debated.

Human Rights Watch said it confirmed 38 deaths, while local NGOs Indepaz and Temblores put the number at 47. Colombia’s human rights defender says 26 people have died, most at the hands of police.

The Colombian National Police, which reports directly to the Ministry of Defense, has been subjected to continued monitoring of the excess force. Police force reform has been debated for years and has been added to the demands of protesters now.

“Duke needs to address most of the concerns of the citizens, address the abuses and ensure a reform of the security forces by which Colombian Protestants are not seen and treated as the internal enemy,” Sanchez said.

The government has continually blamed dissident rebels and armed groups for infiltrating the protests and causing violence. Duke also met on Monday with young protesters and strike leaders as part of a national dialogue he has proposed to end the protests.

Colombian police officers have been accused of using excessive force in response to the protests [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Political analyst Sergio Guzman said one of the key issues the government will address, however, is the lack of public confidence.

“[This is] not only because of his past track record in establishing broad dialogues with communities that may oppose the government, but also because there is not enough time for Duke to actually implement any of the things in which the dialogue takes place, unless they are maintained. to very concise and feasible points of action, ”he said.

Duque only has 15 months left in government and many of the demands that are made would have to go through Congress, Guzman explained.

National strike

Meanwhile, another day of national strike is scheduled for Wednesday, which will mark the third week of ongoing protests.

“Clearly we are a long way from a resolution and a far cry from a real dialogue on some of the issues that protesters would like to see on the table,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“Instead, I think what you see is that the government has continued to treat the situation as a law enforcement issue,” Dickinson told Al Jazeera, adding that the government’s lack of recognition the demands of the protesters is a political crisis.

“However, it will become a security crisis as it gets longer, so there is a real urgency in this situation,” he said.

A man has a Colombian flag while police officers are seen on motorcycles after violence between indigenous people, police and civilians in Cali [Juan B Diaz/Reuters]

Guzman said protesters understand the blockades are causing a lot of distress to the citizenry, which they believe harms their legitimacy.

“Hopefully, the protesters will also recognize that it is time for them to realize that the government has listened to them, in fact, to take steps to propose a way out and propose solutions,” he said.

For Dickinson, there needs to be more organization for discussions to move forward. “I think the only setback is the lack of leadership, both locally and nationally, to bring these dialogues and discussions to a productive end,” he said.

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