Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 385, 2 June 2021

Colombia: The protests continue
Vishnu Prasad E

In the news
On 28 May, at least four people died in Colombia after police took on protesters who attempted to lift roadblocks. Protesters were back on the street after talks between the government and protest groups had broken down. On the same day, President Ivan Duque announced that he was deploying the military to the town of Cali, which had been hit by violence.

On 30 May, the United Nations called for an independent investigation into the number of casualties that had happened since the protests began on 28 April. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced 'deep concern' over the violence.

On 31 May, Colombian authorities announced that they were investigating ten police officers who allowed civilians to shoot at demonstrators in Cali.

Issues at large
First, the expansion of the protesters' demands. The agitation started on 28 April as a reaction to a new tax regime imposed by the President. However, a month later, these demands expanded to such an extent that the strike committee submitted a list of requirements that had to be met before they even came to the negotiating table. The issues have now grown to address Colombia's economic inequalities, police and health systems.

Second, the failure of both the government and protesters to negotiate. There was initially some light at the end of the tunnel, with both the Colombian government and the protesters seeming close to a consensus on a pre-agreement. However, these talks have since stalled, with both parties accusing the other of going back on the agreed conditions.

Third, the use of the military to clamp down on protesters. One of the reasons for the protest to spiral out of hand was the violent manner in which the initial strike was dealt with by the Colombian police force. But now, with Duque sending in the military, violent clampdown appears inevitable.

Fourth, the growing international condemnation of Duque's handling of the crisis. With the United Nations joining a growing chorus of international bodies calling for an end to violence against the protesters, the pressure is piling on Duque.

In perspective
Despite some positive developments, the chaos in Colombia looks far from over. With the coronavirus pandemic still raging on in the country, the government's loss of control in certain parts of the country, shortage of essential supplies and the violence unleashed by the police has made life difficult for the people. 

It also remains to be seen if these protests will spread across South America. The economic inequalities that sparked the protests in Colombia hold true for most of South America. Multiple signs of discontent have been visible across the tournament in recent weeks with Brazil and Argentina seeing major protests and Chile witnessing a pushback against the government in a poll to elect drafters of a new constitution. In 2019, similar protests in Ecuador had spread quickly to the rest of the continent.

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